Gilgit Baltistan, the territory blessed with the scenic beauty, mountain ranges and its natural reserves is almost forgotten had again came to fore in International Politics when India last week issued Demarche to Pakistan on its illegal occupation to the aforesaid territory. Followed by the Demarche order, moving one step ahead Modi government started broadcasting the weather bulletin of the whole of the Pak occupied Jammu Kashmir including Gilgit Baltistan. Very few knew that Gilgit Baltistaan is also part of disputed part of Jammu Kashmir illegally occupied by Pakistan.
The aforesaid move came as an Indian response in the wake of an order by the Pakistan Supreme Court last week where it issued notices to the Advocate General of Gilgit-Baltistan, directing it to amend the Gilgit-Baltistan Order-2018 and establishing a caretaker government there.
The tenure of the present Gilgit-Baltistan government expires this June and the next general elections will be held within two months. This election is for the Gilgit-Baltistan Council.
Despite being controlled administratively from Islamabad since 1947, Gilgit-Baltistan continues to remain illegally occupied by Pakistan. It is neither Independent nor a Province of Pakistan.
The experts are of the view that Pakistan wanted to annex the area as fifth Province visualizing China’s interest in the area keeping in view the ambitious China -Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China had invested almost 60 Billion US Dollars in this Project. Pakistan always used the region as a bait for its geo- political gains as the region is Gateway to the Central Asia. Pakistan always treated the region as colony and exploited the natural resources of the region like anything.
In 1963, Pak gave 5000 sq Kms of the area to China giving entry to this region. In 1989 China started Korakoram Highway connecting its Xinjiang Province to The Abbotabad. The CPEC is nothing but the modernized and extended Korokoram Highway to Gowadar Port giving direct access of Arabian sea to China. Though not having any marine borders with the Arabian Sea would be able to transport its cargo in 48 hrs to Gawadar Port at Arabian sea just opposite to Oman and UAE. India always protested the CPEC and termed it as illegal as Gilgit Baltistan was never annexed with Pakistan.
China, who had invested heavily and in view of its expansionist and economic interests wanted full control in the region.
In 2010, New York times published the report regarding the increased Chinese clout in the area and said that there were among 20,000 Chinese soldiers in the Gilgit Baltistan region. It has discreet hold on the area and build 22 underground tunnels. As per the report Chinese Missiles were deployed in these tunnels and even Pak Army was having access to these
Geo-Political, Strategic And Historic Perspective
The Gilgit Baltistan, though a serene mountainous valley, remained bone of contention since mid ninteenth century till date due to its Geographical presence and became the scene of the Great Game between the Geo-Political Powers. In 19th Century it was Dogras, Sikhs, Britishers, Russians, Afghans and Post 1947 New Players like Pakistan, China, Iran and India emerged. Gilgit Baltistan is home to Himalaya, Hindukush and Karakorum Mountain ranges.
Gateway to the central Asia it borders to Khyber Pakhtunwa of Pakistan to west, Afghanistan to north and Chinas Xinjiang Province to its east. And importantly to tell that is almost 200 Km away Northwest from Srinagar.
If we look at it historically, Gilgit Baltistaan was part of Jammu and Kashmir, since 1840,when valiant Dogra Commander, Gen Zorawar Singh launched his campaign and conquered Skardu. After the fall of the Skardu, Gen Zorawar Singh marched towards western Tibet. By 1860 ,the whole of the Gilgit Baltistan was under the Dogra Dynasty.
In view of the strategic importance of the northern areas of Jammu and Kashmir, the British entered into an agreement with the Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Dogra Dynasty, in 1877. A dual control agreement was made and a British political agent was appointed.
In 1889, a new agency was established in these areas and the British Resident in Kashmir was put incharge of its administrative control and named as Gilgit Agency. Notable among these areas of 14,680 sq miles, comprising that agency were Gilgit, Hunza Nagar, Ponial, Jagir, Yasin, Kuh, Ghizer, Iskhoman and Chilas. Even in the reports of the census, conducted by the Government of India in 1911,1921,1931 and 1941, the districts of Ladakh, Gilgit, and the Gilgit Political agency were shown as part of Jammu and Kashmir.
In 1935, sensing the Soviet threat via Afghanistan, the British Indian Government therefore acquired the territory of Gilgit subdivision from the Maharaja on a 60-year lease under an agreement dated March 29, 1935. This agreement was rescinded in August 1947, before the emergence of Pakistan and India as two independent states and the British Government returned Gilgit to the Maharaja of J&K. The Maharaja treated Gilgit as his third province and appointed Brig Ghansara Singh as its Governor. Legally and technically, therefore, under the instrument of Accession signed by the Maharaja, this area rightfully belongs to India.
The sinister of Britishers:
Though Britishers gave back the Gilgit Baltistan to Maharaja but they made a sinister Plan to ensure that it would not last long with Dogras and kept Major William Brown in the service of Maharaja, as commander in Chief of the Gilgit Scouts till the transfer of powers completely to Maharaja Hari Singh.
But Major William Brown mutinied on November 1,1947, overthrowing the Maharaja’s Governor Ghansara Singh. The bloodless ‘coup’ detat was planned by Brown to the last detail under the code name “Datta Khel”, which was also joined by Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir 6th Infantry, under Mirza Hassan Khan. The Hindu soldiers were brutally murdered by the mutineer Muslim soldiers. A provisional government (Aburi Hakoomat) was with Raja Shah Rais Khan as the president and Mirza Hassan Khan as the commander-in-chief. However, Major Brown had already telegraphed Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan asking Pakistan to take over. The Pakistani political agent, Khan Mohammad Alam Khan, arrived on November 16, 1947 and took over the administration of Gilgit.
On January 1, 1948, India took the issue of Jammu and Kashmir to the United Nations Security Council. In April 1948, the Council passed a resolution calling for Pakistan to withdraw from whole Jammu and Kashmir. However, no withdrawal was ever carried out, Gilgit-Baltistan and a western portion of the state have remained under the control of Pakistan since then.
In the 1948 British gazette, the King-Emperor awarded the “Most Exalted Order”of the British Empire to Maj Brown for his services.
Renaissance to Kashmir issue
After 1948 Gilgit Baltistan chapter was completely washed out from the Indian Psyche. People had almost forgotten that this place is also in illegal occupation of Pakistan. Indian Polity always talked about Pak Occupied Kashmir like Muzzafarabad but removed Gilgit Baltistan from its consciousness. In 2014 when PM Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister, Gilgit Baltistan emerged as a key factor in Kashmir dispute. The diplomatic relations were redrawn and Modi led Govt raised the Gilgit Baltistan issue to neutralize the Pak claims on Kashmir. In his address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned Gilgit Baltistan and cleared his stance on the issue. Home Minister Amit Shah, in his address to the Parliament post 5th August, after the abrogation of Article 370, mentioned Gilgit Baltistaan as an integral part of India and referred it as an extension of Ladakh.
Modi Govt which worked on the doctrine of defensive offence knows it well that it is Gilgit Baltistan which can prove India’s end game in the great game.
(The writer is a former Journalist, and a columnist having interest In J&K History and Politics.)