Gilgit-Baltistan — part of Pakistan by choice

A change in the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan. This is a really welcome move and is long overdue


Yaqoob Khan Bangash January 08, 2016
The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55. He tweets at @BangashYK

Over the last couple of days, news has surfaced that the government might be mulling a change in the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan. This is a really welcome move and is long overdue. In fact, the present status of the region stems from a skewed understanding of what happened in the aftermath of the transfer of power in the Indian empire in August 1947, as well as a lack of knowledge of the region.

As I explain in my book, the story of what we call Gilgit-Baltistan is not as simple as just a constituent part of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. Historically, what we used to call ‘Gilgit Agency’ was made up of the princely states of Hunza and Nagar, the smaller entities of Chilas, Koh Ghizr, Ishkoman, Yasin and Punial, and the Gilgit Wazarat. Out of these territories, only the Gilgit Wazarat formed a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, while the other areas were under the paramountcy of the British Government of India. The British had been instrumental in pacifying this area, and even helped the Kashmir Darbar establish its writ in parts of its own territory. In order to consolidate its control in the area, especially as the Great Game was still on, the British Government of India established the Gilgit Agency in 1889. Since its inception, the Agency controlled the defence, foreign affairs and communications of the region, with the help of a political agent in Gilgit city and an assistant political agent in Chilas. By the 1930s, however, it was proving to be difficult to govern the Gilgit Wazarat under the local rule of the Kashmir governor and external control of the British, and so an agreement was signed in 1935 between the Government of India and the maharaja, leasing the Gilgit Wazarat for a period of 60 years. Henceforth, the British became complete masters of the Gilgit Agency.

While the Maharaja of Kashmir always claimed that the whole Gilgit Agency formed his state, the Indian government was very clear that this was not the case. After the Kashmir Darbar submitted a long note to the Indian government, New Delhi concisely and clearly put an end to the confusion. Colonel Fraser, a resident in Kashmir, wrote to Maharaja Sir Hari Singh on March 5, 1941, the final decision of the viceroy on the status of the constituent units of the Agency: “1) Hunza and Nagar: though these are under the suzerainty of the Kashmir State, they are not part of Kashmir but are separate states; 2) Chilas, Koh Ghizr, Ishkoman, and Yasin: Though these are under the suzerainty of Kashmir State they are not part of Kashmir but tribal areas.” As the British were the paramount power in India and because the Kashmir Darbar had long accepted the paramountcy powers of the Crown, the viceroy had all legal authority to define the status of any part of India — which he unequivocally did in this declaration. Hence, the treatment by the Pakistani government of the whole Agency as Kashmir territory was wrong from the outset.

On the issue of what happened even in Gilgit Wazarat in the aftermath of the transfer of power, it is clear that the entire population was pro-Pakistan and had no intention of either remaining a part of Kashmir or joining India. The British ended the lease on August 1, 1947 and the Kashmir government had sent in its governor to Gilgit town but the populace as well as the Gilgit scouts — the main paramilitary force in the region — were unhappy with the move. The commandant of the Gilgit Scouts at that time was the young Major Brown, who helped by his assistant, Captain Matheison, planned a coup in favour of Pakistan if things became unmanageable. Then, as the news of the alleged accession of Kashmir to India reached Gilgit in late October 1947, Major Brown launched a coup on the night of October 31/November 1, 1947, arrested the Kashmir-appointed governor, secured the treasury, protected the minorities, and then sent a cable to the premier of the then NWFP, asking the Pakistani government to take over. While Major Brown was removed from his post in a few months due to his precarious position as a British army officer, it is sufficiently clear from all records that he indeed — rather than all the later claimants — was the person who led the Gilgit area into Pakistan. This was acknowledged officially by the Pakistan government, the erstwhile NWFP government, the first Pakistani political agent of Gilgit and even the Kashmir-appointed governor, Brigadier Ghansara Singh.

Nearly 70 years ago, the people of the Gilgit Wazarat revolted and joined Pakistan of their own free will, as did those belonging to the territories of Chilas, Koh Ghizr, Ishkoman, Yasin and Punial; the princely states of Hunza and Nagar also acceded to Pakistan. Hence, the time has come to acknowledge and respect their choice of being full-fledged citizens of Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2016.

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COMMENTS (36)

Didar Ali | 5 years ago | Reply @uma: GB has nothing to do with Kashmir issue, The princely states of GB were independent states and more strategically located. Only some parts of GB was occupied and colonized by Raja of Kashmir, this does not make GB a part of Kashmir. We fight back and freed the occupied parts GB from Raja of Kashmir, that is all and now we have joined Pakistan with the condition of being a full constitutional province.
Didar Ali | 5 years ago | Reply Amanullah Khan has very clearly explained what People of GB opt for today. As far as the history of GB is concern yes Maharaja of Kashmir had encroached on some parts of Gilgit Baltistan and colonized for some times in history, and also committed heinous crimes during their occupation. If colonization grants a right or ownership to an occupier then why Kashmiries are struggling for independence from India today, and why Indians struggled for freedom from British? They should have stayed colonized under British Raj. The history of Princely States of GB spans over a thousand of years, and the Dogras encroached to some parts of Gilgit Yasin and Chitral was very recent. These encroachments over some parts of GB cannot be made a base for Gilgit Baltistan to be the part of Kashmir. It is time for People of Gilgit Baltistan to be clear, about their history. As for as history of occupation and atrocities and genocide by Dogras of Kashmir is concerned all the People of GB must read a recent book called Murder In the Hindu Kush the story of a 19th century British explorer George Hayward who was brutally murdered at Darkot Yasin, by the order of Maharaja of Kashmir, because this unfortunate explorer had first time broke the news of the atrocities and genocide committed by Dogra forces of Maharaja of Kashmir in Gilgit Baltistan, especially in Yasin. That news had shaken the whole British India, as it was published directly in England in prominent news papers and British public raised their voices, how come a British subject like Maharaja Kashmir can commit such crimes against innocent people under the nose of British Indian Government. This is our history of being part of Kashmir and Pakistan government must realize the fact that, Pakistan has survived for the last 68 years without Kashmir, but it would have not been survived without Gilgit Baltistan on their back linking China with Pakistan, and it is more crucial now than ever for Pakistan to accept the full constitutional rights of the people of Gilgit Baltistan and declare Gilgit Baltistan including Chitral a new constitutional Province.
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