India on Tuesday opposed a move by Pakistan to conduct elections in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, saying it was an attempt to cover up its “forcible and illegal occupation” of the area.
The Pakistan government announced last month that elections to the Gilgit-Baltistan assembly will be held on June 8. Pakistan’s minister for Kashmir affairs, Chaudhary Muhammad Barjees Tahir, was recently appointed governor of the region that was earlier known as the Northern Areas.
“We are concerned at the continued efforts by Pakistan to deny the people of the region their political rights, and the efforts being made to absorb these territories,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said about the planned elections.
“India’s position is well known. The entire State of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the regions of Gilgit and Baltistan, is an integral part of India,” he said.
The election in Gilgit-Baltistan on June 8 under the "Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and Self Government Order” is “an attempt by Pakistan to camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation of the regions”, Swarup added.
He said the fact that a Pakistani federal minister is the governor of Gilgit-Baltistan “speaks for itself”.
Swarup pointed out that the people of the region have become “victims of sectarian conflict, terrorism and extreme economic hardship due to Pakistan’s occupationary policies" in recent times.
Pakistan granted near provincial status to the Northern Areas in 2009. It was suggested at the time by Pakistani officials that the move was aimed at finding a solution to the Kashmir issue on the basis of existing borders.
The region has witnessed a spike in militant activities by groups like the Taliban in recent years. In June 2013, militants stormed a mountaineering base camp and killed 10 climbers, including nine foreigners. The militants have also targeted military officials and the region’s Shia minority.