Amsterdam: Pakistan’s new Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 is illegal and is aimed at appeasing China to ensure the success of the over USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a European think tank has said.
An analytical report published by the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) said the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018, would only add to a long-list of issues already bedeviling Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), and added that China’s reaction to it proves its disregard for human rights.
“China, through its reaction, has once again revealed its proclivity to totally disregard human rights violations, the rules of international engagement and the rights of indigenous people that come in the path of its single-minded pursuit of its geo-strategic and economic goals,” the Amsterdam-based think tank said.
On May 27, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi proposed the Gilgit-Baltistan Reforms Order 2018, which was a replacement for the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009.
The new order was aimed at providing greater administrative and financial powers to Gilgit Baltistan than its predecessor. According to the report, members of the opposition in the GB Legislative Assembly stormed out while tearing copies of the new order and joined ongoing protests at the Ittehad Chowk in Gilgit.
“The PM imposed the order just a few days before the end of his government despite knowing the aspirations of people and their opposition to the bill,” said the leader of the opposition, Muhammad Shafi, who demanded constitutional rights be accorded to the people of GB, which had been governed by orders and reforms for 70 years.
The report also cited that India, which claims GB as part of the Instrument of Accession of 26 October 1947, maintained its stance on the order as being an attempt by Pakistan to incrementally incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan as its fifth province.
“It was clearly conveyed that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir which also includes the so-called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ areas is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession in 1947. Any action to alter the status of any part of the territory under forcible and illegal occupation of Pakistan has no legal basis whatsoever, and is completely unacceptable,” read a press released from India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
The report suggested that Pakistan’s dilemma regarding GB stems from its geo-strategic importance, which has increased exponentially since the signing of the USD 60 billion agreement on the CPEC.
“GB is the only territory controlled by Pakistan that borders China, and the Karakorum highway, the arterial link of the CPEC, enters Pakistan after passing through about 600 kilometres in GB. Hence, without GB, Pakistan cannot possibly have a CPEC which its faltering economy has placed all hopes of revival on. Peace and stability in GB is, therefore, of paramount importance to Pakistan. The Gilgit-Baltistan Reforms Order 2018 represents Pakistan’s feeble, half-hearted attempt at assuaging the sentiments of the people of the region. That it failed to delude them is obvious from the widespread protests it generated,” the EFSAS said in its report.
Citing that China’s investment of billions of dollars into the CPEC came with the incentive of strategic and economic gains through access to the Arabian Sea, and a tighter grip over Pakistan, the report hinted at the China’s apprehensions regarding the instability and the undetermined political status of GB, which it would prefer to be absorbed by Pakistan.
“The new order is aimed as much, if not more, at mollifying China as the people of GB. China would ideally like absorption of GB into pliant Pakistan. However, for Pakistan, inducting GB as a province would tantamount to a change in its long-held policy on the Kashmir issue, a risk it is not yet prepared to take,” the report added.
China’s stand in this matter comes across as rather bewildering.
Speaking on the CPEC’s affect on the Jammu and Kashmir issue, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “First of all, I will like to say that the Kashmir issue is a legacy issue between Pakistan and India and should be properly handled by the two countries through dialogue and consultation.”
When asked whether the order was aimed at advancing the CPEC, she said, “We have repeatedly stressed that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a framework for cooperation between China and Pakistan focused on long-term cooperation in various fields. It aims to help improve local infrastructure and livelihoods and promote local economic and social development.”
The EFSAS study further stated that China was well aware that a dispute exists between India and Pakistan on the Jammu and Kashmir issue, and that the status and future of GB formed part of that dispute, despite which, it signed the CPEC with one of the parties involved in the dispute and involving territory that forms part of the dispute.
It also stated that the statement about the CPEC being an economic cooperation project was misleading and “aimed at shrouding China’s geo-strategic ambitions.”
“In any case, if a project envisages a third country’s entry into territory long disputed between two other countries, it cannot remain just an ‘economic and social development’ venture and must necessarily take into consideration the political aspects involved as such entry is bound to further complicate the dispute and impede its resolution. The fact that the Pakistan Army has taken upon itself the task of overseeing implementation of the project reveals a lot about its true nature,” it added.
The report suggested that ecological degradation, a huge influx of people from Pakistan, especially from the Punjab province, and loss of lands and culture were some of the inevitable consequences of the CPEC for the people of GB.
“That protests on an even larger scale are not being reported from the region is on account of the fact that the Pakistani military cracks down heavily on critics of the CPEC and misuses anti-terrorism laws in a trigger-happy manner to silence them,” it concluded.