Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s meeting with the leaders of the Gupkar Alliance on June 24 brought renewed attention on the status of the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Ladakh, with the fundamental issue at stake being Kashmir’s relationship with the Centre and the quantum of autonomy. As this process takes it course, it is revealing to see how these questions are addressed in the case of Kashmir on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC), often forgotten in public discourse.
Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is only 15% of the total area illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947. The Northern Areas or Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) comprise the remaining 85%. It is the main artery of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The Indus flows into Pakistan through G-B. It is, by far, the larger and strategically more important part of the territory. It has been under Pakistan’s direct control since 1947.
Unlike PoK, G-B does not have a “constitution”. It is currently administered under the Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018. This is an executive fiat issued by Islamabad. In the case of PoK, it was also directly ruled by Islamabad on the basis of Rules of Business for more than three decades before it received its “constitution” in 1974. This is still described as an “interim” constitution, though there is nothing interim about Pakistan’s control on the territory. This was built into the provisions of the PoK constitution, which vested all key powers in the Council headed by Pakistan’s PM, leaving the elected assembly with undefined, residuary powers.
Under the 13th amendment of the PoK constitution adopted in 2018, the Council was relegated to an advisory role. But instead of transferring its powers to the elected assembly, these have been assumed by Pakistan, which directly exercises legislative and executive authority over 32 items in PoK. Pakistan has effectively integrated the territory. This was a year before the abrogation of Article 370 by India, which Pakistan criticised vehemently.
Under the Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018, the legislative powers on key subjects are vested in the PM of Pakistan, rather than the elected assembly. PM Imran Khan announced on November 1, 2020, that the territory will be given “provisional provincial status”. Pakistan’s Supreme Court had established its jurisdiction over the territory in 1999, though the territory does not form part of Pakistan under its constitution.
Pakistan’s control goes beyond the constitutional scheme to economic control. PoK did not receive any economic returns for its chief economic resource, water, for 36 years. The payment it receives now as the “water usage” charge is one-seventh of the net hydel profit (NHP) paid to Punjab or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. This is justified on the ground that Article 161 of Pakistan’s constitution allows payment of NHP to its “provinces”, while PoK does not fall under this category. The argument was used only to deny payment; it did not come in the way of exploiting the region’s natural resources.
The State Subjects Rule dating back to the Maharaja’s time was abolished by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the case of the Northern Areas in 1974, and outsiders were allowed to buy property. In PoK, the rule has been progressively diluted. In the case of both territories, control over migration is vested in Pakistan. The Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951, was extended to PoK in 1973. The “people” of the region have been absorbed in Pakistan, which makes a mockery of Pakistan’s claim that the territory is “azad” or free.
While Gwadar port will receive $793 million under CPEC, the bulk of Chinese investment will take place in G-B ($ 16.129 billion) and PoK ($5.946 billion). Pakistan proposes to build five dams in G-B as part of the “Indus cascade”. This will affect the ecology and the ethnic balance of the only Shia majority region under Pakistan’s control. All of this not only shows Islamabad’s double standards, and the fact that it has effectively integrated territories that are not its own.