India has termed as “illegal and completely unacceptable” reports emanating from Pakistan that Islamabad is trying to declare Gilgit-Baltistan, also known as the Northern Areas, as Pakistan’s fifth province.
In remarks aimed at raising the hackles in India, Pakistan’s minister for inter-provincial coordination, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, was quoted as having told a Pakistani TV channel that a committee headed by Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs, had proposed that Gilgit-Baltistan be made a province of Pakistan. At present, Pakistan has four provinces–Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan.
He also reportedly said that the constitution needed to be amended to change the status of the region through which China’s $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes.
Reacting to reports in Pakistan, Gopal Bagley, the spokesperson of India’s External Affairs Ministry, told reporters here on Thursday that “the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir was acceded to India in 1947. It has been, is and will always be an integral part of India. A part of Jammu and Kashmir has been under illegal occupation of Pakistan. Any unilateral step by Pakistan to alter the status of that part will have no basis in law and will be completely unacceptable.”
“Such a step,” Mr Bagley said, “will not camouflage the illegality of Pakistan’s occupation of parts of Jammu and Kashmir and it will also not be able to hide the tremendous human rights violations and the denial of freedom that have been going on in those parts under Pakistan’s control for the last 70 years.”
There are news reports that China has concerns about the unsettled status of Gilgit-Baltistan and that could be the motive behind the reported move by Pakistan to attempt a change in its status.
India had in 2015 objected to Pakistan holding polls in Gilgit-Baltistan, with the External Affairs Ministry at that time saying that India was “concerned” by Pakistani attempts to “absorb these territories.