Gilgit, Kashmir and the identity crisis

Suspicions over Kashmiri leadership’s intentions of wanting to keep G-B as its ‘colony’ have further gained currency

Shabbir Mir February 23, 2016
The writer is a reporter at The Express Tribune. He tweets @ShabbirMir

The question whether Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Kashmir has shaped the politics of the landlocked region for years. The mainstream political parties aside, the nationalists and the religious parties have also been found grappling with the identity issue in one way or another. At least two developments in the recent past have caused this issue to flare up. The first is the news that the government might be mulling over a change in the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan to alleviate Beijing’s concerns over building a section of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through the disputed area. The second is the fierce opposition by leaders in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and from across the Line of Control over the possible integration of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan. Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan, President of AJK, went a step ahead, warning that the integration of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan would be more disastrous than the dismemberment of the country in 1971.

While the AJK Assembly passed a resolution to dissuade the federal government from making Gilgti-Baltistan a separate province, prominent Kashmiri leaders in held Kashmir didn’t lag far behind, asking Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not to give Delhi an excuse to integrate Indian-occupied Kashmir with India.

These arguments might be valid but they annoyed political forces in Gilgit-Baltistan as they were considered an attack on the rights of a region, which sacrificed its basic constitutional rights for the cause of Kashmir. As a result, suspicions over the Kashmiri leadership’s intentions of wanting to keep Gilgit-Baltistan as its ‘colony’ further gained currency. Local newspapers and social media provided the much-needed space for political forces to vent their anger against AJK leaders.

It was the Dogra Raj that had made Gilgit-Baltistan a part of Kashmir despite the fact that both the regions had distinct cultures and languages and were geographically distant from each other. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan ousted the Dogras from their territory scattered over 72,000 square kilometers through an armed struggle. Gilgit-Baltistan joined Pakistan unconditionally, hoping to be part of the country, but the joy of being Pakistani proved to be shortlived. In 1948, as the matter of Kashmir went to the United Nations for resolution, so did the matter of Gilgit. A year later, officials from the Pakistan government met with those of AJK to sign the ‘Karachi Agreement’. It was agreed that the affairs of Gilgit-Baltistan would be run by what is now called the Federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Undoubtedly, constitutional issues surrounding Gilgit-Baltistan are complex and chronic. Before Partition, the region then consisting of various small princely states, had been ruled by Dogras as well as the British from time to time. The link-up with Kashmir after independence further complicated matters, leaving successive governments perplexed. This indecisiveness lasted till the 1970s when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto introduced constitutional reforms, abolishing the fiefdom system and the Frontier Crimes Regulation.

For now, it seems practically impossible for a political government to make a sudden policy shift on Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir. But what is the alternative? As suggested by the AJK Assembly, a constitutional package granting maximum powers to locally-elected representatives and ensuring their presence in parliament and other forums appears to be a solution. But this shouldn’t happen without a meaningful consultation with political forces in Gilgit-Baltistan. A reforms committee headed by Adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has reportedly finalised recommendations to devolve more powers to the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly. However, the committee’s specific recommendations are yet to be revealed.

In addition, steps need to be taken to mend ties between the two regions, which are part of a larger dispute. This cannot be achieved unless the political leaderships of the respective regions realise the sensitivity of the issue and refrain from making provocative statements for political gains.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2016.

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HZR | 5 years ago | Reply If China is uneasy about GB so are Philippines,Vietnam and other nations about South China sea and China is the last person to seek advice on this,it is itself a violator of international conventions
Amanullah Khan | 5 years ago | Reply Unfortunately the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) has been pushed to back burns as a pre-plan by the Kashmir Affairs and Northern Area (KANA) Ministry dominated by the Kashmiri leadership for decades because of political vacuum. In the meantime the agencies created hatredness and divided them on the basis of sects, language, caste and regionalism. With the result we the people of GB and Chitral (Gilchistan) have been denied our basic right of vote on our own land, by the rulers through the most obedient servants. We observe the people writing on the issue without having any background, relevance and research based articles, hiding most of the facts from the readers intentionally. Some writers according to sources are on pay rolls, write the stories as per the feedings. We have been througn into a situation of a cobweb by the clever Kashmiri leadership. A recent statement of Shah Mahmood Qureshi is an attempt to complicate the issue further. It has discouraged me. Take the example of Birjees Tahir or Qureshi they are spoon fed people. They do not like to dive into history to bring out the facts. They change their stance with the instructions they receive. It is a tragedy.
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