Bahram Khan Shad
In terms of geo-economics and geo-strategic, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan has great importance in the world. It is a gateway to connect world’s big economies. Geographically, Gilgit-Baltistan shares borders in the northeast with China, in the extreme north with Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan, in the west with KPK province and in the south and southeast with Azad Kashmir. So, it locates at the confluence of world great mountain ranges like the Himalaya, Hindukush, Karakoram and Pamir mountain ranges, which are considered the high roof of the world. The world’s first and second highest peaks also exist in theses great ranges while the second highest peak “K2” lies in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan. In the history, the region due to its geo-strategic and geo-economic importance always persuaded external powers to step in the region. Although, the then invaders have become part of history but, the “tug of war” among the external powers in the region is still alive with new tactics. The region portrays like a horse without rider and contemporary powers are engaged to pull down each other in the access of horse’s saddle.
The famous “Great Game” had been played over the region of Gilgit-Baltistan between the then expansionist power, British India and Russian Empire, in the second half of the 19th century. Due to this power politics in the region, the external powers always lagged behind the indigenous people from the right to rule over themselves. While entering in the 21st century, the region is still portraying a vague picture in the international community. The political experts, when they want to say something regarding Gilgit-Baltistan, they articulate in this way that “it is an administrative colony of Pakistan neither it is part of Pakistan nor an independent state”. In the historical perspective, the ultimate interest of invaders was to optimize this Geo-economic and strategic importance of the region. Maharaja Kashmir started frequent invasions on Gilgit from 1841 to 1860. Finally they got success to hold foot in the region to pursue trade relations across the mountainous regions. In 1890, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan went under the subjugation of British India and the function of Maharaja Kashmir was under the suzerainty of British India in the region. Simultaneously, the region was being ruled in three layers like in the top British India then Maharaja Kashmir and finally local rajas. This continued till the partition of sub-continent between India and Pakistan in 1947. With the partition of Sub-continent, the poser-issue of Kashmir arose and as a result, the then Pakistani leadership didn’t bother to include the region of Gilgit-Baltistan into the mainstream of Pakistan at the cost of Kashmir cause, which is still in heated debate.
The region of Gilgit-Baltistan lies at the cross roads of Asia. The well known 13 hundreds km long KKH is passing through this region, which is considered the 8th wonder of the world. It connects the big economy of China to new emerging deep sea port of Gawardar at the bank of Balochistan. From where China will be able to control the Indian Ocean and easily will have access to African and Western Asian markets. In this regard, China is engaged by investing huge amount to widen KKH, investing on bridges, tunnels, Gawadar port and other infrastructures in collaboration with Pakistan. On the opposite side, India considers this as a planed strategy of Sino-Pak to marginalized Indian influence in the region. To counter this perceived strategy, India shakes hand with USA to check this rampant Chinese influence in the region. On the other hand, Iran and China have increased their cordial relations and contemplating on future gas line and rail way from Iran to China is further giving new impetus to geo-economic importance of Gilgit Baltistan. When we talk about Pak-Central Asian relations in the perspective of Pak-Tajik bilateral relations, Gilgit-Baltistan is a stepping stone to reach Central Asian through its lost territory of Wakhan corridor in a short distance. In this realm, the region of Ghizer is an important district of Gilgit Baltistan due to its geographic location. It shares borders in the east with Gilgit, in the extreme north with Wakhan corridor, in the west with KPK district of Chitral and in the south with district Diamer. The region locates at the cross roads and have an important passes like Shandur pass; it connects to Chitral in the west, Chilingi pass which connects to upper region of Hunza valley, Darkut pass towards Broghol of upper Chitral and lastly the historic famous Karumbar pass in the extreme north of Ishkoman valley, which enters to Wakhan corridor. In the history, many invaders used to come through these passes to conquer the southern parts. In 747 AD, Chinese intruded from the Darkut pass to conquer the southern parts of Tibet. The book written by Dr. Ahmad Hasan Danni, “The History of Northern Areas” and George Biddulph, in his book “Tribes of Hindukush” both have mentioned that in the ancient times, the traditional people used to these passes towards north. In the time of Buddism, the then Buddhist preachers from south had been coming through these traditional routes with the purpose of preaching among the northern mountainous communities. That time, Buddhist pilgrims used to call these mountains, sacred places. Although, there are rests of the many passes towards Central Asia, but the Kurambar pass is one of the safest, shortest and feasible pass to get access to Tajikistan, a welcoming gate to Central Asia. The book written by Dr. G.W Lietner named “Dardistan in 1866-86” in which he mentioned Kurambar pass one of the shortest optional routes to reach Central Asia. During the time of “Great Game” the British secret explorers used these passes to perform their covert operations in the high Asia against Russian Empire. In this regard, one example is about the then famous British explorer George Hayward. In that time, George Hayward was a member of the famous “Royal Geographical Society” of London. In 1870, by representing Royal Geographic Society, he adopted the way of Darkut (Ghizer) pass to explore Pamir region, which was considered that time” land of no man”. But on his way, he was mysteriously killed at the point of Darkut. But still, his murder couldn’t be revealed due to the controversial involvement of Maharaja Kashmir, Mehtar of Chitral and Raja of Yasin.
