Gilgit-Baltistan — part of Pakistan by choice

Published: January 9, 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

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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Reader Comments (36)

  • Pacifica
    Jan 9, 2016 - 1:21AM

    An interesting article. I read elsewhere that the Gilgit Scouts rebellion was led by a Col Mirza Hassan Khan, but on cross-checking with Wikipedia there also I find the reference to Maj Brown.

    However, the author’s in-depth research does not mention the fact that it was Pakistan that added G-B to the Kashmir dispute before the UN. Granted, this was done to ensure a block of safe votes in case of a plebiscite, but having made the area party to the dispute it cannot now be unilaterally absorbed without settling the rest of the dispute. Further, even PoK, or “Azad” Kashmir as you like to call it, considers G-B part of the Kashmir State and has blocked attempts to absorb it into Pakistan in the past.

    The Indian negotiating position is that all of G-B is Indian territory under unlawful occupation by Pakistan. Until the matter of the entire state is settled, G-B cannot be either.

    All the hoopla around G-B is coming up now because the authorities have belatedly realised that it will affect the CPEC. Otherwise no one in Pakistan gave two hoots about G-B’s constitutional status until now.Recommend

  • a_writer
    Jan 9, 2016 - 3:23AM

    Looks like Mr.Bangash would like to have his cake and eat it too. Apparently, he is quite happy to agree to some alleged discussion between Maharaja of Kashmir and India regarding the status of G-B, because this position will benefit Pakistan in the current situation. However, Mr.Bangash and rest of Pakistan have been adamant in rejecting the accession signed by the same Maharaja to join India, because it throws a monkey wrench in what Pakistan covets- the real estate of Kashmir ! Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Jan 9, 2016 - 5:36AM

    The author has rightly pointed out Major Brown, (who helped by his assistant) and Captain Matheison as the main characters, the reason GB became part of Pakistan in 1947.
    It should be obvious to any one that Brown and Matheison are very common last name found all across the Islamic republic of Pakistan. Hence, the author has a strong argument that GB is part of pakistan.Recommend

  • Gurpreet Singh Sabharwal (USA)
    Jan 9, 2016 - 7:06AM

    It’s irrelevant as to how & when GB came under the occupation of Pakistan. The only thing that’s relevant to this case is that GB (known as Northern areas till just a few years ago) was officially, politically & legally a part of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed during the partition. The whole of Jammu Kashmir is disputed which includes GB. Recommend

  • Avtar
    Jan 9, 2016 - 8:16AM

    Did I miss something! Was there an independently monitored referendum held! Is this a good example for other countries in South Asia!!Recommend

  • cobra commander
    Jan 9, 2016 - 10:03AM

    @Gurpreet Singh Sabharwal (USA): How about having a Plebiscite in the disputed region to find out which side the people choose?Recommend

  • cobra commander
    Jan 9, 2016 - 10:07AM

    I dont understand, it was ok for India to take over Hydrabad state even though the ruler of Hydrabad declined to join India and it is ok for India to take over Goa but if Pakistan does the same indians get their panties in a bunch. Lets have a Plebiscite in the whole region including Pakistan Kashmir, GB and Indian occupied Kashmir ?Recommend

  • amjadhussainazar
    Jan 9, 2016 - 11:06AM

    Thanks Bangash sb
    You surfaced historically true facts regarding GB. The people of GB have been defrauded on the pretext of kashmir issue.
    Under article 370 of the constitution of India the people of jummu Kashmir are enjoying constitutional rights and protections, despite having due representation in log sabha and rajia sabah(parliament of India), the people of jummu Kashmir are qualified & eligible to join Indian judiciary and government, moreover state subject rule is still in forced in jummu kashmir of India, in short they are having equal status & rights & protections as the others citizens of States of India are having under the constitution of India.
    Where as the people of GB are still disqualified to become member of the parliament of Pakistan, government and judiciary of Pakistan & state subject rule has already abolished.

