Apart from their mutual rivalry and egotism, a number of domestic compulsions have prevented both India and Pakistan from seeking a just remedy for the underlying woes of the Kashmiri people. This is the reason they have been tackling the Kashmir issue in accordance with their self-devised strategies, best-suited to their national interests, ignoring the aspirations of the Kashmiris altogether. Demanding an ‘accession referendum’ in state of J&K in accordance with past UNSC resolutions, Pakistan has never thought of reviewing its current Kashmir policy and posture.

There are many reasons Pakistan has yet not called for holding a typical independence referendum in the disputed valley. First of all, having declared Kashmir an ‘unfished agenda of partition’, now Pakistan somehow deems Kashmir its substantial missing part. Over a period of time, the people of Pakistan have also developed a strong emotional bond with Kashmir and Kashmiris. Pakistan and Pakistanis’ current fixation with the Kashmir hardly allow them to make any rational or tougher decision regarding the Kashmir dispute.

Secondly, the territories of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) are another major concern for Pakistan. Both of these areas were part of erstwhile Princely State of J&K, which were later liberated by their local inhabitants with the help of Pakistan during the First Kashmir War. Although Pakistan is currently exercising considerable control over these areas, yet they are not parts of Pakistan constitutionally. They are self-governing semi-autonomous regions. Pakistan has yet not formally acceded these areas in view of the Kashmir dispute as this act would jeopardise the just settlement of this dispute.

Spanning over some 73 thousand square Kilometers, the strategically-crucial Gilgit- Baltistan means a lot to Pakistan. This region connects Pakistan with china. The proposed route of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPEC) also passes through this region. Historically, the Gilgit-Baltistan is not part of the state of J&K. Moreover, the people of GB substantially differ from the Kashmiri people ethnically, linguistically, religiously and culturally. Even geographically, it is not well-connected with the state of J&K. In fact, the territory of present day Gilgit-Baltistan was conquered and forcibly annexed by Gulab Singh, the Dogra Maharaja of Kashmir in the mid-Nineteenth Century. Ever since, the people of GB have revolted against the Dogra dynasty many times. They have never accepted the Dogra rule by choice. Therefore, in 1947, as soon as the people of GB found an opportunity to get freedom, they readily overthrew the Dogra rule with the help of Pakistani troops and tribesmen.

Once tGB has gotten independence, it shouldn’t be forced to again become part of the state of J&K against the will of the people of this region. This time the people of GB should decide their own political fate. Therefore, it is advisable and quite appropriate to hold an impartial independence referendum in GB to determine the question of its political sovereignty, allowing its people to decide whether to join the federation of Pakistan or simply stay independent. Obviously India has no locus standi to object to it.

The Kashmiris should also not object to this referendum as it is a question of fundamental political right of the people of GB. They should readily grant the same instruments of political freedom as they are strongly demanding from India for a long time. If they are seeking justice, then they should also be prepared to do justice. At this stage, the Kashmiri leadership and freedom activists must focus on liberating the original territories of sate of J&K, currently retained by India and Pakistan. In order to avoid multiplicity and more complexities on the Kashmir dispute, they shouldn’t insist on getting the GB and china-held areas (Aksai Chin and Ladakh) back. This act would only complicate and prolong their current freedom struggle.

Pakistan can proceed to hold an independence referendum in GB unilaterally without waiting for the implantation of past UNSC resolutions. In fact, the political future of GB has been hanging in the balance for the last 70 years. Therefore, now the people of GB should not be made to suffer any longer. They should be granted full citizenship rights as well as all necessary institutions of the state meant for facilitating citizens. In this regard, Pakistan needs not to be much worried about past UNSC resolutions on Kashmir dispute. In fact, these non-binding resolutions have lost both their significance and relevance since long. If they can’t force India to hold referendum in IOK, then they also can’t prevent Pakistan from making crucial decision for the collective good of the people of GB.

After holding independence referendum in GB, Pakistan can also ask the international community to urge India to hold a similar referendum in IOK. At the same time, Pakistan would also succeed in legally absorbing the strategically-important GB region. There are many reasons Pakistan can be optimistic about the outcome of the proposed referendum in GB. Historically, this region have had great cultural and economic ties with Pakistan. This region has also been well connected with the territory of present-day Pakistan through the ancient Silk Route. Pakistan has also built the all-weather Karakorum Highway, connecting Pakistan and China through this area. Now the CPEC project will further help integrate this region with Pakistan.

The people of GB have time and again requested to incorporate their territory into Pakistan. Presently there is no significant anti-Pakistan or separatist movement in this region. Nevertheless, Pakistan needs to be cautious and more careful about this region after the commencement of CPEC project. Like Balochistan, India would also try to destabilise this region to sabotage the CEPC. Last year, Indian PM Modi visited China to persuade Chinese to abandon CPEC project by maintaining that it passes through the disputed territory of GB. Recently, on India’s Independence Day, PM Modi has also hinted at disturbing this area to the disadvantage of Pakistan. Instantly reacting to this, the GB legislative assembly has passed a unanimous resolution against Modi’s uncalled for remarks. Modi’s statement should also be an eye-opener for Pakistan. Obviously Pakistan can overcome future controversies regarding GB by timely absorbing this region after a duly-held referendum.

On the other hand, the AJK, which spans over 13 thousand square kilometers, is a relatively smaller part of disputed Kashmir retained by Pakistan. In fact, strategically, it is not as crucial to Pakistan as GB. Kashmiris living on both sides of LoC resemble each other culturally, linguistically and ethnically and religiously. Therefore, the people of this area, along with the Kashmiris in IOK, can together decide their political future through a referendum. However, if the people of AJK make any strong demand to absolutely join Pakistan, then Pakistan will have another option of holding typical independence referendum in AJK too. In either case, Pakistan should respect the aspirations of people of AJK. Once the state of J&K is free from Indian occupation, the united Kashmiris can again decide to accede to Pakistan. They can also decide to stay as an independent sovereign state. In that case, Pakistan would foster close brotherly relations with the new independent Muslim state.

Pakistan, after changing its current Kashmir posture by abandoning its absolute claim over IOK, can exert maximum pressure on India to grant Kashmiris their long-denied fundamental political rights. It will also be in better position to urge international community to allow people of Kashmir to determine their political sovereignty through an impartial independence referendum in accordance with the prevailing norms in the contemporary world. Pakistan’s new posture will certainly put India on the back foot, which has long been refusing to hold plebiscite in IOK on one pretext or the other.

Thus Pakistan can conveniently extend an unqualified support to the ongoing Kashmir freedom movement without compromising its vital strategic interests. Now Pakistan should proactively try to employ all the effective tools of international diplomacy and propaganda to secure international support for Kashmir independence referendum. Obviously the positive Pakistan-Kashmiris synergy will certainly provide enormous imputes to current Kashmir freedom movement. Following the death of Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani last month, a number of unfortunate incidents have already highlighted the Kashmir dispute in the world. They have brought this issue into international limelight. At this stage, Pakistan’s positive but aggressive Kashmir posture will go a long way in ensuring the just resolution of the longstanding dispute.