It would not be a surprise if the Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad were to formally incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through the territory, and Beijing is anxious to try and “legalise” its right of transit through that region, before investing still more money in what is the most ambitious project to have ever been attempted in Pakistan.
China has been steadily progressing in its bid to ensure warm water ports athwart the oil lanes of the Persian Gulf. In case India continues with its present relative lethargy in completing the Chahbahar port, it is likely that Beijing will take advantage of Delhi’s slow progress on the Iranian port (presumably caused by a deepening of the frowns in Washington at the Chahbahar project) in order to take control of that port as well, thereby giving the PRC an additional outlet into waters that have long been the undisputed lair of the US navy. Interestingly, both Chahbahar as well as Gwadar are situated within territories that have traditionally been Baloch, a community that has become even more disenfranchised than the much persecuted Kurds were before wresting control of still tenuous safe zones in Iraq and now in Syria.
Unfortunately, given China’s quick reflexes, India’s Lutyens Zone follows what may be termed the “Digvijaya Singh mode of decision making”. Had the AICC observer in Goa shown initiative and speedily promised ministerial berths to independents and smaller parties before the BJP did, it would have been Digambar Kamat, rather than Manohar Parrikar, who got sworn in as the new Chief Minister. In like fashion, had the Congress Party reached out in Manipur to the Naga party, when the results of the Assembly elections were becoming clear, that state too would have remained in their column. As it turned out, Amit Shah was faster off the block, and won both races despite voters having given Congress a head start. Global events, similarly, will not wait for Lutyens Zone politicians and mandarins to spend days and weeks cogitating on choices that often melt away with time the way ice cream does in summer.
Both slowness and more often an absence of response have lost this country opportunities that were at some point in time accessible. The roots of the unfolding strategic reversal in Gilgit-Baltistan go back to the Mountbatten-Nehru decision to enforce a ceasefire before the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir got liberated by troops commanded by General K.M. Cariappa. The ceasefire was another of Nehru’s decisions that may have been grumbled at by Sardar Patel, but was not opposed by him the way it ought to have been, by threatening to quit and thereby bring the peacenik PM to heel.
Whenever Pakistan scores a geopolitical goal against India, our so called “counter-attack” usually takes the form of tough statements on television channels by both official spokespersons as well as non-official voices, whose martial spirit rises the farther they are from any actual or potential battlefield. Expectedly, yet another “protest”, this time no less than a “strong protest”, has been lodged with both Pakistan and China over the way in which territory that belongs to India is being used to create a transport corridor between the PRC and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It is doubtful that any individual is naive enough to believe that yet another “protest” from Lutyens Delhi, no matter how “strong and stern” it be, will make any difference to the speed of implementation of a project seen by Islamabad as a ticket to economic stability. What is needed is action, and this need not be in the form of a war with the China-Pakistan alliance, especially when the India-US military alliance is still a work in progress. Even the first of three Foundation Agreements is yet to be wholly operationalised, given the propensity for prevarication of the Lutyens Zone. Rather, what is needed is to follow the example of Pakistan in Gilgit-Baltistan and “normalise” the situation in that part of the state that Mountbatten and Nehru allowed to be retained under the control of India. A start would be the creation of two more Union Territories, that of Jammu and Ladakh, while Kashmir itself would remain a state with Article 370 and other special features relating to it intact for the present, even while the same would get removed from the two new Union Territories. Such a move would be a non-military, but strategically important, riposte to Islamabad’s incorporation of Gilgit-Baltistan into its formal boundaries in order to “regularise” the land through which the CPEC enters the actual legal boundaries of Pakistan.
Ever since the one-sided accord entered into between Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru, both Jammu as well as Ladakh have faced discrimination at the hands of the successive Valley-centric administrations headquartered in Srinagar. The proclamation of Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan would provide adequate context for the creation of the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu, whose governments would thereupon break free of the overlordship of Srinagar. Indeed, this is the “azaadi” that both Jammu as well as Ladakh have long sought. In the case of the state that would remain after the two UTs get formed, Kashmir, it is important to ensure that the Pandit community be enabled to return with honour to their own land. Property that has been illegally seized from them or which has been effectively stolen from them by paying ridiculously low amounts or even zero compensation should be given back. Rather than protect the security of agents of Pakistan the way so much of the police and other security forces in that state are wasting taxpayer rupees in doing, such protection should be given instead to those members of the Pandit community who return to their “Panun Kashmir”. In every setback there is an opportunity, and in the case of Gilgit-Baltistan, any unilateral alteration of the status quo by Islamabad in the territory under its control should be responded to by similar measures on the part of Delhi. One slap from Islamabad merits the creation of two Union Territories from Delhi.