    The rights of Haq Malkiyat and Hakimiyat of the people of GB have been jeopardized from the very inception till up to date.
    India interpreted UNCIP resolution and incorporated jummu in to the constitution of India provisionally whereas Pakistan failed to interpret the provisions UNCIP resolution with regards to GB, which affected adversely fundamental rights, rights of Haq Milkiyat and Hakimiyat of the GB.Recommend

  • uma
    Jan 9, 2016 - 11:08AM

    Unless the larger issue of kashmir is resolved, the partial issue of GB cannot be resolved. India will never agree to the resolution of the kashmir issue on pakistani terms. The issue of GB has risen to the surface today precisely because it determines the economic viability of CPEC Project / Chinese Interests / Potential Foreign Investments in Pk. With GB , CPEC is unviable. Even US Interests will never allow that to happen.Recommend

  • Kawish
    Jan 9, 2016 - 12:38PM

    Excuse me Mr. Writer, your actual topic was “Gilgit-Baltistan Part of Pakistan by choice” but I did not find a single word of “Baltistan” in the entire article. Baltistan is a separate division in the entire region, how can you ignore that?
    you do not know the difference between Gilgit Wazarat, Gilgit Agency, and Gilgit city. Please its very critical issue and don’t spoil the sacrifice of people of Gilgit as well as Baltistan since 1948 by misguiding the common people of Pakistan. I really have strong reservations over your study area.
    You really know nothing about the freedom movement run by the locals, you put the credit in the pocket of British Army, where were locals that time? Why ignoring local officers and martyrdoms in the Freedom Movement. Recommend

  • Human
    Jan 9, 2016 - 1:45PM

    Coherent and logic based. Frustration from the Indian visitors is well understood. But Pakistan is free to go what it considers necessary for its national interest.
    By the way, great to hear the word ‘plebiscite’ being mentioned. Right here, right now, all of Kashmir. Ready when you are! :)Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jan 9, 2016 - 2:08PM

    What Brown or Matheson did or believed in does not matter to the inhabitants of J & K, who consider Gilgit-Baltistan a part of their State. Such devious attempts to change dominion can open a Pandora’s box – tomorrow Jammu and day after LADAKH and Kargill will claim they are also not part of J & K. If Pakistan claims any territory, India cannot be denied any claim whatsoever. Such arguments of convenience will complicate not simplify problems in J & K.

    The real issue is being sidelined if not buried in the sand. China is not willing to make investments in a territory called disputed by India, Pakistan, UN as well as people of J & K, more so because India has already pointed out the financial risks to investments in disputed territory. Pakistan cannot absorb GB into its fold without accepting India’s claim to its territory, spin and obfuscation meaning nothing. Recommend

  • Jan 9, 2016 - 5:47PM

    The efforts of the writer is nontheless should be appreciated by forecorners up to the extent that choice of the populace had always been to acceed to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.Though rights violation has always been a common practice in that part of the world which seem to be in the world’s map for several decades as disputed terroterity if touched by close States to the terroterity then wingsof these states will be cut off by unknown ones.Agreed with the Anzar sb at some a extent with the exception that Aljhad Trust Case in supreme court of Pakistan in 1996 declaring this as part of Pakistan.Not alone this judgmenta of the Supreme Appellate Court Gilgit Baltistan GBLR 2010 I 1 and GBLR P160…the apex court declared that under article 1 clause d of constitution of 1973 GB is part of a Pakistan.In 1993 AJK High Court we declared GB as part of Azad Kashmir but judgment was annulled by SaaS Kashmir Supreme Court declaring it not a part of AJK. The then minister in 1971 Zulfiqar All Bhutto wrote a letter to UN accepting that GB is disputed part.Zia later claimed it as part of Pakistan so an unacceptable game was being played since from very first day with the subjects are suffering ultimately.The need of the hour is to come to the conclusion that what are the aspirations of the people of the area and how their rights can be protected.AZEEM M.A.’LL.B,’LL.M,M.Phil,(PhD)Recommend

  • harkol
    Jan 9, 2016 - 7:27PM

    @cobra commander:

    Baluchistan requested accession to India, but Nehru rejected it on the same ground he rejected Hyderabad accession to Pakistan – It wasn’t geographically contiguous. One of the agreements during partition was only geographically contigous areas will have choice to accede either to India or Pakistan. Not geographically remote areas.

    Baluchistan was focibly added to Pakistan, just as Hyderabad was added to India. Kashmir acceded to India through a legal instrument of accession that was accepted by India & British Viceroy.

