Gilgit-Baltistan: In Search of Identity

By Waseem Abbas Bagoro 

The People of Gilgit Baltistan(GB) celebrate Independence-day twice in a year, first on 14 August; the Independence-day of Pakistan, and the second on November 1; the independence-day of Gilgit-Baltistan from Dogra Raj in 1948. The Irony is, however, that a nation celebrates Independence-day twice but is still in search of identity and self-recognition.

There is widespread misinformation about the history of Gb, its co-relation of Kashmir, its constitutional limbo, and the demands of people, possible remedies to the woes of people of the region. As these issues need to be highlighted and people need to be informed about it, as public pressure is the only tool you can use to mobilise the government to act the way you want. It really pains that our fellow Pakistanis are not aware of the woes and demands their fellow citizens in Gilgit Baltistan. Whenever someone talks about the constitutional status of GB with his/her full-fledged Pakistani friends, they present arguments such as GB Baltistan is part of Pakistan because we live in the same country, we are brothers, GBians are equally patriotic, Gbians are using Pakistani passport etc. Neglecting the gravity of the issue, or unaware of it (some of them are really unaware even of the geography of GB, they consider it a part of FATA or KPK), they pass such statements. Every year on November 1, an independence-day of Gilgit Baltistan, a debate spreads out about the status of Gilgit Baltistan and its above mention issues. I will try here to clear these speculations, but before going to debate this, it would be advisable to go through the history of Gilgit Baltistan as without knowing it we cannot fully grasp the present fiasco.

GB was historically an independent territory having no central authority.  Different monarchs were ruling different valleys. Baltistan region was captured by Maharaja Gulab mainly by attacks in 18830s and 1840s, and other areas of Gilgit division by signing an accord with British East India company in 1846 in an accord known as “Treaty of Amritsar”, which set the tone for Dogra rule in Gilgit. Some local rulers resisted but they were crushed with an iron hand, others aligned themselves to dogras by for autonomy in local affairs by paying taxes to them.  Kashmiri Authorities claiming Gb to be its part makes no sense as if we follow their logic: Gb is part of Kashmir because it was once under them, then Kashmir must be part of East India company, and the whole Pakistan must be a part of Subcontinent and subcontinent must be a suzerainty of the British empire.

Dogra empire ruled GB smoothly until the division of sub-continent in 1947-48. During the partition process, Maharaja Hari Singh was in ambivalence about the possible future of his territories, finally, he signed an instrument of Accession with India when the tribals attacked Kashmir in 1948. At that moment some officers of Gilgit scouts under col Mirza Hasan Khan in collaboration with some British officers revolted against the Dogras in Gilgit and on 1st November 1948 announced independence. An independent Islamic republic namely “Islamic Republic of Gilgit Baltistan” came into existence. After 16 days, On November 16, it formally annexed with Pakistan independently. A tehsildar from KPK was sent as the political agent to administer GB, the whole area came under him under the banner of Gilgit agency and FCR was imposed. Its annexation to Pakistan and the subsequent proceedings are evident how neglected Gb is from the very start and still is.

the electoral system in Gb was first introduced by ZAB in 1972. He abrogated the FCR and special status of princely states where the position of princes was abrogated. Bhutto’s proposed elected Northern Areas advisory council was to be head by a commission with elected members from GB under him. Later, Benazir Bhutto in her 2nd term empowered the Northern areas council and renamed it GB legislative council. Chief executive and deputy chief executive posts were introduced. Minister of Kashmir affairs was to be the chief executive and head of Gb assembly to be the deputy chief executive. Musharraf in 2006 gave some additional powers and changed the name of GB council to GB legislative assembly. PPP government, in 2009, issued an order namely “GB (empowerment and self-government) order, 2009” which created the posts of Chief Minister and Governor. These hollow-in-power posts trick many to believe that Gb is like any other province which in reality is not. Power is in fact vested in the hands of federal with the formation of bodies like Gb council-GB council is an authoritative body with the departments like tourism, forestry, minerals and natural resources in its hand. It compromises of 15 members, 8 locals (6 elected by GB assembly plus Governor and Chief Minister GB) and 7 from the center (PM and 6 his appointees from the Parliment) with PM as its Chairman, Governor GB as its vice Chairman- thus stripes GB government from any authority in the fields where there is potential for Gb to exercise power. Later this year PMLN issued another order namely GB order 2018 which again vested all powers in the hand of PM by allowing him to issue any orders which are unchallengeable. Thus, the cycle of what seemed to be of constitutional developments reached the point from where from where it started. it proved to be a circular movement what we were thinking is a linear progression. In Shina, there is a saying for such developments, this may be “The same is the horse; with  new clothing”, or what you say in English “the old wine in new bottle”.

