ISLAMABAD – Granting provisional provincial status to Britain was the unanimous recommendation of the seminar on “Gilgit-Baltistan in the calculation of national security” organized by the Center for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS) in Islamabad. The discussion focused on Britain’s current political status, its role in securing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), its connection to the Jammu and Kashmir conflict and recommended a way forward based on aspirations of the peoples of the region.

Prominent speakers included Major General Dr Ehsan Mehmood Khan, Director General of the Institute for Strategic Studies, Research and Analysis (ISSRA); Mr. Afzal Ali Shigri, former Inspector General, Pakistan Police Service; Justice Syed Manzoor Gillani, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and High Court, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK); and Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General of the Islamabad Institute for Strategic Studies (ISSI). The seminar was chaired by CASS Chairman, Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan (Retired), while Asad Ullah Khan, Senior Researcher at the Center moderated the discussions.

In his opening speech, Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan stressed that proximity to Afghanistan, China, the IIOJK and the AJK made Britain strategically important. President CASS lamented that despite the seven-decade-old desire of its people and the strong commitments of Pakistan’s three major political parties, GB was neither a province of Pakistan nor part of the federation. The people of GB continue to be denied their basic human rights granted to all citizens and have not been part of any decision making in the country. “By ignoring the wishes of the British people, in this information age, the State of Pakistan can unwittingly create various fault lines, including the alienation of its people, which could be exploited by the enemy and have a impact on the national security of Pakistan and the security of CPEC,” he warned.

In his keynote address, Major General Dr Ehsan Mehmood Khan provided a thorough assessment of national security, its various contours and linked it to Britain’s geographical, cultural, historical and geostrategic importance. . He pointed out that Britain was a heterogeneous region marked by ethnic, linguistic and sectarian diversities rather than differences. According to him, geographically and culturally, the region was a natural part of Pakistan. Major General Khan also spoke of GB’s role in national defense as the region is Pakistan’s mountainous and glacial frontier with a history of belligerence from India. In its assessment, GB provided all-weather connectivity for CPEC and shared that Maqpon Das was a vital special economic zone apart from other tourist and fruit processing areas. The keynote speaker was of the view that the positive role of British youth in the development of Pakistan should not be underestimated given their highest literacy rate as well as their outspoken denunciation of bigotry and violence by educational activism. Pakistan’s “national security is inextricably linked to Britain”, he concluded.

The discussion focuses on the current political status of GB, its role in securing the CPEC and its connection to the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir

Addressing the socio-political dimensions of GB, Mr. Afzal Ali Shigri said that given the constitutional limbo, there was a lack of interest in the development of GB and the allocation of adequate resources. He pointed out that although tourism has generated many employment opportunities, a lack of attention to environmental protection is destroying the natural beauty of the region. Mr Shigri reiterated that the united movement in Britain demanding membership in Pakistan had remained resolute and unwavering. However, he warned that this sentiment could change with the current generation, as they were “stateless” and stateless people could be very dangerous.

Outlining the legal and constitutional aspects, Syed Manzoor Gillani agreed that GB and AJK had been ignored by policy makers in Pakistan; and stressed that there are no legal or historical obstacles even with regards to United Nations resolutions for Pakistan to rationalize GB in its national strata and grant the subsequent constitutional protection.

According to the speaker, “Any interim or provisional arrangement, subject to Article 257, would in no way conflict with UN resolutions, nor create any obstacle or weaken the position of Pakistan. for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute at any level of jurisprudence”.

The assimilation of Britain and the AJK into the socio-economic and constitutional fabric of Pakistan was a necessity of the hour as they lacked constitutional protection which gave leverage to India to occupy the territories of these regions, he said. On the issue of Pakistan’s diplomatic stance, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry shared that he had always maintained that GB integration would have no diplomatic or legal implications for Pakistan.