Gilgit-Baltistan: A question of autonomy

Why the need for special status?

So far, it is the Pakistani military that has a major say in the governance of the region with its people forbidden to participate in parliamentary elections. A deep-seated sense of alienation prevails among the residents (who are not citizens of Pakistan), who feel they have been discriminated against in comparison with the 'special status' of Azad Kashmir' (a self-governing state under Pakistan's control). The present package, which goes further than any previous attempt to redress the grievances of the area, has also received the support of the main Opposition, Pakistan Muslim League (N). But it falls short of the main demand of the people of Gilgit- Baltistan for a constitutional status to the region as a fifth province and for Pakistani citizenship to its people. The Balwaristan National Front (Balwaristan is the historical name for the Northern Areas) is fighting to get the status of a separate nation comprising Gilgit-Baltistan , Chitral and Shhenaki Kohistan.

What is India's reaction to the proposal?

India had lodged a protest over the Gilgit-Baltistan order on the grounds that the entire state of J&K is an integral part of India. While the moderate faction of the Hurriyat leadership has said that the devolution of power to the Northern Areas will not come in the way of the final resolution of the Kashmir dispute, Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani has said that Gilgit and Baltistan are a part of J&K and there is no justification for any modification, ironically throwing his weight behind Indian opposition to the proposal albeit for different reasons (Geelani advocates Kashmir's accession to Pakistan).

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