The state of Pakistan, however, has its own issues to resolve. First of many is the agreement signed between Pakistan government and Kashmiri leadership (Sardar Abdul Qayyum) about the future of Kashmir in 1948 commonly Known as the “Karachi agreement”, which later got certified by the UN. According to this agreement, GB’s control was handed to Pakistan by Kashmiris until the final resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Ironically, the document in which the future of GB depends does not have any signatory from the region. It is like Srilanka and Bhutan meeting and deciding the future of Maldives, anyhow this is what has happened to Gilgit Baltistan. Meanwhile, as Pakistan questions India’s forceful inclusion of Jammu and Kashmir into India and demands public plebiscite to be held in Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with UN resolutions so that the natives could decide what they want; whether they want to join India or willing to accede with Pakistan or want to remain independent. Integrating What is internationally known as part of disputed Kashmir to Pakistan, Pakistan fears, will validate India’s inclusion of Kashmir and will set the precedent ‘what is in your control is yours and what is in our control is ours’.  Secondly, as According to UN resolution, the future of Kashmir to be decided on the basis of a public plebiscite, and if any plebiscite materializes in future, Pakistan hopes, the inhabitants of GB will vote in favor of Pakistan which will change the overall decision. Pakistan’s vision of getting hold of the Whole Kashmir, therefore, can be regarded as the prime reason of the constitutional deprivation of GB.

If there is a constitutional hurdle in making it the province, you still have plenty of options left there that can satisfy the locals: first, with a constitutional amendment make it fifth province until the final resolution of Kashmir issue. Give them proper share in NA, Senate, and other power corridors so that it would give an authority to the federal government to authorize legitimately. Issuance of autocratic orders, Such as GB order 2018, where the person of PM is the sole authority; and the formation of bodies like GB council and putting all the subjects with relatively greater importance in GB in their hands will make the situation even worse. Secondly, if even making temporarily 5th province is not possible, make it internally autonomous by giving Kashmir like a setup. This will strengthen Pakistan’s case internally, especially by adding this system with the imposition with state subject rule so that you could pressurize India not to influx local population proportions in disputed Jammu and Kashmir.

With the increase in the literacy rate, and with an impactful role of social media, this movement for constitutional rights has gained momentum in the region where, in past, this issue was hardly raised. People using different banners to raise this issue with different intensities and approaches. Some are content with peacefully protesting, while others raise their voice with sheer intensity. State machinery has, in recent months, acted against many people for their social media activities like Hasnain Ramal; while many political activists are/were in jails for voicing for constitutional rights for Gb like Baba Jan, Col Nadir etc.

Dragging this issue for so long can have drastic consequences for the state.  As GB is the gateway of CPEC, any foreign intervention can heighten the already existing woes. There are reports already that India is investing in Gb to sabotage CPEC, as said by ISPR; and recently a young nationalist leader in Gilgit (Afaq Ahmad) also confessed it that he was offered to sabotage peace process in Gilgit by attacking jails. if any foreign entity succeeds in getting a small scale support of even a group of locals, it can create a huge mess, especially, in the region, and in the whole country in general. It is highly encouraged, therefore, to address the woes according to the wishes of natives (5th province or Kashmir like status) before any such movement start which will challenge the follies and atrocities committed by the state machinery. The state of Pakistan cannot afford any such resistance in such a strategically important region especially in these circumstances where it is involved in wars on many fronts. It is requested to the government, PM Imran Khan, and president of Pakistan to address the woes of GB for once and all, and get rid of this long persistent debate about constitutional fiasco of GB. Provide Gbians with another day (3rd day) to celebrate; but, beware, this must be the last.

The contributor is a student of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Class of 2021.

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