Prime Minister Imran Khan says his government has decided to give "provisional provincial status" to Gilgit-Baltistan, keeping in view the UNSC resolutions on the Kashmir dispute with India.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said his government will give provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan, part of disputed Kashmir, drawing condemnation from India, which has long objected to any such changes by Islamabad.
Islamabad says the "administrative, political and economic reforms are a long-standing demand of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan," and that New Delhi has "no locus standi" on the issue.
Khan's proposal would apply to Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan's only land link to China, which is the northern part of the larger Kashmir region.
Both Delhi and Islamabad have claimed all of Kashmir since gaining independence 73 years ago, and have fought two wars over the territory. Most of the Kashmiris favour complete independence or a merger with Pakistan.
"We have made a decision to grant provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan, which has long been the demand here keeping in view UN Security Council resolutions," Khan said in a speech in the city of Gilgit.
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Shri Anurag Srivastava said New Delhi "firmly rejects the attempt by Pakistan to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory, under its illegal and forcible occupation."
Pakistan immediately dismissed India's remarks, saying "India has no locus standi whatsoever on the issue – legal, moral or historical."
Vague constitutional status
Last year India angered Pakistan by announcing changes to the status of India-administered Kashmir, taking away some of the region's privileges.
Both sides control parts of Kashmir, which is divided between them by a United Nations-mandated "Line of Control".
UN observers are still stationed in the region.
Kashmir has carried a vague constitutional status in both countries since 1947 to accommodate for a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on the dispute that call for a plebiscite in the region. Islamabad, Kashmir-based groups, and the OIC Muslim bloc seek plebiscite in the region, a demand New Delhi has long ignored.
Elections in Gilgit Baltistan
While full details were not immediately disclosed, Khan's proposal appears likely to bring the region closer to the status of Pakistan's other federating provinces.
Khan said the decision was within the scope of the UNSC resolution.
He gave no time-frame for its implementation. Such a move would require a constitutional amendment in Pakistan, which must be passed by two-thirds of Pakistan's parliament.
Khan's visit to the area comes ahead of an election for a Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, to be held on November 15.
The body, created in 2009, has few powers, and the region is largely governed directly by Islamabad.
Strategically located Gilgit-Baltistan, with an estimated population of 1.2 million, borders Afghanistan and China, and is at the heart of the $65 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor infrastructure development plan.
Similar plans by Islamabad to adjust its status were previously shelved over concerns that it would adversely impact Pakistan's case in the United Nations for full control over Kashmir.
#GilgitBaltistan's provisional provincial status truly reflect the wishes of the local population who have long been demanding administrative, political and economic reforms. The will of the people is the only thing that matters under any legal framework.— Sana Jamal (@Sana_Jamal) November 1, 2020
Top rebel leader killed
Also on Sunday, Indian troops shot dead the leader of India-administered Kashmir's largest rebel group, authorities said.
Hizbul Mujahideen leader Saifullah Mir – also known as Musaib and Doctor Saif, as he treated rebels injured in encounters with Indian forces – was killed in a gun battle in the Rangreth area of Srinagar near the main airport, police said.
One of his associates was captured alive, they added.
I on behalf of people of Gilgit Baltistan pay tribute and thank prime minister Imran Khan for announcing GB as provisional province , The 72 years dream of constitutional rights came true and loyalties and sacrifices of the people of GB are honoured by our true leader ❤️— Ali Amin Khan Gandapur (@AliAminKhanPTI) November 1, 2020
Rebel groups have fought for decades for Kashmir's independence or its merger with Pakistan, and enjoy broad popular support.
The fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mostly civilians, since 1989.
"The militant killed in the gunfight is Hizbul Mujahideen's chief operational commander Dr Saifullah," Vijay Kumar, inspector general of police in Kashmir, told reporters at the site of the encounter.
"It's really a very big achievement."
Mir, 31, studied biology and worked as a technician before joining the rebel outfit in 2014, officials said.
Counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir – where India stations more than 500,000 troops – had been stepped up since the start of India's nationwide coronavirus lockdown in late March, with more than 100 rebels killed so far this year, police said.