Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday objected to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to accord provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan and said the region was an integral part of India.

“Pakistan has illegally occupied Gilgit-Baltistan,” Singh tweeted. “Pakistan is going to make it a province now. Our government has clarified that Gilgit-Baltistan, along with entire PoK, is an integral part of India.”

On Sunday, Anurag Srivastava, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, condemned Pakistan’s move after Khan made the announcement at a gathering in Gilgit to mark the 73rd Independence Day of the region. Srivastava said India “firmly rejects the attempt by Pakistan to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory, under its illegal and forcible occupation”.

Singh reiterated the foreign ministry’s assertions. “We never wanted the Partition of India, but it happened,” the defence minister wrote. “The minorities which were left in India, you know how they are treated. We brought a law for these persecuted minorities.”

Khan’s visit to the area on Sunday came ahead of an election for a Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, scheduled to be held on November 15, Reuters reported. The Pakistan prime minister claimed the decision to give provisional provincial status was within the scope of the United Nations Security Council resolution. No time frame was given by him for the implementation of the decision, which would require a constitutional amendment in Pakistan.

Pakistan calls India’s opposition ‘unwarranted’

Pakistan rejected India’s statement on Sunday, calling it “irresponsible and unwarranted”, the Hindustan Times reported. The country’s foreign ministry claimed that India has no locus standi on the matter legal, moral or historical.

“For more than 73 years, India has been in illegal and forcible occupation of parts of Jammu and Kashmir,” a statement said. “Regurgitation of false and fabricated claims by India can neither change the facts nor divert attention from India’s illegal actions and continuing humanitarian crisis resulting from perpetration of the worst human rights violations in Kashmir.”

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. It is also Pakistan’s only land link to China, its ally. 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.

The region, which is strategically located, is at the heart of the $65 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor infrastructure development plan.