THERE appears to be a general consensus in Pakistan, across the political divide, that Gilgit-Baltistan be integrated as a provisional province. The GB committee set up by prime minister Nawaz Sharif recommended in March 2017 that GB be accorded a status akin to a province of Pakistan.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its judgement of January 2019, ordered the conferral of constitutional status and rights on GB residents at par with other citizens of Pakistan. The government of prime minister Imran Khan announced in November 2020 its decision to grant provisional provincial status to GB.

Yet, the people of GB have not been confAerred this status of being de jure citizens of Pakistan. They have repeatedly expressed, through resolutions of the GB Assembly, their desire to formally join Pakistan as a province. Pending integration, they have also demanded internal autonomy.

One might argue that the reason for this procrastination has been because of possible implications for Pakistan's stance on the Kashmir dispute. Since the Kashmir dispute has not been settled either in accordance with the provisions of the Indian Independence Act of 1947 or the provisions of the UN Security Council resolutions, GB's constitutional status remains in limbo.

The people of GB are disappointed that successive Pakistan governments have focused more on governance and development-related issues, rather than finding ways to recognise the people of GB as full-fledged citizens of Pakistan.

Was it wise to deny the people of GB their desire all these years?

We must seriously ask ourselves whether denying the people of GB their wish to join Pakistan has been a wise course of action all these years. A strong legal, political and strategic argument can be made that further delay on this issue won't serve our national interests.

Firstly, several territories within GB did not fall under the suzerainty of the maharaja of Kashmir and the people of these territories had already decided to join PakAistan. Gilgit, for instance, formally acceded to Pakistan in November 1947. The government of Pakistan even appointed a political agent there. Likewise, for some other territories, original accession papers were handed over to the then president of Pakistan by the wife of Major Brown, who was commanding the Gilgit Scouts. This was reported in this paper in 2002.

Secondly, integrating GB into Pakistan would have no implications for the country's legal position on the Kashmir dispute...

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