Pakistan’s new map an opportunity for India. Now, Delhi just needs to play its cards right

File image of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan | ANI via Reuters

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Pakistan’s issuance of a new map, which includes much of Kashmir and Junagadh, even as it observed Youm-e-Istehsal (Kashmir Siege Day) prompted a quick response from India’s ministry of external affairs, which called it “an exercise in political absurdity”. But there is something that was almost missed in all the hullabaloo. For the first time, a Pakistani map includes Gilgit-Baltistan as part of ‘Kashmir’, something that India has been claiming since the beginning of the dispute. That’s peculiar, to say the least, and may just mean an opportunity for India if played right.

In a recent interview, veteran Pakistani diplomat Khurshid Kasuri pointed to ‘reckless statements’ by India on reclaiming Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) as the reason for Chinese aggravation at Ladakh. The possibility that Pakistan has Beijing’s blessings in producing the map is, therefore, entirely likely, especially given similar border claims by Nepal recently. The trick, however, is to turn all these calculations on their head by using this map in negotiation-counters to solidify India’s claim to the whole of Kashmir, including Gilgit-Baltistan.

Also read: It’s time for China, Pakistan, even India to rethink the fantasy Modi called expansionism

Pakistan’s games with Gilgit-Baltistan

Several areas of PoK were indeed under the control of Maharaja Hari Singh, under differing arrangements with ‘Mirs’ or kings of Chitral, Hunza and Skardu among others. Pakistan denied this entirely, and once it established its foothold in the area in 1947, it refused to move despite a UN Security Council Resolution asking it to do so. This area, abutting Afghanistan, China, and then-Soviet Union, was strategic enough for the British to become part of the ‘Great Game’. The newly formed Pakistan was quick to realise this, and it secretly signed the Karachi Agreement of 1949, which took a small rump of area to create the notional ‘Azad Kashmir’, with some 75 per cent of an estimated 78,000 sq km territory innocuously called the ‘Northern Areas’. Decades later, Pakistan renamed it Gilgit-Baltistan.

Even today, Gilgit-Baltistan remains in a legal limbo. The Constitution of Pakistan doesn’t identify it as a ‘territory’, and it is also excluded from the section on fundamental rights and definition of the State. That translates into no rights, barring what Islamabad grants the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan from time to time; they carry Pakistani passports but can’t vote in national elections.

As one of the most underdeveloped areas in the world, unhappiness among the residents has been simmering. This has led to protests on four planks. One was by way of intermittent demands for independence by various groups, including the Balwaristan National Army, which were brutally suppressed. Second is the demand for re-unification with ‘Azad Kashmir’, which was opposed even by the Kashmiri separatists on the ground that it would ‘dilute’ the Kashmir issue. Third was to demand connectivity with India through traditional routes via Kargil, and thus offer an alternative route for trade from the single tortuous and lengthy road link to Pakistan.  

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