Gilgit-Baltistan: A Land Seldom Traveled

Jurgen Creutzman

We live in a global village where people are constantly impacted by things that happen around them. Even an incident in the remotest part of the world may alter the society, the economy and the environment for those, who live in the urban hubs of western countries. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for political thinkers to remain abreast with issues, know about the people and their societies and learn about their needs and demands when finding solutions for various disputes related to land, resources and identity. Some of these problem-areas, for instance, the Gilgit-Baltistan region just North of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), is seldom talked about and continues to remain under heavy censorship thereby restricting the ability of westerners to fully comprehend issues.

Gilgit-Baltistan, currently under Pakistani occupation, is not often mentioned when the issue of Kashmir is discussed. The region is situated at the rim of the Tibetan plateau and borders Kashmir valley and Muzaffarabad (Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) in the south, Ladakh and Tibet in the east, Xinjiang in the north, Tajikistan and Afghanistan in the north-west, Chitral in the west, and Pakistani province of Khyber-Pakhtunkha (previously NWFP) in the south-west. Given its geo-strategic location, the region has gained political importance for Pakistan, and therefore has become the sticking point, limiting the choices for both India and Pakistan to improve their bi-lateral relations.

In the contemporary context, the strategic relevance of Gilgit-Baltistan has increased significantly because of its proximity to the parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan where Talibans and Al-Qaida have established strongholds. There are reports that Taliban are increasing their influence in Gilgit-Baltistan and the chance of this region falling into the hands of extremist elements is increasing.

Simultaneously, as the region is contested by two nuclear powers, any instability in Gilgit-Baltistan could be a possible domino stone in the chain of events that could possibly lead to a war between India and Pakistan, which would obviously have global repercussions.

While Pakistan continues to occupy Gilgit-Baltistan, its primary focus remains on building military infrastructure, which comes at the cost of loss to local dwellings, farms and pastures. As of now, thousands of Pakistani soldiers and their equipment are stationed on glacial moraines.

These much-valued water bodies which sustain the life of humans and wildlife alike are threatened by Pakistani interventions, like for example through the Bashah-Diamer dam, causing glacial meltdown and glacial lake outbursts. Called the water tank of South Asia, the region is home to famous mountain ranges and peaks, and is also called the third pole of the world, given the concentration of glaciers located here. Famous mountain ranges like the Himalayas, the Karakoram, the Ladakh, the Pamir and the Hindukush converge here.

The fact that the Kashmir issue developed in a region, which is a nuclear flashpoint, is a matter of concern for the west in particular and the world in general. Any future war over Kashmir may destabilize the entire world. All political commentators emphasize that the Kashmir issue must be resolved in order to eliminate confrontation between two nuclear countries of South Asia. However, the issue cannot be resolved without the participation of all ethnic and religious groups of the state and the connected areas, such as Gilgit-Baltistan. To achieve a just solution to the dispute, the political situation in J&K needs to be assessed in totality, which also means addressing the issues of the princely state as a whole and the geographically and culturally connected areas and not just focusing on the Indian part of Kashmir. Given the fact that the UN resolutions of 1948-49 demand of Pakistan to withdraw from Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, a timely and positive action by Pakistan in this regard can help curtail political instability in the region and further destruction to the land and the society of Kashmir.

Jurgen Creutzman is a Member of the European Parliament for ALDE, and a Member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protectio

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