IN GILGIT-BALTISTAN’s history, 1st November is a momentous occasion to be truly jubilant about and celebrated with great solemnity and fervor as it marks the hard-won liberation of Gilgit-Baltistan from the oppressive Dogra rule after the it was forcibly occupied by the latter during the course of a tug of war spanning second of the 19th century. Fastidious in preparation for the big day on its eve, the people of the region enthusiastically and zestfully commemorate the liberation day every year to immortalize the victory of the regional people who emerged triumphant by undoing what the aliens had done to them. It is worth note that wresting such a vast territory from the clutches of the oppressive regime’s troops armed to the teeth is something easier said than done and hence can be termed no less than a miracle to engage a well-organized combatant force armed with deadly arsenal. It therefore, finds no precedent in the contemporary history for, they can genuinely be proud of such stupendous feats of bravery. The defeat inflicted on the adversary was so much impactful and great that the Dogra forces ran helter-skelter and got the worst drubbing of their life with the governor Brigadier Ghansara Singh having been put under arrest so ignominiously at Gilgit.
Since a vast territory comprising 72,486 sq. km. was liberated well nigh three months after the emergence of Pakistan 72 years ago on this day, the people of this region therefore, proudly celebrate two grandest occasion first being that of 14th August to be followed by the Gilgit-Baltistan’s liberation day on 1st November, respectively every year fitting both the occasions with tremendous gusto. It may be mentioned that many of the citizenry of Pakistan may take pride in having become Pakistani by choice and not by sheer force of circumstances. To some of them, Muslims living in the Muslim majority provinces of undivided India had no other choice except to opt for Pakistan and hence became Pakistani by default while the other category comprised those in the rest of the subcontinent who staunchly followed the dynamic leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in carving out a separate homeland for themselves. Quite uniquely then, there are those inhabiting Gilgit-Baltistan – a veritable oasis of patriotism – who rose in revolt against the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir State and flummoxed him in the aftermath of his treacherous accession to India on October 26, 1947 insofar as G-B is concerned. With exhibition of an exemplary valour, the these brave men wrested approximately 28000 sq miles vast territory from the Dogras and threw off the yoke of servitude fastened to their necks during about century-long oppressive rule without any assistance from outside as stated earlier. After the liberation, they joined Pakistan obviously with the express resolve to live and die as Muslims with their Pakistani brethren as they believed sanguinely that this newly carved out homeland would guarantee equality of opportunities, fundamental citizenry and constitutional rights to all alike.
The ineluctable condition holds that since the G-B was forcibly occupied by the aliens and oppressively held sway over it against the people’s will, these people rid themselves of the foreign domination after about a century’s subjugation and thereby returned to their previous geo-political and historical locus. Therefore, they could not and should not have been deemed as an integral part of the J&K State in the circumstances. Having returned to their erstwhile geo-political and historical status on liberation, they legitimately joined Pakistan as an independent people free to exercise their will independently – something cannot be called into question with specious claims by India in that the region throughout its history a geo-politically and culturally a distinct independent entity which had earlier fallen on turbulent times during the second half of the nineteenth century when machinations were unleashed against them which eventually spawned the uncertain and the gloomiest transitional phase in its history that ensued.
Synoptically, region consisted of and apportioned into a dozen tiny fiefdoms and mirdoms each ruled over by despotic, independent rulers from times immemorial until the Dogras started making inroads into it during the second half of the 19th century followed by the British India’s eying it as a bulwark against the Czarist Russia. What ironically triggered the cataclysmic change was prima facie, the intra-family feuds of the ruling families and internecine squabbles paved the way the outsiders to make inroads into this region. Eventually, the convulsive storm tottered each of these tiny sovereign entities towards the middle of the 19th century landing them all in doldrums.
