The suspicions of Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s (AJK) government that the federal government is trying to convert Gilgit Baltistan (GB) into a fifth province of Pakistan are forcing them to make unbecoming statements.

According to Pakistan’s constitution, the Northern Areas are not a part of Pakistan, and its inhabitants have never had any representation in Pakistan’s parliament despite demands by the people living in the area. On 29 August 2009, the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, was passed by the Pakistani cabinet and later signed by Asif Ali Zardari. The order granted self-rule to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, by creating, among other things, an elected GB legislative assembly and its own council. GB thus gained a de facto province-like status without constitutionally becoming part of Pakistan.

Officially, Pakistan has not submitted to Gilgit-Baltistani calls for integration with Pakistan on the grounds that it would prejudice its international obligations with regard to the Kashmir conflict. Pakistan has always clarified its position saying that Northern Areas were an integral part of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, and their fate is yet to be decided along with the rest of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, through a plebiscite as provided in the U.N. resolutions. The petition filed recently by senior lawyer Ahmed Raza Khan Qasuri, was on the basis that during his recent visit to Gilgit-Baltistan in connection with the June 8 elections, he found that the people of the area wanted their territory to be constitutionally integrated with Pakistan and declared as the fifth province of the country. This by no means is an act of the federal government to give GB Provincial status, simply the freedom of the people to express their concerns and wishes.

Gilgit-Baltistan has seen its geostrategic importance rise after China spotted its potential for an energy corridor through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. The 2009 reforms order has angered many including India who see this as a ploy by Pakistan to completely make GB its own in all but name. Although the federal government has expressed no immediate desire to add GB officially as a province, it is honouring the peoples demand by providing them the platform to choose their own representatives. The region has 600,000 registered voters and its assembly seats are distributed over 7 segments. Why should they be denied the right to vote, when AJK enjoys freedom of having its own constitution and legislation? As Pakistan has always supported the Kashmiri cause and continues to do so, diplomatic relations should be enhanced to address each other’s grievances in an appropriate manner.