The Wakhan corridor is a lost territory of Gilgit-Baltistan. The Ishkoman valley of Ghizer is dominant Wakhi ethnic group have their roots in Wakhan and Pamir region. In 1895, Ishkoman valley went to under the direct influence of British India and Mir Ali Mardan Shan, ruler of Wakhan, appointed as head over the Ishkoman valley. Before the rising of two opponent British and Russian Empires, the “Immit” village of Ishkoman was as a common venue to celebrate traditional “Trade Festival” yearly. In this traditional splendid festival, people from Wakhan, Pamir and from whole Central Asia were participated with pomp and show. Although, the British and Russian empires separated those communities by creating nonsense political borders across the natural blood borders in the pursuance of their short term political interest.
The proposed Pak-Tajik via the district Ghizer is very ideal and promising at every angle. Firstly, it is shortest, feasible, not difficult terrain on the way and safest. For international trade, security assurance is considered the first and foremost priority for any peaceful transition of international route. In the perspective of geo-economic importance of Gilgit-Baltistan, the KKH is passing through this region last over many decades very peacefully and successfully with exceptional some heart wrenching cases on KKH. This is an empirical example in the pursuance of proposed Pak-Tajik road via Ghizer. In Gilgit-Baltistan, there is no any issue on the frontiers with China and Central Asia. Furthermore, the people of GB are peace loving and have cultural and historical attachment in Central Asia is a main driving force to materialize the proposed Pak-Tajik road. In a short distance, the proposed Pak-Tajik road meets at the confluence of Gilgit with KKH, which is praiseworthy because many experts consider that the process of integration among the mountain ranges of Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindukush and Pamir is showing the rebirth of famous ancient “Silk Route”. As a result, this creates the triangle road relation between Pakistan, China and Tajikistan in the long run. Pak-Tajik road via Ghizer was firstly proposed by the then late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1993. But due to frequent change of governments in Pakistan set aside the proposed idea. After military coup in 1999, subsequent military leadership once again took consideration on the pre-proposed road. During the Mushraf’s regime in 2004, Pak-Tajik road via Ghizer was surveyed and found very accessible and feasible. It is ironic that Pakistan always suffers from the fluctuation of its national policies in terms of development. Like this, the ex-president, Asif Ali Zardari paid his official visit to Tajikistan in September 2011 and negotiated the proposed road via KPK district of Chitral instead of Gilgit-Baltistan. This shows the lack of charismatic leadership in Pakistan because Pak-Tajik road via KPK province has already been failed due to the insecure western border and once again to redraw line from the volatile region is totally nonsense and unpromising. On the bases of natural link and geographic proximity, Pak-Tajik road will only become successful when it passes via Gilgit-Baltistan. Ishkoman valley is at a distance of 140-km from Gilgit and 65-km from the Gahkuh city. The proposed road further proceeds to last village of Ishkoman named Bilhanz, but jeep able road is already constructed to Matrumadas. The distance from Bilhanz to Matrumadas is 10-km. The road proceeds on the left bank of Ishkoman River. The distance from Matrumadas to Khuraburd is only 30-km foot trek. By crossing Chattiboi glacier, it continues to Karumbar pass at the altitude of 4200m and through Karumbar pass, it joins the Wakhan corridor. According to the feasibility report, the proposed road is 220-km long and estimated cost is Rs.2 billion.
This article is an abstract of my Thesis submitted to Karakoram International University as part of my BS (Hons) in International Relations.