India has made its stance on the issue amply clear, emphasising neither Pakistan’s government nor judiciary has a locus standi on the territories Pakistan has forcibly and illegally occupied.

With much of the national attention in India understandably focussed on China’s aggressive behaviour at the Line of Actual Control, China’s ‘all-weather’ friend Pakistan is continuing its mischief at the Line of Control and the International Border, with continuing incidents of firing and cross-border infiltration.

While Indian troops are robustly responding to all such provocations from Pakistan, Islamabad has now stepped up the ante by deciding to elevate the status of Gilgit-Baltistan – which is Indian territory under the illegal occupation of Pakistan – to that of a full-fledged Pakistani province.

Ali Amin Gandapur, the minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs, was quoted as saying on Wednesday that Prime Minister Imran Khan would be visiting the region to make a formal announcement in this regard, according to a report in Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune.

This is clearly another provocation by Islamabad, and will only serve to exacerbate India-Pakistan tensions. Pakistan is sitting on Indian land – Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India included the entire region of what is now known as Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan.

New Delhi has made its stance on the issue clear, emphasising that Pakistan’s government and judiciary have no locus standi on the territories Pakistan has illegally and forcibly occupied. Further, India completely rejects any action or attempt to bring material changes in such Indian territory occupied by Pakistan. India expects Pakistan to vacate all areas it has illegally occupied with immediate effect.

In recent years, despite India’s objections, China and Pakistan have gone ahead with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and a Special Economic Zone in Gilgit-Baltistan, adding another dimension to India’s security concerns.

How Gilgit-Baltistan fell into Pakistan’s hands
Situated in the northwest part of Jammu and Kashmir, the picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan was a mountainous part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir till 1947. Pakistan occupied it after tribal militias backed by regular Pakistani troops invaded Kashmir in the months after Independence. The region was initially named ‘The Northern Areas of Pakistan’, and brought under Islamabad’s direct control.

The ‘Northern Areas’ is not to be confused with PoK, another illegally occupied territory which Pakistan calls “Azad Kashmir”.

In terms of size, the ‘Northern Areas’ is massive, over six times that of PoK.

A decade ago, the federal government in Pakistan enacted the so-called Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, and the region was re-christened Gilgit-Baltistan.

Interestingly, Gilgit-Baltistan was not invaded by Pakistan in 1947 in the conventional sense. Though the region was part of the erstwhile Maharaja’s kingdom,  it had been leased in 1935 for 60 years to the British for strategic reasons and accordingly administered by the government in Delhi through a British officer.

But crucially, just two weeks before Independence, the British returned the region to the J&K Maharaja after terminating the lease. So legally there is no doubt that the territory should have been transferred to India when the Instrument of Accession was signed in October 1947.    

Unfortunately, due to the action and inaction of two British officers posted in the region, it slipped into Pakistani hands.

One of these officers, Major WA Brown, raised the Pakistani flag on November 2, claiming that he and his fellow officer had chosen to be with Pakistan, though the Maharaja had acceded in favour of India! 

This was clearly patently illegal – but Pakistani troops and militias used this opportunity to quickly take over the region. There has been a decades’ long struggle by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to voice opposition against Pakistan’s human rights violations in the region and the forceful demographic changes by the influx of Pakistanis. The latest move by Pakistan will only add another dark chapter to the long list of illegalities Islamabad has committed in this part of Indian territory.