Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the granting of provisional-provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan. Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan formally announced the ‘provisional provincial status’ for Gilgit-Baltistan on Sunday at a public gathering in Gilgit held to mark the 73rd Independence Day of the region.

The government has decided to “grant Gilgit-Baltistan the provisional provincial status which was a long-standing demand of the people of the region”, PM Imran Khan proclaimed. The decision “has been taken within the framework of UN Security Council's resolutions”, the premier said.

GB’s Independence Day

In his speech, PM Khan also paid tribute “to GB scouts and shuhada (martyrs) who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the region”. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) celebrate their independence from the Dogra dynasty on November 1, 1947, when the region was liberated while Baltistan was freed in 1948 after a fierce battle. Gilgit-Baltistan’s independence was “achieved through brutal running battles by a handful of mostly civilian fighters led by the Gilgit Scouts” wrote Afzal Ali Shigri, former IGP Sindh who hails from GB.

Equal constitutional rights

Pakistan’s top ministers hailed the decision, saying that PM Imran Khan has kept his promise made to the people of GB. Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry, congratulated the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and said: “The residents of GB would now enjoy full constitutional rights as granted to other provinces.”

Since coming into power in 2018, the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) government had assured full constitutional rights as well as equal economic opportunities for the people of GB to put an end to the decades-long deprivation and open up new avenues of development.

In 2019, the country’s top court also ordered to grant fundamental rights to residents of GB and ruled that the powers of the judiciary also be extended to the region. GB was granted a status similar to provinces and created its own provincial assembly with offices of governor and chief minister after 2009 Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order.

Residents of GB welcome the move

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan greatly appreciated PM Khan’s announcement that fulfils the “long-standing demand of the people of GB” who “fought a war to join Pakistan”. Talking to Gulf News, Yasir Hussain, a student of International Affairs and a GB scholar, said “the news of the provincial status announced on the day of Independence means double celebration for the people of GB”. The “momentous decision has broken the region’s politico-constitutional limbo after 70 years” and offers GB representation in National Assembly and Senate that will help address the political grievances as well.

Altaf Ahmed, a resident of Gilgit city who is running tour company, says the “full provincial status of GB would invite more tourists, cerate jobs and business opportunities for the youth as well as improve economic development especially under CPEC projects.”

GB’s provincial status represents the wishes of the people

While some analysts are critical of the latest move claiming the action might weaken Pakistan’s standpoint in the UN, others term the provincial status a “political masterstroke” and a “true reflection of the wishes of the people of GB”.

Yasir Hussain, former fellow at Stimson Center Washington DC, believes the PTI government’s decision “won't affect Pakistan's standing on Kashmir issue at United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP)” as it is in accordance with UN resolution to respect the wishes of the people. The fact that it is a “provisional status means it is open for a plebiscite or any other UN recommendation, in any suitable time”.

Significance of the region

The scenic region surrounded by snow-clad mountains is Pakistan’s key tourist destination that receives most foreign visitors than other parts of the country. The region’s significance has further elevated as $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a network of roads, railways, and pipelines, runs through the GB region in northern Pakistan. With the bold step, Pakistan government has made vital economic and geostrategic gains while offering the people of GB the constitutional recognition, experts say.