Gilgit-Baltistan hit the headlines of newspapers and media channels following the Pakistan Government's announcement of a new package of the so-called empowerment and self-governance for these areas. The fact is incontrovertible that the people of these areas expressed satisfaction over the package as it had been their longstanding grievance that their prosperity, progress and fundamental rights had been kept hostage to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. There must not be any difficulty in arriving at the conclusion after conducting an impartial study of the aspirations of the people of Northern Areas that their overwhelming majority never wished to describe their territories as part of Jammu and Kashmir and the demand had been to make the Northern Areas as a province of Pakistan or a part of any of its existing province or a federal unit; leaving aside legal and constitutional discourses on the subject.
During the past six decades, many measures have been taken pending the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Azad Jammu and Kashmir has got an interim constitution, Kashmiri people have the right to have Pakistani citizenship and more importantly, Pakistan has signed an agreement with China, which has involved a small chunk of Kashmir's land. So no sky should fall if till Kashmir problem is solved, a constitutional arrangement is made for Gilgit-Baltistan and for that matter, not only these areas but the territories of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, as well, are made provisional provinces of Pakistan. That indeed would benefit the state of Pakistan and also the people belonging to these areas. No arrangement, explicitly made till the final settlement of the Kashmir problem, will affect the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir nor will contravene the international law. Yes, India cannot be followed, which has flagrantly flouted the norms of justice by declaring Jammu and Kashmir as its integral part. The Jammu and Kashmir Constitution of 1957, an Indian treacherous machination aimed at validating the India’s illegal occupation of Kashmir is no example to be replicated.
Jammu and Kashmir was a Dogra empire in 1947. It was a state but, in no way, a nation. Some parts of it had been gifted by the British to the Dogra dynasty for Gulab Singh’s infidelity to the Sikh government while the Dogra had conquered other through invasions. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan and the territories, later known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir, fought and liberated these areas. Hats off to them. Indian held Kashmir remained under the illegal occupation where the people have been rendering unique sacrifices to achieve liberation from Indian bondage. There should be no doubt that in case a plebiscite is conducted in line with the relevant UN resolutions, the people belonging to the all parts of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir shall have to vote.
Furthermore, how can one be blind to the historical fact that the Kashmir problem is rooted in what happened in 1947. The genuine and natural polarization in South Asia got identified, which resulted in the formation of two sovereign states. The sub nationalities of the Muslims got merged in the single political organization of Pakistan. Territories like that of the Punjab and even districts and tehsils were partitioned on the basis of two- nation theory. The sloganeering that the unity of Jammu and Kashmir, as it existed in 1947, shall be maintained at all costs equalizes to a nonsensical supposition as if the Punjabis contend that the geographical unit of the erstwhile Punjab should be restored. 1947 was a revolution, which changed affinities and rendered geographical nationhood in South Asia as totally redundant.
It is in this context, the chronology of events right from 1947 stands testimony to the reality that the Muslim population of Indian held Kashmir shall not rest before they achieve total freedom from Indian occupation. No internal autonomy or packages like the one announced for Gilgit-Baltistan will be acceptable to them. Let this fact solace the people who worry that Pakistan may agree to India’s approving a similar package for the people of occupied Kashmir. Is India going to do that and will Pakistan opt to move against the wishes of the people of the other side of cease fire line are the questions, which need to be properly debated. Let us suppose the reply in affirmative. Then can such a doom be averted by opposing constitutional concessions to Gilgit- Baltistan? No absolutely not.
Dealing Gilgit-Baltistan separate from Azad Jammu and Kashmir is not today’s phenomenon. It was in 1949 that the government of Pakistan, AJK leadership and AJK government signed an accord in Karachi, by virtue of which the two units AJK and Northern Areas were agreed to be dealt separately.
So without much further ado, all the people dedicated to serve the Muslim cause in South Asia and particularly the Kashmir cause should work towards strengthening the freedom struggle of occupied Kashmir. That will prove panacea to many ills of the region.