ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Sunday his government will give provisional provincial status to part of Kashmir, drawing condemnation from India, which has long objected to any such changes by Islamabad.
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.
“We have made a decision to grant provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan, which has long been the demand here,” Khan said in a speech in the city of Gilgit.
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Shri Anurag Srivastava said Delhi “firmly rejects the attempt by Pakistan to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory, under its illegal and forcible occupation.”
Last year India angered Pakistan by announcing changes to the status of Kashmir, taking away some of the region’s privileges. Although Pakistani officials made no link between India’s prior move and Khan’s proposals, the Pakistani action is likely to be viewed in both countries as a partial tit-for-tat response.
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) resolution on the dispute. 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.
India’s foreign ministry has already objected to the election, saying Pakistan illegally occupies the territory.
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.