Gilgit-Baltistan is located in the northernmost administrative territory in Pakistan. It borders on the south with Azad Kashmir, on the west with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan on the north, to the east and northeast with the Xinjiang region of China and to its southeast it has the Indian occupied Kashmir. With 3 divisions divided into 10 districts and 9 towns for the population of almost 1.8 to 2 million people, Gilgit-Baltistan covers an area of 72,971 Km2. The population of GB is diverse on the basis of ethnicity and language. The major religious sects in GB are Shia, Ismaili, Sunni, and Noorbukhsia. The area is mostly mountainous and is most likable for tourism.
Until 1840, the region of nowadays Gilgit-Baltistan was ruled independently by the locals themselves. But in 1840, the Dogras of Kashmir invaded the Baltistan region and extended towards Gilgit, and they annex this region with Jammu & Kashmir. The people of GB revolted against this and ended the Dogra rule, the Dogras then re-establish their rule again in Baltistan in 1842 and in Gilgit in 1860. In 1876, the British established the Gilgit Agency, later the British acquire the Gilgit Agency on a lease of 60 years from the Dogras. With the Muslim awakening in the sub-continent in 1947, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan also stood against the Dogra rule. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan defeated the Dogra rule by November 1947 and willingly acceded to Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan became an administrative unit of Pakistan but has not been formally integrated into Pakistan. The people of GB are struggling for the constitutional status by Pakistan. In 1993, an attempt was made by the High Court of Azad Jammu & Kashmir to annex Gilgit-Baltistan which was dismissed by Supreme Court of Pakistan on the request of people of GB because they feared that Kashmiri’s will dominate them. Gilgit-Baltistan was given the title of northern areas in 1970 which was then changed in 2009 after the “Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-governance order 2009”, was passed by the Pakistani Cabinet and approved by the then President Asif Ali Zardari. As a result of this order, amongst many other things, an elected Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and Gilgit-Baltistan Council were made. Today GB is neither a state nor a province, but it has a semi-provincial status. Politically it is “disputed” because of its past linkages with Kashmir. However, the people of GB themselves negate their linkage with Kashmir because it was annexed with Kashmir by the Dogra’s and then later by the British without the will of the people. Pakistan rejects the proposal of Gilgit-Baltistan’s integration with Pakistan on the account of the situation of Kashmir.
Gilgit-Baltistan is blessed with beauty, peace, and tranquility which attracts tourists from all over the world to this region. GB offers a wide range of mountain ranges – The Himalayas, Karakoram, Hindukush – 5100 Glaciers and 119 lakes with National parks, game reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries. According to the estimates because of this gift of nature to GB, it has the potential to generate $1 billion in revenue annually from its natural resources and tourism, and $10 billion through renewable energy. In 2017, GB had 1.72 million tourists which generated Rs. 300 million in revenue.
Karakoram Highway project was started by the Government of China and Pakistan which was completed in 1979 and opened to the public in 1986. The highway acted as an opportunity for the people of GB, it not only opened up jobs for the people living in that area, it also provided easy access to other areas of Pakistan. As a result, GB was empowered both economically and politically because the literacy rate of GB had increased. Even today the literacy rate of Gilgit-Baltistan is more than the average literacy rate of Pakistan. It has been estimated that the literacy rate of GB is approximately 72%. The Karakoram Highway became a source of the economy through trade and tourism in GB.
The ongoing CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) project under the One Belt One Road initiative of the government of China to expand its economic horizons, benefits GB as well through business development, energy generation, infrastructural development, and telecommunication. The connectivity through CPEC will also increase trade and tourism in the region. Other than that, indirectly it is generating beneficial human resource as people are becoming part of training, language, and business skill learnings. Not only CPEC is important for GB but also due to geo-strategic location GB is also important for CPEC. It is acting as a “Gateway to CPEC”.
Gilgit-Baltistan is a unique case of its own, with a lot of visible positive aspects, it is now time to see GB from other hidden perspectives as well. The major issue faced by the people of GB is their constitutional status, it is important to communicate the reason behind Pakistan’s continuous refusal behind giving a constitutional status to GB. If Pakistan gives constitutional status to GB, it would automatically end the fight for Indian occupied Kashmir, because it would give an impression to India and to the International society that Pakistan has accepted it as a border. It is important to accept that the people of GB want to be integrated into Pakistan, constitutionally, physically and morally and not with the Azad Jammu & Kashmir because of the historical reason or whatsoever. It is important to note the engagement of India with the literate youth of GB, if the youth is not incorporated at the national level they will tend towards other options which may cause a problem for Pakistan in the future because of the reason that GB shares a close border with India and it may cause some security problems.
Pakistan needs to take a bold step in order to officially integrate GB and give it the due status because the fear that Pakistan is running from in the shape of backlash from Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Indian Occupied Kashmir may haunt it in the form of whispers of sub-nationalists in the GB region. With CPEC in hand, Pakistan needs to turn its all attention to GB and Balochistan in order to have economic stability.