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After Ladakh, Why Gilgit-Baltistan Could Be Next Big Flash Point Between India And China?

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In a bid to gain further control on the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, Islamabad has decided to upgrade its status as the fifth province of Pakistan. Experts believe that the move is made on the behest of China and could dramatically escalate India-Pakistan tensions and could even lead to ‘two-front’ war against Pakistan and China.  

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Confirming the speculations, Pakistan PM Imran Khan at the UNGA warned the global community that India was planning another “ill-conceived misadventure” in a “nuclearised environment,” but Pakistan was ready to “fight for its freedom to the end”.

Khan also prompted the UN Security Council to play its role in halting the Indian schemes which could endanger the entire region. “In order to divert attention from its illegal actions and atrocities in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir, India is playing a dangerous game of upping the military ante against Pakistan in a nuclearised strategic environment,” he said.

According to media reports, Pakistan is holding elections in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) on November 15 on the order of the top court, following which the status of the province could be established.

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New Delhi has vehemently objected this move saying that GB is a part of Jammu and Kashmir which is an integral part of India and Pakistan or its judiciary has no locus standi on the territory illegally occupied by it.

“Instead, Pakistan should immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation,” the Ministry of External Affairs had said.

JAMMU-KASHMIR

Pakistan’s government is putting the finishing touches on plans to “provisionally” make the Gilgit-Baltistan region of disputed Kashmir part of the country, risking another high-stakes showdown with India that could lead to war, says Tom Hussain of SCMP.

According to Hussain, the move is expected to heighten military tensions between India and Pakistan. Citing analysts, Hussain emphasised that Islamabad’s move to make Gilgit-Baltistan the country’s fifth province would be seen by India – as well as the United States – as being greatly influenced by China.

China has repeatedly criticised India’s decision to repeal the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two union territories – Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, at United Nation Security Council.

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New Delhi responded to Beijing saying “not to comment on the internal affairs” of other countries. “The Chinese side has no locus standi whatsoever on this matter and is advised not to comment on the internal affairs of other nations,” said Anurag Srivastava, Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson.

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Micheal Kugelman, senior South Asia associate at the Wilson Centre, a Washington-based think tank, talking to SCMP said that Modi’s hardline Hindu nationalist administration would view Pakistan’s plan for Gilgit-Baltistan as something greater than just payback for India’s decision in August last year to revoke the semi-autonomous constitutional status of the parts of Kashmir it governs.

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“I certainly don’t expect the Indian government would simply accept this move by Pakistan as a reciprocation of sorts for India’s … revocation. Rather, it would see it as a provocation, pure and simple.”

China’s personal interest in Gilgit-Baltistan rises from its strategic importance in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). With an investment of more than $60 billion in the project, Beijing has been vying to develop infrastructure in the region to boost trade.

Kugelman added that India and the US could see this a Chinese hand behind Pakistan’s move to make Gilgit Baltistan a province. “And what better way to do so than to try to snuff out India’s claim to Gilgit-Baltistan – which also happens to be a key location for CPEC, which India rejects – by turning it into a province,” Kugelman said.

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Another expert, Harsh V. Pant, a professor of international relations at King’s College London, told SCMP that “by trying to legalise its stranglehold over Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan is trying to not only remove the roadblocks to Chinese investors in CPEC but also giving Beijing greater access”. It also made the two-front war with China and Pakistan scenario “very realistic”, Pant said.

Penned By Smriti Chaudhary. Edited & Contributed By Syed Shafiq

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