The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have always been unequivocalin defending their association with Pakistan. Although the region is not a constitutional part of the country, it has never lagged behind any other province in terms of sacrifices for the sovereignty of the state. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have never complained about their miseriesdespitehaving no right to cast votes,no representation in the national assembly or senate, anda strong sense of deprivationin many other fields where other provincesenjoyconstitutional rights.
In 1948, the Republic of Gilgit-Baltistan emerged on the map of the world and survived only for a couple of weeks. The people of the region fought their own war against the tyrannical regimeof Dogra Raj and won their freedom. Because of the political circumstances that included a lack of resources, governance skills and political leadership, the victorious freedom fighters opted to accede to Pakistan unconditionally.
Until the first tenure of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Gilgit-Baltistan was taken for granted. Bhutto abrogated the fiefdom system and FCR (Frontier CrimesRegulations) and gave the people of the region a certain level of independence. Employment opportunities wereprovided and unemployment was almost brought to zero. His revolutionaryreforms are hailed by friends and foes alike. The people of Gilgit-Baltistantherefore endorse the idea that their region should be a Pakistan People’s Party stronghold where the party is even stronger than Sindh. In 2009, the PPP swept the elections in the region and is now the major ruling party.
In the four wars that Pakistan has fought with India, some of the best soldiers in Pakistan Army were from Gilgit-Baltistan. They fought for the country despite knowing their constitutional status. For them, passports and ID cards were just pieces of paper. A major part of the forces that defended Azad Jammu and Kashmir in 1948 was from Gilgit-Baltistan. Ironically, Azad Kashmir has enjoyed a status of a semi state for decades and Gilgit-Baltistan, then Northern Areas of Pakistan, suffered with an identity crisis for decades.
The Kargil War is also an evidence of the love of the people of the region with Pakistan. In 1999, hundreds of soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry sacrificed their lives and fought in extreme conditions to capture Kargil, but they were labeled militants and mujahideen. They stood by their country despite being disowned. Lalak Jan, who fought with extraordinary valor in Kargil and was awarded Pakistan’s highest military honor Nishan-e-Haider, was from Gilgit-Baltistan.
And although there are separatist movements in some parts of Pakistan, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have always remained loyal to Pakistan.
But 65 years is a long period of time to wait for the right of casting a vote of having a representative in Islamabad. It doesn’t even take more than a few years to be granted the nationality of countries like the US and UK.It is unfortunate that 80% of Pakistanis don’t even know the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, although they always speak for the rights of the people of Indian-administered Kashmir. The sovereignty of Gilgit-Baltistan is much more important for Pakistan than that of Srinagar.
Considering the sacrifices and loyalty of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and considering the strategic important of the region, it should be given the status of Pakistan’s fifth province. It is the gateway to the natural resources of the Central Asian states and the progressive state of Chinathat is a major source of economic stability for Pakistan. The region itself is rich in gold, uranium and gems. Its second largest water reservoirs in the world outside Antarctica and the North Pole make it a lifeline for Pakistan’s agriculture and can be used to make 50,000 megawatts of electricity. Gilgit-Baltistan is blessed with the tallest mountain peaks in the world, having the potential of attracting millions of dollars in adventure tourism.
It is essential that the legislators, think tanks and policy makers in Pakistan resolve this issue on a priority basis, before there is a sense of deprivation in the region similar to the former East Pakistan or Balochistan.