Islamabad, September 23: After moving ahead with plans to create a province in disputed Gilgit Baltistan (GB) despite India’s strong protests, Pakistan is planning to hold general elections for its legislative assembly on November 15, local media reported on Wednesday.
New Delhi considers GB a part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and has consistently opposed changes made in the disputed region by Islamabad.
A summary regarding the assembly election has been approved by President Arif Alvi and sent to Prime Minister Imran Khan for the final go-ahead, reports said. Analysts have said that once the elections are held, the government will move towards making GB a full province.
The election date was announced after a meeting on Tuesday between opposition parliamentary leaders and the army high command, in which Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence director general Lt Gen Faiz Hameed discussed the prospects of giving GB the status of a province.
Leader of the opposition in parliament Shehbaz Sharif, along with his party colleagues Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal, attended the meeting on behalf of the PML-N while the PPP was represented by party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and senator Sherry Rehman. With all stakeholders on board, the process to make GB a full province within the Pakistan federation has been started, said an observer.
Earlier this month, the minister for Kashmir and GB affairs, Ali Amin Gandapur had announced that the government had decided in principle to elevate GB to the status of a full-fledged province with all constitutional rights, including representation in parliament. He told a delegation of visiting journalists from GB at a meeting in Islamabad that Khan would visit the region and make a formal announcement in this regard.
Gandapur had also clarified that after the grant of constitutional rights, the subsidy and tax exemption on wheat given to the region would not be withdrawn.
New Delhi had conveyed to Pakistan several times that the entire union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession.
In May, the external affairs ministry said Pakistan or its judiciary had no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it and rejected attempts to bring material changes in Pakistan-occupied areas of the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir. “Instead, Pakistan should immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation,” the ministry had said.
Pak oppn divided over army dictating policy on Gilgit Baltistan
Cracks have emerged in Pakistan’s newly formed opposition alliance over Gilgit Baltistan, with PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif saying the issue of giving provincial status to the disputed region should have been discussed in parliament and not at the GHQ, the military headquarters.
“They (leaders of the Pakistan Democratic Movement) were called (to the GHQ) on the issue of Gilgit Baltistan. This is a political issue that should be settled by the people’s representatives…. These issues should be decided in the parliament, not in the GHQ,” she told media on Wednesday.
Her comments came a day after Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence director general Lt Gen Faiz Hameed discussed the prospects of giving GB the status of a province in a meeting with the opposition alliance leaders.
Leader of the opposition in parliament Shehbaz Sharif, who is Maryam Nawaz’s uncle, along with his party colleagues Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal, attended the meeting on behalf of the PML-N while the PPP was represented by party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and senator Sherry Rehman.
She also pointed out that no representative of her father, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, met the army chief. This statement is seen as an attack on Shahbaz Sharif, who is also leader of the opposition in parliament and president of the party.
Shehbaz Sharif confirmed the meeting with the military leadership ahead of the opposition parties’ all parties conference but made no further comments.
Reacting to Maryam Nawaz’s statement, railways minister Sheikh Rasheed said that the PML-N leadership held two, not one, meetings in the last two months with the military leadership, adding a rift had emerged between Maryam Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif over the leadership of the PML-N party.
(HT With inputs from Agencies)