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Gilgit-Baltistan – A Historical Narrative


Perceptibly, there abound divergent narratives and counter narratives wittingly or unwittingly churned out as to status of Gilgit-Baltistan which more often than not, have no bearing on and are sadly devoid of any substance when put in the correct historical perspective. In order to get the best and clearest possible picture, it becomes imperative to have a full view of and delve deeper into its background with a view to irrefutably place facts connected with the matter in the correct historical order by separating what is called the wheat from the chaff for the information of the readers as follows:

Strictly speaking, the region fell on turbulent times and troublous waters during the second half of the nineteenth century which may, with profit, be called the period of uncertainty and the gloomiest transitional phase in Gilgit-Baltistan’s context. Synoptically, region consisted of and apportioned into a dozen tiny kingdoms each ruled by despotic, independent rulers from times immemorial and until the 19th century when the Dogras, Sikhs and the British started making incursions into this region for the first time. What triggered the cataclysmic change is, in sum, that the rulers of these tiny states were ironically engaged in internecine squabbles resulting from sheer territorial ambitions and at times, intra-dynastic feuds which exacerbated and tottered each of these tiny sovereign entities towards the middle of the 19th century eventually landing them in doldrums. This obviously provided a fertile ground for the adverse winds to blow to crumble the tottering fiefdoms. In these scenarios, catastrophically mindboggling events ensued with the Dogras of Jammu and the Governor of Sikh Darbar of Srinagar starting intrusions into the area with the Dogras of Jammu first occupying Ladakh in 1834 at when the fiefdoms were, by and large, rocked by petty intrigues and riven by intra-dynastic rivalries and factional bickering.

On its heels, the Governor of Sikh Darbar of Kashmir , taking advantage of the local rivalries and factional bickering, invaded Baltistan in 1835 but was ignominiously defeated by Raja Ahmed Shah of Skardu but to his dismay, a family feud cropped up between Raja Ahmed Shah and one of his sons which finally led to occupation of Baltistan by the Dogras in 1840. However, there was a general uprising witnessed in the whole of Baltistan against the Dogras which was sadly quelled in 1842. With this, each fiefdom was convulsed to its roots by the successive blasts of adverse winds. Thus dark clouds of uncertainty kept hovering thick upon the region’s horizon, foreboding great calamity looming large in the distance with the disappearance of the local rulers from the chessboard witnessed under treacherous blows.

Ominously then, a regular wave of destruction started sweeping over the region and swept off each and every chieftaincy one after the other. The saga of occupation of Gilgit and its adjoining principalities thus unfolds a tug of war and long drawn battles between the invaders and the inhabitants of these areas spanning the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1842, the Governor of Sikh Darbar of Srinagar dispatched a huge army towards Gilgit ostensibly for helping Raja Karim Khan of Gilgit and Raja Issa Bahadur of Punial to regain their freedom from Raja Gauhar Aman of Yasin who had occupied Gilgit. After a severe battle the Sikh Army captured Gilgit Sub Division, while Gauhar Aman tactically retreated to village Sharote in Gilgit. Meanwhile, the treaty of Amritsar between the British and the Sikhs (1846) created the Dogra State of Jammu and Kashmir under Muharaja Ghulab Singh.

Come 1851, Raja Gauhar Aman again attacked Gilgit and ransacked the Dogra garrisons making the Dogra forces to run helter-skelter towards Bunji on the left side of the Indus. The redoubtable Gauhar Aman heroically resisted and repulsed many Dogra attacks. and he inflicted a humiliating defeat upon the Dogras n 1852, by annihilating entirely a huge army under Bhoop Singh. After this defeat the Dogra forces never dared to attack Gilgit as long as Gauhar Aman lived.

After Gauhar Aman’s natural death in 1860, the Dogra forces again occupied Gilgit and also captured Yasin in 1861. But soon the Dogras were driven out of Yasin by Gauhar Aman’s son. Though the Muharaja had a foothold in Gilgit Sub Division , his position was very precarious with hostilities from the recalcitrant tribed all around. The adventure thus turned out to be a quagmire for his forces. Hunza and Nagar forces were a constant source of harassment for them whilst Raja Gauhar Aman’s sons persisted with their campaign to dislodge the Dogras from Gilgit through a series of abortive attacks in 1867, 1868 and 1880 respectively.

In hindsight, the British had created the Hindu State of Jammu and Kashmir to provide a buffer zone on the Muslim frontier and also to use it as an instrument to further British interest and sphere of influence among the minor powers on the frontiers. Seeing it bogged down in Gilgit the British Indian Government started taking direct control of Gilgit affairs by setting up a British Agency in 1877.

