Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s governing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is poised to form a government in the semi-autonomous state of Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of the disputed region of Kashmir, unofficial results show.
Khan’s PTI won 10 seats of the 23 on which elections were contested, unofficial results from the state’s election commission showed on Tuesday.
The country’s two largest opposition parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) won three seats and two seats respectively in the election, which was held on Sunday.
Seven seats were won by independent candidates, who are expected to have a key role in the formation of the government. The Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen, a religious party alliance, won one seat.
The Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly consists of 24 directly elected seats, in addition to nine reserved seats for women and political appointees that are allocated based on a proportional representation basis. The house has 33 seats in total.
A by-election will be held on the one remaining directly-elected seat after one of the candidates in that race died due to COVID-19 in the run-up to the polls.
With the addition of the proportional representation seats, Khan’s PTI and its allies are expected to have 16 seats, one short of the number needed for an outright majority.
The PTI’s campaign was buoyed by PM Khan promising to accord the territory “provisional provincial status” during a campaign rally on November 1.
The PPP and PML-N, meanwhile, have alleged “vote-rigging” in the election, although leaders did not immediately share any specific evidence.
Strategically important territory
Gilgit-Baltistan, a mountainous territory that is home to some of the highest peaks in the world, is currently governed through a partnership between the semi-autonomous legislative assembly, a council of leaders and the federal government.
The proposal to upgrade the territory’s status, which opposition parties have agreed to, would see the Gilgit-Baltistan government accorded greater powers and autonomy over local issues.
The territory, home to an estimated two million people, is strategically important and is the site of a key link between Pakistan and regional ally China to the north. The road transportation portion of the $65bn China Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through the territory before entering Pakistan proper.
It is also part of the disputed region of Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since gaining independence in 1947. Both countries claim Kashmir in full but administer separate portions of it.
In November, India “rejected” Pakistan’s proposal to upgrade Gilgit-Baltistan’s status to a provisional province.
“The Government of India firmly rejects the attempt by Pakistan to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory, under its illegal and forcible occupation,” said Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
“I reiterate that the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the area of so-called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’, are an integral part of India by virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947.”
Pakistan responded by saying any change in Gilgit-Baltistan’s status would still be subject to United Nations resolutions on the Kashmir dispute, which called in 1948 for a plebiscite to be held to determine which country it would join.
“Pakistan’s position on the Jammu & Kashmir dispute remains firmly anchored in the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions,” said a Pakistani foreign ministry statement earlier this month.
“The final resolution of the Jammu & Kashmir dispute is only possible through the exercise of the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination by holding free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations.”
Pakistani security officials have confirmed that any proposed change to Gilgit-Baltistan’s status would include a provision that would continue to subject it to the final resolution of the Kashmir dispute.