    Thus, Pakistan doesn’t have a fig-leaf of legality in occupying any portion of Kashmir.Recommend

  • syed abdullah shah
    Jan 9, 2016 - 7:41PM

    We gbians want to independent status and identity, our GB scouts liberated the area from dogras and stabilised republic gilgitbaltistan state after liberation Pakistan took control of the area till that the basic rights of the citizens are suspended it do only to encounter the voters of Jammu hidues,Recommend

  • syed abdullah shah
    Jan 9, 2016 - 7:49PM

    GB is not part of kashmir during freedom movement gilgit baltistan scouts whose leaded by col hassan khan liberated the area after that Pakistan launched troops
    We not Pakistani nor kashmiriRecommend

  • Majini Gilit
    Jan 9, 2016 - 8:48PM

    The British Major in Gilgit only supported the public sentiment of the time. We know this for our elders recorded the events.Recommend

  • Mahmud Beg
    Jan 9, 2016 - 8:58PM

    We people from GB are part of Pakistan as per accession forwarded on 1 Nov 1947. We have fought our own indigenous war and thrown Dogra out from GB. It’s only wish and will of GB population to join Pakistan. No out siders can dictate us. We fought wars in 1965, 1971 and Kargil for Pakistan. We will live and die for Pakistan as our ancestors. Pakistan Army Zindabad and Pakistan Paindabad. Recommend

  • kkm
    Jan 9, 2016 - 9:41PM

    Good lesson for india they should also end special status of kashmir as pakistan is doing in kashmir’s gilgit….Recommend

  • kashif
    Jan 9, 2016 - 9:48PM

    The only disputed region is Indian occupied Kashmir, the rest is part of Pakistan!Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 9, 2016 - 10:36PM

    No one should doubt the account of the author or the decisions made by the colonial bods during their rule over the so called Indian territories, or the actions of the young Major Brown and Captain Matheison. However, the author criticises Pakistan earlier Governments treatment of the whole Agency as Kashmir territory and suggests that the choice of its residents to become full- fledged citizens of Pakistan be respected. In other words the territory be annexed since it is under the control of Pakistan army..
    This is a very strong language, given the position that successiv.e Governments of Pakistan have officialy maintained that the people of the disputed territories and not the Governments must be allowed the choice for the referendum or a plebiscite. . The ball is in the Sharifs forecourt, the alternative for the chinese would be to negotiate direct with the reprersentatives of gilgit-baltistan administration.

    Rex MinornRecommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 10, 2016 - 12:21AM

    @Mahmud Beg:
    @syed abdullah shah:
    which one of you is a soldier in Pakistan army? You guys appear to have opposite demands.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Jan 10, 2016 - 1:09AM

    Simply thanks to China for awakening Pakistani establishment and letting them know that there are humans as well resides in mighty ranges of Karakorum, Himalaya and Hindukush,
    People of GB are extremely disappointed with changing behavior of Pakistan because for more than 66 years forcefully put GB as neglected partner in issue of Kashmir. Whenever people of GB asked for their rights they were told as Kashmir issue will be affected.
    There is no any interest of Pakistan, India nor China in political, social and economic rights of people of GB. Pakistan and India are fighting for land. China is doing so for their own economic benefits. People of GB demands only few things i.e electricity, gas better communication facilities to connect to world and better employment opportunities or complete freedom over natural resources so that they will explore and utilize themselves.
    GB affiliated with Pakistan without any condition, but Pakistan sees GB as hurdle in $47 bn investment. People of GB have warm wishes for Pakistan and will remain forever.Recommend

  • Vakil
    Jan 10, 2016 - 2:45AM

    All this — and certainly even the comments of readers confirms this …. means that the whole issue of ‘Kashmir’ is about to become more hotch-potch (i.e. confusion galore) than ever before. Mian Nawaz sahab, you’re the best!!Recommend

  • Jai Singh
    Jan 10, 2016 - 4:06AM

    @cobra commander:

    IMHO, Whole India need to have plebiscite as Indians were promised per TNT no Muslim will be allowed permanent residency in India. The failure in Transfer of population is the major issue causing conflict in South Asia and key to solving issue for both India and Pakistan. After all coe issue is all about people and their religious identity. .Recommend

  • brar
    Jan 10, 2016 - 6:19AM

    @kashif: Then why pretend that the part of Kashmir held by Pakistan is Azad declare it a province of Pakistan , why asking for plebiscite , ask India to hand over the remaining part also, why agreed in UN for a plebiscite when the area belongs to Pakistan, the people of J and K are enjoying equal rights since when the article 379 was incorporated in Indian constitution what the people of AZK and GB are denied the same rights as other Pakistanis enjoy.Recommend

  • BlackHat
    Jan 10, 2016 - 8:06AM

    If G-B was a part of Pakistan, how come people of G-B don’t have representation in the Pakistani parliament? How come they haven’t participated in elections till now. Why is the constitutional status of the region being debated after 68 years suddenly?Recommend