It is profitable to excerpt a report ‘Discord in Pakistan’s Northern Areas’ dated second April 2007, by International Crisis Group, working to prevent conflict worldwide, for the information of the readers: ‘Gulab Singh had already annexed the Buddhist kingdom of Ladakh in the 1830s and the predominantly Muslim majority area of Baltistan in 1841. Over the next three decades, he and his successors, with British support, erected a mini empire, penetrating the outermost reaches of India’s northern frontier an establishing their suzerainty over what was then referred to Dardistan. This predominantly Muslim region included the former principalities of Gilgit, Hunza,Nagar and other territories bordering on Chinese Xinjiang and Afghanistan.
In 1846, a Boundary Commission was dispatched to determine the frontiers of the newly created state of Jammu and Kashmir. Attention focused on the Ladakh and the Gilgit routes. Beceause of strategic location of this territory, the British , concerned that a Russian advance that could threaten their hold over India, were unwilling to give the Maharaja a free hand in conducting relations with his neighbors. By the 1860s, Czarist Russia was not only on the brink of establishing a common border with Afghanistan but was also moving close to Chinese Turkestan. British policies toward India’s northern frontier, therefore, were shaped until Pakistan and India’s independence in 1947 by the need to thwart Moscow’s expansionism.
British believed that Gulab Singh’s son and successor as Maharaja, Ranbir Singh, was attempting to conduct his own foreign policy by establishing direct contacts with their imperial rival. They consequently monitored his activities not just in Ladakh but also in Dardistan, particularly in Gilgit.
Lying on the foothills of the Karakoram Mountains, Gilgit controlled access to Hunza in the north east and the passes into Chinese Turkestan. Toward the west, it was possible to travel from Gilgit to Chitral on the Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of Afghan territory separating British India from Russian-controlled Central Asia. Sikh rue had been extended to Gilgit in 1842. The British transferred control of the territory to the Dogra rulers of Jammu and Kashmir by the Treaty of Amritsar of 1846. Six years later, a rebellion by local tribal leaders chafing under Dogra rule led to the ouster of the Maharaja’s forces. In 1860, however, Ranbir Singh re-captured it and annexed it to the state of Jammu and Kashmir as the capital of the Gilgit Wazarat.
Seized of Dardistan’s geostrategic potential, London agreed to give Ranbir Singh military aid in exchange for the stationing, in 1877, of a British agent in Gilgit to “supervise the conduct of policy on this frontier”. The existence of this agency, however, was short-lived, since relations between the maharaja and the political agent, Major John Biddulph, were strained. In 1881, the agency was withdrawn, freeing the maharaja of supervision.
To curtail the maharaja’s control over the territory, the British again established a presence in Dardistan. In 1889, Colonel Algernon Durand reestablished the agency, with his first challenge coming from the rulers of Hunza and Nagar, who had joined forces against the Dogras and posed a threat to the maharaja’s control over Gilgit as well. The rebellion was quelled, and Hunza and Nagar were absorbed into Gilgit Agency. The Gilgit garrison was manned by 2,000 Jammu and Kashmir state troops, employed by the maharaja. Locals were not recruited until 1913, when the Corps of Gilgit Scouts was formed. Powers and responsibilities were divided, with defence, foreign affairs and communications falling under the imperial government while the maharaja controlled the civil administration through his representative, the Wazir-e-Wazarat.
By the 1930s, events in the agency’s neighborhood, along with the maharaja’s attempts to reassert his independence, led the British to again change their policy towards Dardistan. On 26 March 1935, the maharaja leased exclusive control of the part of the Gilgit Agency north of the Indus to the British for sixty years. This arrangement remained in place until 1st August 1947, when the impending termination of British rule in India led to the premature dissolution of the lease agreement and the return not just of the leased area but also the rest of Gilgit Agency to the maharaja’s control. According to one historian, the British rationale for returning the entire Gilgit Agency was based on the assumption that the maharaja would eventually accede to India, which the British, particularly Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy, hoped to see as the new guardian of the northern frontier.’
The writer is Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He can be reached at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org