Pakistan is set to elevate Gilgit Baltistan to provincial status. With this single move, Pakistan will be able to meet at least seven decades old demand of people of Gilgit-Baltistan to merge with main land constitutionally, secure vital geo-strategic route of China Pakistan Economic Corridor and protect tourism, promote economic potential and push farther its water and energy interests (Bunji & Diamer-Bhasha Dam etc.). However, some quarters have raised objections to the move on varying narratives which need to be addressed. All stake holders including key political parties have agreed to the proposal of grant of provisional provincial status to the Gilgit Baltistan. This historic decision will meet the long term aspirations of people and will help address local concerns and issues of representation, by all means possible. In September 2020, the Government of Pakistan announced its intention to make Gilgit-Baltistan an interim province that had representation in the parliament. On November 1, 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that his government would give the provisional provincial status to the beautiful region blessed with vistas of nature making a tourists’ paradise. The government also issued a new political map on August 4, 2020, showing the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Gilgit-Baltistan, as a disputed region awaiting settlement based on the United Nation Security Council resolution. On March 9, 2021, the Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly unanimously adopted a resolution to make the region an interim province of the country. The resolution stated that a bill to amend the constitution of Pakistan to declare Gilgit-Baltistan a province should be passed keeping in view Pakistan’s principled stance on Kashmir. The happy omen is that the opposition parties have agreed, in principle, to support the move to make Gilgit-Baltistan an interim province. The people of the region want their area to be merged into Pakistan and thereby be declared as a separate province. This action will have no negative implications for the Kashmir issue as it will be linked to the final settlement of the issued based on Pakistan’s principled stance. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan would continue to extend their moral support to their Kashmiri brothers at political and diplomatic fora. Pakistan is only granting provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan while its stance on United Nation Security Council resolutions on Kashmir remains the same. Pakistan and China jointly built the majestic KKH through Gilgit-Baltistan and now China Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) follows the same route. It may be recalled that the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its seven- member judgment in 2019 had directed the government of Pakistan to take necessary measures within fortnight to grant citizens’ right to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and those would remain contingent upon the settlement of the issue according to the UN Security Council resolution. The 15-member Sartaj Committee in its recommendations in 2015 also recommended similar policy decisions of mainstreaming the people of the region enabling them to realize the full potential of the socio-economic development of resource-rich Gilgit- Baltistan. It may be mentioned here that in the recently held elections in GB, all the political parties’ leadership in their election campaigns promised unequivocally and eloquently to grant the provincial status to the region as their first priority. Let us positively hope that it will not be cast to the four winds like other tall promises made to local people in the past. This may not be delayed anymore, and the time is right to address the economic and political deprivations of the people as per the recent unanimous resolution reflecting the aspirations of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Further delay may be equated as betrayal and this can be simply unaffordable because of the sensitivity of the region. The pressing demand of the local people of GB is long overdue and has remained unfulfilled due to various political apprehensions and constitutional impediments It is pertinent to note that the key elements of joint resistance on Kashmir have been fully taken into confidence and they already understand that India relies on twisting of facts and manipulation of fake news. Pakistan political and military leadership has raised the issue of Indian illegal, unjust and unconstitutional occupation of Jammu and Kashmir on international fora (United Nation Security Council, UNGA, UNHCR, ICJ, HR organizations etc.) and there is no compromise on right of self-determination for Kashmiris as envisaged by UN resolutions. Unfortunately, the past governments followed a policy of appeasement with India and put the Kashmir issue at the back burner. That confused and weak stance on Kashmir encouraged Modi to change the status of Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s Armed Forces responded aggressively in February 2019 through Operation Swift Retort. Likewise, the brave people of Gilgit-Baltistan have also valiantly fought for liberation of Gilgit-Baltistan and have now openly demanded for the provisional status of a province. The new arrangement will have a provision to cater for plebiscite as per United Nation Security Council resolution for final settlement of the issue. Hence, grant of provincial status to the