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Kashmiris protest Pak move to declare Gilgit-Baltistan fifth province

Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) [India]: Scores of Kashmiris took part in a protest outside the United Nations office in Srinagar against the Pakistan Government’s proposed move to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as that country’s fifth province.

Members of the South Asian Friends (SAF) took to the streets in the city, carrying placards that stated that the area from Lakhanpur to Gilgit belonged to Kashmiris. They also shouted slogans against the Nawaz Sharif government.

“Our protest is against the Pakistan government’s order to declare Gilgit-Baltistan a fifth province. The area from Lakhanpur to Gilgit-Baltistan belongs to Kashmiris. It should be left to us,” Salim Akhthat Malik, SAF chairman, told ANI.

Malik further said that their organisation intends to organise many more such protests against Pakistan for illegally occupying areas in Gilgit-Baltistan .

Malik said they would present a memorandum to the UN office asking them to prevent Pakistan from declaring Gilgit-Baltistan its fifth province.

The Gilgit-Baltistan area is Pakistan’s northernmost administrative territory that borders disputed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

A committee headed by Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has recommended that the region be given provincial status, reports GeoNews.

Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh are the four provinces of Pakistan.

However, India claims the Gilgit-Baltistan area to be an integral part of its territory.

The area is seen as being significant to both Pakistan and China due to the USD 51 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that passes through the region.

Pakistan’s move to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as fifth province has evoked strong reactions across Jammu and Kashmir.

Several activists from the JK Kashmir forum protested against move.

“Jammu and Kashmir has its own importance as per the historical point of view, but unfortunately large portions of land have been grabbed by China and Pakistan. So we are here to spread the awareness that it is our territory and we will not allow anyone to play dirty politics with our state,” said forum leader Shoaib Lone.

Similar scenes were also witnessed in Pakistan occupied Kashmir’s (PoK) Muzaffarabad area, where the region saw one of the fiercest backlashes against the order.

Lawyers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit demanded an amendment to the PoK interim Constitution Act 1974.

Terming it a ‘dark move’, the lawyers said that by carving out Gilgit from Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan was making their land available to the Chinese Government for the CPEC.

CPEC is one of the six key corridors under the China’s One-Road-One Belt Initiative initiative which seeks to link Asia with Europe.

Under this initiative, collection of infrastructure projects are currently under construction throughout Pakistan.

It is intended to rapidly modernize Pakistani infrastructure and strengthen its economy by the construction of modern transportation networks, numerous energy projects, and special economic zones.

However, the CPEC project has been greeted with severe criticism in Pakistan.

Prominent Sindhi nationalist organisation Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) held a massive anti- CPEC rally from the Indus Highway to the tomb of Sain G M Syed in Pakistan’s Sindh province recently.

Pakistan’s Awami National Party (ANP) also held wide demonstrations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan province against the federal government.

Such was the intensity of the agitation that it forced the Chinese embassy in Pakistan to respond. A senior diplomat denied any wrongdoing in the project and sought public support.

The protestors have been making allegations of unequal distribution of projects among provinces, lack of transparency, corruption in CPEC projects, environmental concerns, among others.

“CPEC is working well. But there are some people who are maligning the project, which enjoys the support of most of the people of Pakistan,” China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Zhao Lijian said.

On 13 November 2016, CPEC became partly operational when Chinese cargo was transported overland to Gwadar Port for onward maritime shipment to Africa and West Asia.

India has fervently maintained that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes areas currently under Pakistan occupation, is an integral part of the Union of India. (ANI)