Devious move


The Pakistan government’s decision to change the status of the Northern Areas, which were part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, is of a piece with the divisive policy followed by Islamabad there. The area has been renamed Gilgit-Baltistan and has practically, though not constitutionally, become the fifth province of Pakistan. Ironically, the Pakistan government’s measure, known as the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment Order, claims to give more autonomy to the area, but actually separates it from the rest of Kashmir. The order came into force three months ago and the first elections under it were held in November. The new chief minister of the province, Mehdi Shah, has declared that the area has no connection to Kashmir. The Pakistani actions relating to Gilgit-Baltistan are devious and illegal, and are prompted by short term political considerations of the PPP government and long-term plans of exploiting the natural resources.

India has strongly reacted to the development and has said that any move to alter the status of Jammu and Kashmir is unacceptable. Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, which included Gilgit-Baltistan, is a part of Jammu and Kashmir which acceded to India. For India PoK is under illegal occupation and Pakistan cannot compound its illegalities with more unacceptable actions. It had ceded part of the area to China and separated Chitral to make it a part of the North-West Frontier Province. It is not only India which has protested against the Pakistan government’s action. There have been demonstrations in Kashmir and parties like the JKLF have opposed it, though for reasons different from India’s. They think that the move weakens the view of Kashmir as a disputed territory and dilutes Pakistan’s commitment to self-determination of Kashmiris.

The provisions for electing a legislative assembly with powers to make laws on selected subjects, setting up a Public Service Commission and appointment of an Election Commissioner and other measures which purport to give greater autonomy to the people of the area are overshadowed by the provision that the entire set-up will be controlled by an Islamabad-appointed governor who can dismiss the assembly and sack the chief minister. The people of the Northern Areas have often protested their treatment by the Pakistani government. The new dispensation is a sop to them but does not help to improve their condition. They are bound to realise this soon.

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