India on Sunday opposed Pakistan’s move to grant provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan, saying the government firmly rejected Islamabad’s attempts to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory, “under its illegal and forcible occupation”.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan formally announced the provisional provincial status for Gilgit-Baltistan at a public gathering in Gilgit held to mark the 73rd Independence Day of the region. Khan claimed the government had fulfilled a long-standing demand of the people of the region. The decision, he said, had been taken within the framework of United Nations Security Council’s resolutions.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava rejected Khan’s assertions and said the government of Pakistan has no locus standi on territories it had “illegally and forcibly” occupied.

“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,” he said in a statement. “The government of Pakistan has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it.”

Srivastava called this an attempt of Pakistan to “camouflage its illegal occupation” in the region. He said that Khan and his government cannot hide the “grave human rights violations, exploitation and denial of freedom for over seven decades” to the people residing in these Pakistan-occupied territories. “Instead of seeking to alter the status of these Indian territories, we call upon Pakistan to immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation,” Srivastava’s statement added.

Gilgit-Baltistan is the left tip of the crown-shaped territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a high-altitude region about five times the size of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir but sparsely populated. India’s renewed interest in the region comes after the Pakistan Supreme Court gave the go-ahead in May to amend the Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018 and hold general elections there.

Delhi issued demarches saying Gilgit-Baltistan was an “integral part of India by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession”, so Pakistan, its courts and governments, had no power to make decisions about it. “The government of Pakistan or its judiciary has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it,” the government had said at that time.

The Pakistan Foreign Office, however, retorted that Delhi’s claims had no “legal basis whatsoever”.