  • JK
    Jan 10, 2016 - 8:35AM

    What appears to be the point in this whole debate on G-B is that, its status can be changed to suite the best interests of the state. For nearly seven decades the land and the people there served well as a buffer and fertile zones for Jihadees required, and thus nobody cared about their status. Now making them a province seems more beneficial, so do it. Good Muslim Brotherhood. Just as when the aid in various forms was pouring in, Afghanis were Muslim brothers and most welcome, while at the same time only 200,000 Biharis in Bangladesh were denied their right to come to Pakistan. Now the Afgahnis are a burden too, and need to be sent back home, regardless of having spent over thirty years in this country. Land of the pure does have some pure morality.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 10, 2016 - 4:50PM

    If G-B was a part of Pakistan, how come people of G-B don’t have representation in the Pakistani parliament? How come they haven’t participated in elections till now. Why is the constitutional status of the region being debated after 68 years suddenly?

    Because the people of Pakistan like the author have been deluded to believe that what was under the control of the Brits was legitimate and todays Pakistan is the genuine owner of whatever they could not transport back to their home land, the army being given the task to implement this through negotiation, persuation or force where possible.

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • Shiv
    Jan 10, 2016 - 4:51PM

    @cobra commander:
    Well, Pakistan was to be a homeland for Muslims. If you want Kashmir, you have to take all of them today in India. That is part of the unfinished agenda of partition. You took their share of the country but not the Muslims. Take them and Kashmir is yours.Recommend

  • observer
    Jan 11, 2016 - 7:40AM

    A. Pakistan paid for the KKH by handing over a chunk of GB (then Northern Areas), to China.

    B. Entire GB is the payment for CPEC..

    C. Pakistan can not hand over GB, while claiming it to be ‘Disputed Territory’.

    D. Hence the scramble for ‘Constitutional Status’.

    Elementary, My Dear Watson.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jan 11, 2016 - 1:41PM

    You have made a good point, but ignored that the independence from the Brits did not have not have a clause of migration to anglo saxon countries, a brain drain allowing the chaiwalas and street hawkers to become the leaders of the respective countries.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Mahmood Hussain
    Jan 11, 2016 - 10:54PM

    The whole ofJammu Kashmir state belongs to the people of Kashmir FULL STOP!!! including GB. India and Pakistan both are occupiers…. let there be a referendum, i bet you overwhelming majority will opt for an Independent Kashmir..Recommend

  • Amanullah Khan
    Jan 14, 2016 - 2:21PM

    Mr. Bangash has tried to give the true picture of the history of GB, but some facts remained unattended or not come to his knowledge. The other part of the history that has not come to limelight is the fact that Hunza remained part of China till 1949. Mir/ Rajas of Hunza used to pay Khiraj (Tax) in shape of Gold and silver to Chen Kai Shek the King of China. In response the Chinese Government sent gifts in the shape of clothe and eateries. If one goes in the history the whole issue will be confused. In past the treatment of Kashmiri people with the Gilgitis was bitter during the time of Wazarat. With the result an objectionable saying came out of it which I do not and can not share, because it will hurt the feelings of the common people of Kashmir. The passing of a resolution against the expected granting of constitutional rights to the deprived and ignored people of GB is highly objectionable. Attitude of Kashmiri leadership has always been negative towards the people of GB. We have tested the nerves of Kashmiri leadership in 1970 before the general elections. I was then a student leader and an activist of a popular movement for abolition of autocracy, FCR a gift of the bureaucracy who hailed from NWFP and granting of Constitutional status to GB including Chitral. Chitral and GB remained integral parts for centuries, both the peoples have common traditions, language, relationships etc. A delegation of our movement met with the Kashmiri leadership including Sardar Ibrahim, Sardar Qayyum, Abdul Manan, K.H. Khursheed and Amanullah Khan who comes from Astore GB but opted to be called as a Kashmiri Leader, we asked them to boycott the Elections till such time the people of GB are also get the right of vote in the AJK Assembly. All of them accepted and committed with us to boycott the Elections in case the people of GB are not given the right of vote. When the schedule of the Elections announced all of the Kashmiri leaders except K.H Khursheed contested the Elections. After the Election I personally lead a delegation met with all those leaders and reminded of their promise. They were guilty therefore they had no answer. We asked them to forget the GB and do not claim that GB was a part of Kashmir. It is the history and I am a witness to what I have narrated. The question is what the people of GB want now. We want our own province that represents our entity. We are no more subjects of Kashmiri leaders. Please forget and forgive us. We can not become your part because we do not have anything common to refer. Recommend

  • Didar Ali
    Feb 1, 2016 - 10:42AM

    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. Recommend

  • Didar Ali
    Feb 3, 2016 - 9:17PM

    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. Recommend

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