Gilgit-Baltistan will be a landmark step in opening new avenues of development for the area. The Federal Government has already embarked upon a comprehensive program for development of tourism in Northern Areas including Gilgit Baltistan, a region known to the world as second to none in natural beauty, mesmerizing charm and warm hospitality. China Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) related infrastructural developments have further eased the traveling and will contribute to a host of developments in the region. Although not yet at par with Pakistan’s four full provinces, the proposed provisional provincial status should considerably increase Gilgit-Baltistan’s constitutional rights and enhance its legislative assembly’s administrative powers. So why has Khan decided to break years of status quo? The obvious answer (and subject of much media coverage): China, Pakistan’s “all-weather friend”. Gilgit-Baltistan provides Pakistan’s only contiguous border with China and is the entry point for the $87 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an ambitious infrastructure project. Connecting the city of Kashgar in China’s landlocked Western Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s southern Gwadar port, the CPEC will present an alternate supply route to the congested Malacca Strait, the primary shipping lane linking the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Offering easier access to West Asia and beyond, the shorter trade route will on completion protect the 40% of Chinese exports and 90% of oil imports currently passing through the Malacca Strait should any tensions flare-up in the contested South China Sea region. Beijing has long pushed for regularizing Gilgit-Baltistan’s legal status to safeguard substantial Chinese investment in the region, part of the wider Belt and Road Initiative forming the centerpiece of President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy. Not surprisingly, China’s reaction to Khan’s announcement was subdued, starkly contrasting its sharp response to last year’s restructuring of Indian-administered Kashmir. From Islamabad’s perspective, stronger relations with China will ultimately allow Pakistan to serve as a more effective counterbalance to India in South Asia, strategically benefitting both allies. Solely focusing on China also overlooks how this change benefits Pakistan’s economic interests – a 2010 World Bank report published in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank cited Gilgit-Baltistan’s unclear legal status as a major impediment to private and foreign investment, and provincial status could spur economic development of the mineral-rich region which also has major hydroelectric potential. Khan’s claims of a new era of development in Gilgit-Baltistan are not entirely unfounded. The other widely cited key driver behind Khan’s announcement hinges on Gilgit-Baltistan’s status as part of the Kashmir dispute. Many commentators have termed Pakistan’s move a response to India’s reorganization of Kashmir – a reassertion of claims on both sides. While such analysis regards Islamabad’s decision as a defensive one, it could alternately equally be interpreted as a pragmatic, realist policy action. By abandoning its long-standing policy and making Gilgit-Baltistan a province, Pakistan is effectively acknowledging the unlikeliness of any change in Kashmir’s status quo. This could possibly be a step towards accepting the military Line of Control (LoC) with India as the international border – and subsequent resolution of the dispute. The pressing demand of the local people of GB is long overdue and has remained unfulfilled due to various political apprehensions and constitutional impediments. First of all, it remained in the limbo because of the disputed territory as per UN Security Council resolution that includes the Jammu and Kashmir state including the then Northern Areas under Pakistan’s jurisdiction. Secondly, it was surmised that the overwhelming majority of Kashmiri people across the LOC might be against such demand fearing it will weaken their stance on self-determination. Thirdly, the political pundits argued that the merger of the Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan territory might weaken our principled position on Indian government’s unconstitutional revocation of the special status of the Indian held Kashmir when it promulgated changes in the Article 370 and 35A in the Indian constitution in August 2019. But it hardly makes any sense to continue to deprive the people of Gilgit-Baltistan from the conditional citizenry status while our adversary India has been flouting all norms of international law and diplomacy with impunity. Pakistan’s reluctance, so far, in granting even conditional status to the GB has been quite frustrating by any standards of progressive realization of the citizenry rights. Therefore, in the ultimate analysis we may infer that it is rather unfair to keep the people of Gilgit-Baltistan disadvantaged and marginalized in the face of vicious circle of uncertainties and complexities involved in the peaceful settlement of the long-standing Kashmir issue even after more than seven decades. The local people have stayed loyal and unflinching in their love for Pakistan, all the way from inception. They have already waited long and suffered hard. Time has come for some concrete action on the ground. The time to act is now! The writer is a civil servant by profession, a writer by choice and a motivational speaker by passion!