The Agency was withdrawn in 1880 due to being risky and costly. However, in view of impending Russian encroachments in Pamir, the British Agency was re-established in 1889. The British Indian Government then moved swiftly to bring the hostile and unruly tribes under its control also using the ploy to lure through friendship and allowances some of the amenable ones during the course. (To be continued)
Given these strategic objectives, they captured Chilas and Gahkuch in 1891 on one hand while on the other, the combined forces of British India and the Dogra State under the command of Col Algernon Durand defeated Hunza and Nagar forces for the first time at Nilt in 1891-92 finally bringing both the tiony independent States under the control of the British Agent at Gilgit.

After relieving the mini-siege of Chitral that State was brought under the direct control of the British Indian Government in 1895 while the areas of Gupis, Yasin and Ishkoman were detached from Chitral and merged into Gilgit Agency. With the capitulation of Chitral, the long drawn struggle of subjugation of the principalities of Gilgit region which was first undertaken by the Sikhs in 1842 - continued by the Dogras on the behest of the British in 1860 - was consummated by the British themselves in 1895. It took about 35 years and the combined forces of British India and the Dogra State to completely subdue all the hilltribes of Gilgit and its adjoining areas. However, the regional people restively remained on the lookout for an opportune moment to dislodge the invaders but as fate would have it, their efforts were thwarted and their dreams dashed to the ground with the alien rule having been firmly established literally on the vanishing of the dynastic rule from the chessboard during the course.

At long last, the Gilgit Scouts in collusion with Muslim officers of the 6th Jammu and Kashmir Battalion stationed at Bunji as well as those deputation with the Gilgit Scouts organised an uprising. A leading role in organizing this insurrection was played by Col Mirza Hassan Khan - a son of the soil. The Scouts heroically overthrew the Dogra regime at Gilgit on November 1, 1947 by capturing the State apparatus and arresting the Governor without any external assistance whatsoever. Thus they stupendously undid what the Dogras had done to them. It is noteworthy that all parts getting colonized or forcibly occupied around the globe when freed returned to their original state and this exactly fits in with the G-B which after wresting freedom from the Dogras, voluntarily decided to throw in their lot with Pakistan and requested Pakistan to take over the administration of the liberated territories. Acceding to the request of the Provisional Government (De facto Sovereign Body) of Gilgit, the Pakistan government sent in Sardar Muhammad Alam on 17th November, 1947 to take over the administration as first Pakistani Political Agent of Gilgit.

As a matter of fact, the Government of Pakistan in the hope of getting plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir State mistakenly declared Gilgit-Baltistan - otherwise an integral part of Pakistan - as disputed territory before the United Nations. The status quo has been maintained for the last 67 years despite the fact that after liberating their area, the people have unequivocally and unambiguously voted for Pakistan. Thus mention of Gilgit-Baltistan in the UNCIP Resolutions, the interim nature of the Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1962 and indication of the area in the map and census of Jammu and Kashmir State etc. are all sequel to the initial mistake of portraying this region as a disputed territory despite its being an integral and constitutional part of Pakistan as referred to in the fore-going and the regional people are no party to it as adverted to before.

Understandably, mere figments of imagination do not change the ground realities as the people of GB exercised their collective will and cumulative wisdom in the aftermath of liberation of this vast area and acceded to Pakistan; and ipso facto, they deserve unquestionably to be taken out of this conundrum with the retrieval of this geo-strategically important territory from constitutional limbo it has long been in. The people are equally entitled to representation in the parliament and the national policy-making bodies so that they are able to partake of the affairs at national level as they have suffered irreparably on that count so far. Had there been no nonchalance, the area could have been declared even as a provisional province long ago by introducing amendments in the relevant constitutional provisions in order to allow them representation in the parliament and the central policy-making even provisionally being there absolutely no hitch whatsoever as remains the case with the interim agreements under reference. It is to be seen that the Sino-Pak Boundary Agreement (1963) was made provisionally and likewise, implementation mega projects in this region too is done in similar fashion. There was therefore no stumbling block whatsoever in making the area a provisional province and allowing representation in parliament as an interim arrangement.

Viewed in this backdrop, it has to be acknowledged that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have rendered supreme sacrifices for Pakistan as well as the Kashmir cause. Their case as consistently sought and tenaciously pursued by them for a just and judicious determination in conformity with the regions historical background warrants consideration without any inordinate delay as 67 years is enough time. It cannot be gainsaid that the GBians make such a distinct citizenry of Pakistan that joined it by choice after liberating this huge territory three months after emergence of Pakistan. The rest of citizens of country may largely constitute population falling in the territorial limits of the new-found country on account of the division on the basis of the two-nation theory.

The foregoing synoptic narrative historically refutes the harangue of the AJK leadership who want to hamper any move by the Central government whenever it comes to legitimately democratizing and improving governance in Gilgit-Baltistan. The ruling PML-N in G-B has aptly spurned the AJK leaders contention and timely confuted it specious claims.


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