Since the time the government of Pakistan has shown its willingness to grant Gilgit Baltistan a provisional provincial status, AJK leaders have continuously been issuing statements against such a step that any attempt to grant Gilgit Baltistan a representation in the National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan will be tantamount to what India did on 5 August, 2019 without explaining “how?”. For instance, Dr. Khalid Mehmood of Jamat-e-Islami AJK says, “Statements by PM of Pakistan regarding a provisional provincial status for Gilgit Baltistan are sending messages of despair to the people of occupied Kashmir. Granting a provisional provincial status to Gilgit Baltistan is a violation of UN resolutions on Kashmir which will weaken the case of Pakistan and provide India a justification to merge Kashmir completely.”
Before we come to their point that whether any provisional provincial status for Gilgit Baltistan will be tantamount to the steps taken by Indian Government on 5 August, 2019, we should talk about the UN Resolutions on Kashmir and the status of AJK according to them.
Strictly speaking, UN Resolutions (be it that of 13th August, 1948 or 5 January 1949 or March 1950) have not laid down any specific guidelines on how the areas under Pakistan’s control should have been administered. In this connection, scholar Ershad Mehmud writes; “The UN resolutions on the future of the state of AJK are clear but UN has never tried to define the international legal status in the formal terms. The closest descriptions are to be found in various resolutions drafted by the Security Council and UNCIP. For example, one can vaguely deduce the status of AJK from the statement that AJK is neither a sovereign state nor a province of Pakistan but a ‘local authority as the UN resolution of 13 August, 1948 states: ‘Pending a final solution, the territory evacuated by the Pakistani troops will be administered by the local authorities under the surveillance of the Commission.” (Ershad Mehmud, Status of AJK in Political Milieu, Policy Perspectives, Vol. 3, No. 2, p. 105)
Note that this “local authorities under the surveillance of the Commission” from para 3 of part II-A of the resolution passed on 13 August 1948 from which Ershad Mehmud has vaguely deduced the status of AJK is only about the administration of these territories (AJK and GB) once the region is completely demilitarized. It isn’t, in any case, about the administration of these regions till the withdrawal of armies. Same view is held by the former Chief Justice of AJK, Justice Retd. Manzoor Hussain Gillani who writes;
“The UN Resolutions do not visualize any particular mechanism for the governance of these territories. There is only a vague reference to their administration in the resolution adopted by UNCIP on 13 August 1948. Para 3, section A of Part II (Truce Agreement) of that resolution states as follows: “Pending a final solution, the territory evacuated by the Pakistani troops will be administered by the local authorities under the surveillance of the Commission.” But the Governments of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan cannot be considered to be such “local authorities” because they can attain that status only when Pakistani troops have evacuated the liberated territory under arrangements for holding a plebiscite. Pakistan has not withdrawn its troops because India at first stalled and later reneged completely on its international commitment to allow an impartial plebiscite under UN auspices.” (Manzoor Gillani, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Proposals for enhanced autonomy and empowerment, p. 16)
Besides this vague reference, in the words of Ershad Mehmud, “no other references could be found in the UNSC debate related to the status of the government of AJK”. Here, one may ask why did the Security Council not lay down any specific guidelines on ‘how these areas should be administered till the withdrawal of troops‘? The answer to this lies in the fact that nobody at that time knew that India would refuse to withdraw her troops from the state and resultantly the dispute would take more than seven decades to settle.
Difference between Indian actions on 5th August 2019 and Pakistan’s decision to grant Gilgit Baltistan a provincial status temporarily
On 3rd August, 2020, Munir Akram, the permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations wrote a letter to the president of the Security Council and apprised him of the official stance of Pakistan on the Kashmir dispute. The letter states that the official position of Pakistan on Kashmir has always been that it has been illegally occupied by India, no matter if it is being administered under article 370 or 371. For Pakistan, the illegal occupation of Kashmir by India was only reinforced on 5 August, 2019 with the removal of the Article 370. Pakistan opposed the moves made by India on 5 August, 2019 by calling them a blatant violation of UNSC resolutions and informed the Security Council that according to UN resolution number 91 and 122, any such move ‘does not erode the obligation of parties, including United Nations, to hold the plebiscite prescribed in the UNSC resolutions’.
Now if we look at the UNSC resolution 91 (passed on 30 March, 1951) which has been invoked by the Pakistan government, it states that “the convening of a constituent assembly as recommended by the General Council of the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference and any action that assembly might attempt to take to determine the future shape and affiliation of the entire State or any part thereof would not constitute a disposition of the State in accordance with the above principle [i.e. plebiscite according to the UN resolutions passed on 13 August, 1948 and 5 January, 1949].” (Parenthesis mine.)
Similarly, the Security Council resolution 122 (passed on 24 January, 1957) also reminds both governments the ‘principle’ embodied in previous resolutions that ‘the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations’. It also ‘reaffirms the affirmation in its resolution 91 (1951) and declares that the convening of a constituent assembly as recommended by the General Council of the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference and any action that assembly may have taken or might attempt to take to determine the future shape and affiliation of the entire State or any part thereof, or action by the parties concerned in support of any such action by the assembly, would not constitute a disposition of the State in accordance with the above principle’.
Note that both these resolutions talk about whether the Security Council will accept any unilateral decision by either India or Pakistan or the legislative assemblies of AJK or IOK to determine the future shape and affiliation of the entire state of any part thereof as the final disposition of the Kashmir dispute. They do not, in any case, talk about the mechanism by which these areas should be administered temporarily till the withdrawal of troops. Secondly, it must be noted that there is a big difference between what India did on 5 August, 2019 or has been doing since 1956 and what Pakistan is going to do in Gilgit Baltistan. India does not accept Kashmir as a disputed territory. Instead, it has been calling it as its integral part since 1956. For India, the legislative assembly of IOK had decided the fate of Kashmir in 1956 by passing a resolution in the endorsement of the instrument of accession signed by Hari Singh in October, 1947. On the other hand, Pakistan is not going to merge Gilgit Baltistan forever or it is not deciding the future of Gilgit Baltistan in this case. Pakistan does not deny the fact that Gilgit Baltistan is also a part of this dispute. The word “provisional” itself means that these arrangements are temporary subjected to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Therefore, a temporary provincial status for Gilgit Baltistan is not against any of the UN resolutions on Kashmir. Moreover, Gilgit Baltistan is already called a defacto province of Pakistan (without any representation in the parliament of Pakistan), I fail to understand how come a mere representation in the federal legislature would affect existing Pakistan’s position on Kashmir? There will be a mere transition from one temporary administrative setup to another. It isn’t written anywhere that the previous temporary setup for Gilgit Baltistan (or AJK that is being administered under an interim constitution) was in line with the UN resolutions while the new one isn’t.
The writer holds the opinion that not only Gilgit Baltistan should be given an adequate representation in the parliament of Pakistan and other national institutes but also similar arrangements should be made for AJK as well. This demand isn’t anything new. The founding president of AJK Sardar Ibrahim Khan had also demanded this for AJK many times in the past. Those who oppose a provincial status for Gilgit Baltistan or AJ&K should first explain how this step is going to affect Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. If they are unable to do that, they still have every right to oppose it for any other reason (like cost-benefit analysis with regard to economics) but they should now stop misguiding the nation by equating Pakistan with India.
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Author is a resident of AJK, Pakistan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org