The house of Governor Ghansara Singh of Gilgit – Agency, a name the British colonizers gave to our region, was under a siege. Jawans of Gilgit Scout, guns in hand, had delimited the house, to make sure that the governor did not escape.
Ghansara was alone, but armed. He wasn’t a coward and kept resisting the scouts who were asking him to come out in the dark night and surrender. Flickers danced in the darkness for hundredth parts of a second as Ghansara Singh and the Scouts exchanged fire. Suddenly a bullet pierced through the body of Sepoy Amir Hayat, a member of Hunza Platoon, making him the first martyr of Gilgit – Baltistan’s war of independence.
The exchange of fire increased as the scouts learnt of their comrade’s martyrdom and, soon, Ghansara Singh was without any ammunition. He came out, hands up, and was arrested. It was the first morning of November. The year was 1947.
The independent Islamic republic of Gilgit, “Islami Jamhuria Gilgit”, had b een founded. Shah Raees was nominated president of the republic. The Gilgit – Scout was being led by Babar Khan, Ehsan Ali and Shah Khan. They were joined by rebellious Muslim officers of Kashmir Infantry, including the charismatic Col Mirza Hasan Khan, Major Durrani and Major Jaral, among others. A revolutionary council was formed and tasked to work closely with the revolutionary government. Col Hassan became the supreme commander of the revolutionary scouts, divided into three companies; the Tiger, the Ibex and the Eskimo led by Babar, Ehsan and Shah Khan, respectively.
The rebellious Gilgit – Scout, then, marched towards Bonji Garrison, forwarding the war of independence. It wasn’t an ordinary occasion. The subjects had risen to reclaim their independence from the masters after decades of silence. The government of Pakistan came to their help, at later stages, and the Dogra Forces were chased out of the region. Seventy two thousand square miles of land were liberated by the poorly armed, poorly trained, semi – military organization.
In the mean while the Pakistani government sent her representative; a naib Tehsildar, on the request of some local rulers, as a political agent. The independent state of Gilgit was demolished, existing only for fifteen day, and the president of the defunct republic was happy getting a job in the Revenues Department.
These accounts of the war of independence are well documented in books written by leaders of the revolution, historians and other intellectuals. Mirza Hassan’s “Shamsheer say Zanjeer Tak”– a self eulogizing account of history that uses condescending remarks for his companions, tries to pocket all the credit for the revolution for the author. He is presented as the ‘liberator’ of the land. Shah Khan’s “Gilgit Scout ki Kahani” tries to rewrite the history by countering claims of Mirza Hassan, offering an alternate story as the ‘truth’. Professor Hasan Dani, a distinguished historian, has also described the events in his various writings, including books. Similarly, Major Brown, William the British commander of Gilgit – Scout at the time of revolution has also documented his account in the form of a book.
It seems that the war of independence has fallen prey to people seeking credits for their role in it. This, undoubtedly, has overshadowed the zeal, the struggle, and aspirations of the common men, the low ranking officers of the Gilgit – Scout, the soldiers and other freedom fighters not listed on Gilgit – Scouts payroll, like Mujahid Bakhtawar Shah.
Today, after sixty one years of that epic struggle, our political future remains shrouded in mystery. There is a feeling among a segment of the youth that maybe the struggle of our forefathers was not worth it.
The question of accession to Pakistan remains unanswered despite of tall promises by the likes of Jinnah, Bhutto, Ayub Khan, Benazir, Musharraf and, even, Zardari. No progress has been made in terms of increasing participation of the two million people of Gilgit – Baltistan in the national mainstream. We are not represented in the national legislative bodies. The northern areas legislative assembly is a mockery of the institution that it claims to be.
This uncertainty has given rise to confused regionalism or belligerent nationalism besides contributing to sectarianism in the region.
However, we wish all the people of Gilgit – Baltistan a very happy independence day on November 01. Our forefathers may not have been able to give us independence, in the true term, they definitely have shown us the path. We shall remember, cherish and follow their examples of unity, determination and sacrifices for a common cause.
Let’s resolve to increase our independence by breaking chains of poverty, illiteracy, sectarianism and silence, while struggling to achieve our political rights through peaceful political ways. For sure we are not enjoying all the fruits of freedom, but the flames of hope and determination shall not die.
As a young poet of the region puts it: