The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued a “strong protest” on Monday over an order by the Pakistan Supreme Court allowing the Imran Khan government to hold elections in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The government said it had issued a demarche to protest what it called Pakistan’s attempt to make “material changes” to the disputed area , by bringing federal authority to Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), which has functioned as a “provincial autonomous region” since 2009.
On April 30, a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Islamabad, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed, had allowed the government to organise general elections in G-B, and to set up a caretaker government there before that. As a result of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, the demarche was issued via email to the Minister (Political) in Pakistan’s High Commission in Delhi, after a telephone conversation with MEA officials.
“The Government of Pakistan or its judiciary has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it. India completely rejects such actions and continued attempts to bring material changes in Pakistan occupied areas of the Indian territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Instead, Pakistan should immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation,” the MEA spokesperson said in a statement reacting to last Thursday’s order.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) responded to the demarche by referring to the government’s decision in August last year to amend Article 370 as “illegal and in clear violation of UNSC resolutions”.
“The entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is a “disputed” territory and is recognised as such by the international community,” the MoFA said in its statement.
India’s reaction is consistent with previous objections it has voiced against elections in G-B and in other parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which it refers to as “Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK)”.
In August 2009, Pakistan decided to formalise the Gilgit-Baltistan administration, formerly called the “Northern Areas”, under the “Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order -2009”. India had protested that order as well as elections to a “legislative assembly” that followed in November 2009, as attempts to turn G-B into another province of Pakistan while it was still disputed territory.
India also protested elections in G-B in 2015, and has sent demarches over the current election process as well, which is expected to be completed by September 24, 2020.
In addition, South Block has issued missives over orders of the Pakistan Supreme Court in the matter, which it called “interference in India’s internal affairs”, after it overturned the 2009 Self governance order in favour of even stronger control by Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s office, in May 2018 and another order in January 2019, extending the Supreme Court’s own jurisdiction over Gilgit-Baltistan.
In its objections to the latest order, India also pointed out that G-B and PoK are an “integral part of India” along with the rest of Jammu and Kashmir, and referred to the Parliament resolution to this effect in 1994.