Gilgit-Baltistan crisis – a historical analysis

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By Mudabbir Akhund
The recent crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan, which has intensified further, after the attempted forceful imposition of the Governance Order of Gilgit-Baltistan 2018, have born another movement led by opposition benches of the legislative assembly, along with Awami Action Committee (AAC).
This movement categorically rejected the GB Order 2018 and on some levels turned into a mass movement but failed to present a clear stance on the political and national question of GB.
One reason for the lack of anchoring in almost all political movements coming out of GB is evidently the confused approaches towards the national and political question of GB. And no movement in future can reach to its logical conclusion unless this confusion is addressed.
The confusion can be traced through the region’s history. Gilgit-Baltistan historically remained a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by Hari Singh (Dogra Raj), as its third province until 1947. It got its independence from Dogra Raj through a coup on November 1, 1948. After getting rid of the Dogras, Gilgit-Baltistan survived as an independent state under the command of Major Brown for merely 16 days.
Meanwhile, Major Brown met with Quaid-e-Azam and Liaqat Ali Khan, through the then British Governor of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) – currently the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, or KP for short – persuading them to make Gilgit-Baltistan a part of Pakistan on which they were initially reluctant.
As in the same year, the fight between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue started and the dispute was presented in the security council of United Nations, where Pakistan claimed Gilgit-Baltistan to be a part of Kashmir dispute. Since in case of accepting it as a part of Pakistan would have surely damaged the stance of Pakistan over Kashmir. A commission was established to look over the dispute, called United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), which gave its decision on the dispute in the form of UNCIP resolutions of April 21, 1948 and August 23, 1949. Until 1949, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan was controlled through political agents without having any legal or constitutional ground.

PTI atavists demonstrate against the price hike for petroleum products (File picture)

To gain legitimacy, Pakistan bypassed the UNCIP resolutions and signed an agreement with the leadership of Azad Kashmir (instead of Gilgit-Baltistan) in which the signatories gave consent to Pakistan to take administrative control of Gilgit-Baltistan. This infamous agreement is known as the Karachi agreement signed on April 28, 1949 and made public only in 1990. Since then, Gilgit-Baltistan has been governed through different packages and orders of which the recent GB order 2018 is the continuity. To put it in other words, it can be said that, at the same time today, Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Kashmir dispute but historically (after Independence from Dogra Raj) it is not. It is because of the Karachi Agreement a part of Pakistan, but constitutionally it is not, and has no representation in the National Assembly of Pakistan, whereas in the Indian parliament it has reserved seats. People of Gilgit-Baltistan are forced to live in this contradictory reality, which has not only confused the people of the region, but also given them a severe identity crisis. The mighty mountains, and the scenic land of GB, are projected as a ‘beautiful Pakistan’ but when the natives of the land ask for their fundamental rights, the state authorities hush them by reminding them that GB is still a disputed region
It is a historical fact that political sufferings of GB are embedded in British imperialist policies, which they adopted in Gilgit-Baltistan considering its strategically important location, as it used to be the ‘northern gateway’ to India. At the backdrop of Great Game, the British Empire’s chief interest in the region was to protect the northern border of its empire (British India) from Soviet expansionism. Thus, British colonialists rendered special military assistance to the Dogra Raj to annex the region of Gilgit-Baltistan and successfully established their indirect rule in the region through Dogras.
In the year 1935, they directly took the region under their control by taking it on lease from the Maharaja Hari Singh for 60 years, during this period they safeguarded the empire from Soviet influence through the local recruits of Gilgit Scouts.
It was not later than June 3, 1947, when the partition plan for Indian subcontinent was announced, that the British Empire prematurely terminated the lease agreement, restoring Maharaja Hari Singh’s control over the region with the aim of staging a military coup- which has been extensively explained by Major Brown in his book The Gilgit Rebellion. Major Brown and Captain Matheson were transferred to Gilgit Scouts from British Army and Major Brown assumed the charge as commandant of Gilgit Scouts. Both these officers were tasked with a special mission of leading a military coup, which they initiated by fanning Muslim sentiments against Hinduism. In fact, the premature termination of the lease agreement is testimony that the British for their own sake orchestrated the event on November 1, since coup would not have taken place against their own rule. Contrarily, this event has been portrayed, taught and now internalised as a purely indigenous struggle. The ‘engineered coup’ took its final stage after Ghansara Singh (Governor of Gilgit- Baltistan) was arrested, consequently all reins of power went in the hands of Major Brown and his companions. Regardless of the conspiracy, the denizens of Gilgit-Baltistan fought bravely against the Dogra Raj and compelled them to run away. Since Major Brown was steering the newly emerged independent state, to be given to Pakistan, at local level it was dubbed as ‘unconditional accession’ to Pakistan. This claim is also proven by the fact that there are no legal or constitutional evidences available to testify the unconditional accession of Gilgit-Baltistan with Pakistan. Even if we accept the argument of unconditional accession with Pakistan on face of the idea of Muslim brotherhood and the emergence of a Muslim state in the shape of Pakistan motivated the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to accede with Pakistan, the unconditional part is still not convincible. The sacrifices made by veteran soldiers like Colonel Mirza Hassan, Baber Khan and others were not meant to go in vain, rather those great sacrifices were made for a better life of the people in Gilgit-Baltistan. Moreover, even if we accept that the people of GB have unconditionally acceded to Pakistan we are forced to say that Pakistan has yet not accepted them or else GB would have been mentioned in the constitution of Pakistan just like the rest of the four provinces.
(The writer is an alumnus of Government College University and a member of the Progressive Students Collective.)