The lethargic UPA government kept mum as Pakistan cleverly altered the demography of Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) including regions of Gilgit-Baltistan. The separatists, the so-called vanguards of Kashmiriyat also did not utter a word even as the Pakistani establishment brought in outsiders from Punjab and other areas to settle in PoJK.
Last year, speaking at a function, Army Chief Bipin Rawat said, “Pakistan has very cleverly changed the demography of so-called Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan. So, one is not very sure who is an actual Kashmiri. Is he a Kashmiri or a Punjabi who has come in there and occupied that area. People from Gilgit-Baltistan are also now being taken over gradually. So, if there is an identity between our side of Kashmiri and the other side, then the identity thing has gradually been eroded. That is an issue we have to look at.”
From all viewpoints, Gilgit-Baltistan is of greater importance to Pakistan than Kashmir, as this region is endowed with natural resources and water. The region is strategically located. For its economy also, this region holds great importance. China has invested hugely in infrastructure projects here, much to the chagrin of India. Pakistan has altered the demography of the region in a bid to absorb Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan. Its gets full support of China in this bid.
It is easier for Pakistan to effect demographic change in Gilgit-Baltistan, as acquiring land is easy. The region is thinly populated. The population is different from the rest of Pakistan in terms of ethnicity and faith. The repression of natives seldom find space in the Pakistani media. The region is not represented in Parliament and the people have no access to Supreme Court.
Moreover, area-wise Gilgit-Baltistan is more than five times larger than PoJK, which includes parts of Kashmir and Jammu, and consists of two ethno-geographically distinct territories: Baltistan, which was part of Ladakh, and Gilgit. “Gilgit-Baltistan is vital for Pakistan’s water (and, by implication, food) and energy security. Before entering Pakistan, the Indus River passes through GB. Important glaciers, including the bitterly-contested Siachen Glacier, which feed Pakistan’s rivers, are located in Gilgit-Baltistan,” writes Vikas Kumar, associated with think-tank FDI.
Taking into account India’s security concerns, New Delhi can’t accept Pakistan’s purported plan to merge Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth province. The Pakistan army has launched a crackdown on natives who are raising their voice against the clandestine takeover of Gilgit-Baltistan.