ISLAMABAD - Granting GB provisional province status was the unanimous recommen­dation of the seminar on ‘Gilgit-Baltistan in National Security Cal­culus’ organised by the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS) in Islamabad. The dis­cussion focused on the current political status of GB, its role in secur­ing China-Pakistan Eco­nomic Corridor (CPEC), its linkage with the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and recom­mended a way forward according to the aspira­tions of the people of the region.

Eminent speakers in­cluded Major General Dr Ehsan Mehmood Khan, Director General, Institute for Strategic Studies, Research & Analysis (ISSRA); Mr. Afzal Ali Shigri, Former Inspector General, Po­lice Service of Pakistan; Justice Syed Manzoor Gillani, former Chief Justice Supreme Court and High Court, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK); and Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General, Insti­tute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). The seminar was chaired by President CASS Air Marshal Farhat Hus­sain Khan (Retd), while Asad Ullah Khan, senior researcher at the Cen­tre moderated the pro­ceedings.

While delivering the opening address, Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan highlighted that proximity with Afghan­istan, China, IIOJK and AJK made GB strategi­cally important. Presi­dent CASS lamented that despite the seven-decade old desire of its populace and firm com­mitments by all three major political parties of Pakistan, GB was neither a province of Pakistan nor part of the federation. The people of GB continue to be deprived of their ba­sic fundamental rights granted to all citizens and were not stake­holders in any decision-making in the country. “By ignoring the wishes of the people of GB, in this information age, the state of Pakistan unintentionally may be creating various fault lines, including alien­ation of its people, that could be exploited by the enemy and impact Pakistan’s national se­curity and security of CPEC,” he warned.

In his keynote ad­dress, Major General Dr Ehsan Mehmood Khan provided an in-depth assessment of national security, its various contours and linked it to the geographic, cul­tural, historical, and geostrategic signifi­cance of GB. He point­ed out that GB was a heterogeneous region marked by ethnic, lin­guistic, and sectarian diversities rather than differences. Accord­ing to him, geographi­cally and culturally, the region was a natural part of Pakistan. Ma­jor General Khan also discussed GB’s role in national defence as the region is Pakistan’s mountainous and gla­cial frontier with a his­tory of belligerence from India. In his as­sessment, GB provided all-weather connectiv­ity for CPEC and shared that Maqpon Das was a vital Special Eco­nomic Zone apart from other tourist and fruit processing zones. The keynote speaker was of the view that the posi­tive role of GB’s youth in Pakistan’s develop­ment should not be un­derestimated given its highest literacy rate as well as their emphatic denunciation of sec­tarianism and violence through educational activism. The “national security of Pakistan is inextricably linked with GB,” he concluded.

Discussion focuses on current political status of GB, its role in securing CPEC, and its linkage with Jammu and Kashmir dispute

Discussing the socio-political dimensions of GB, Mr. Afzal Ali Shigri stated that given the constitutional limbo, there was lack of in­terest in GB’s develop­ment and allocation of adequate resources. He stressed that although tourism had generated many employment op­portunities, a lack of attention to environ­mental protection was destroying the region’s natural beauty. Mr Shi­gri reasserted that the unique movement in GB demanding to ac­cede to Pakistan had remained resolute and unwavering. However, he warned that this sentiment could change with the current gen­eration, as they were ‘stateless’ and stateless people could be very dangerous.

Outlining the legal and constitutional as­pects, Syed Manzoor Gillani agreed that GB and AJK had been ig­nored by the policy­makers of Pakistan; and pointed out that there were no legal or histori­cal impediments, even as far as United Na­tions resolutions were concerned for Pakistan to streamline GB in its national strata and give the later constitutional protection.

According to the speaker, “Any interim or provisional arrange­ment, subject to Article 257, would in no way conflict with the UN res­olutions, nor create any impediment or weaken the stand of Pakistan for the resolution of Kashmir dispute at any level, by any stretch of jurisprudence.”

Assimilation of GB and AJK in the socio­economic and constitu­tional fabric of Pakistan was a need of the hour as they lacked consti­tutional protection that gave leverage to India for occupying territo­ries of these regions, he said. On the issue of Pakistan’s diplomatic stance, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry shared that he had al­ways held the stance that integrating GB would not have diplo­matic or legal implica­tions for Pakistan.