By Syed Shamsuddin
WITH the humility of a historian, late W.G. Abbas who had himself lived through the period spanning the historic liberation struggle of Gilgit-Baltistan – aptly chronicled in an article titled ‘Provincial Status for Northern Areas’ published in early nineties inter alia that the British established a political Agency in Gilgit in the last quarter of the 19th century, which was, later abolished. After the conquest of Hunza, and Nagar, the area was divided into various administrative units. The two States of Hunza and Nagar remained independent in their internal affairs. The British took the administration of the four political districts of Punyal, Ishkoman, Gupis and Yasin in their own hands and appointed a local ruler who held office at the will of the government except the ruler of Punyal who was hereditary. All worked directly under the Political Agency which had been re-established after the conquest of the area. A British Assistant Political Agent was answerable to the British Resident who in turn, was answerable to the Viceroy in India. The Kashmir Darbar had no say in the administrative affairs of the area except in Gilgit where an officer was appointed by the Kashmir Darbar. But this officer too, could not take any major action without consulting the British Political Agent. This, it may be seen that even during the time when a small portion of that area was under the nominal suzerainty of the Miharaja, the Gilgit-Baltistan was treated as a separate entity under the Viceroy in India.
The above state of affairs continued till 1935 when the British took over control of the entire area, and had nothing to do with Kashmir. In the year 1947, the British handed over the area to Kashmir Darbar before the division of India took place. The formula of the division of India gave rulers of the Indian States, the option of either acceding to India or Pakistan or to remain independent. When the Maharajah of Kashmir decided to accede to India against the wishes of the majority of the State population, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan rise in armed revolt against this decision. They formed interim government headed by a President, expelled Indian forces from forty one thousand square miles (41,000 sq miles) without any external help either from Pakistan or elsewhere and invited Pakistan to take over control. It was later when the command changed hands and a local commander was relieved by a non-local commander that 13,000 sq miles of territory was lost to India, and only 28000 sq miles of land now forms Gilgit-Baltistan. In 1952, two tribal valleys of Darel and Tangir acceded to Pakistan but were pro tempore attached to the Northern Areas (then Gilgit Political Agency) for administrative reasons.
After the independence of Pakistan, the mode of administration of the area had been constantly changing. In the first instance, in following the foot-steps of the British, a Political Agent was sent to take charge of the area. After the ceasefire, the administration of the area was placed under a Joint Secretary of Ministry of Kashmir Affairs whose seat of administration was in Rawalpindi. For that area, he was designated as “Resident” and was given all the executive, legislative and judicial powers of a local/provincial government. In the sixth decade of previous century, however, the seat of administration of the Resident was shifted to Gilgit, while the administrative set up remained the same. In the seventh decade however, with the coming into power an elected government in Pakistan, some reforms were introduced in the area. The States, Rajwara and Jagirdari systems and Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) were abolished. The region was re-named “Northern Areas” and the Resident and the Political Agent were re-designated as “Resident Commissioner” and “Deputy Commissioner” respectively. Some reform was also made in judiciary to separate it from the executive to some extent and make it easier for people to have justice. For the first time, the people were given the right to elect their representatives to an elected body known as “Advisory Council”. But, as the name implies, it enjoyed no powers. It had no say in the administration of the area and its role was purely advisory. Towards the end of the seventh decade, when Martial Law was proclaimed in Pakistan, Azad Kashmir was exempted but the Northern Areas was declared as martial Law Zone “E”.
The seat of local administration was again shifted to Rawalpindi and Secretary of Ministry of Kashmir Affairs & Northern Areas was invested with powers of a local/provincial government. The Resident Commissioner was re-designated as “Commissioner” but the change of the name brought about no pleasant change. The form of administrative set up in which all the powers are concentrated in the hands of a single bureaucrat who is not answerable to the people was resented by them. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan without any external motivation or help, liberated the vast area after considerable sacrifices. It was their sentimental attachment with Islam and Pakistan that prompted them to invite Pakistan unconditionally to take over the area. Their patriotism and loyalty to Pakistan therefore, become quite unquestionable. From the historical facts, it can be seen that Gilgit-Baltistan had never been under the dominance or vassalage of Kashmir until its forcible occupation and annexation by the Dogras during the second half of the 19th century – something done away with by the valiant people on 1st November 1947 thereby returning to their erstwhile position id est that existed prior to the region’s annexation by the Dogras.
As becoming manifestly clear from the brief historical perspective and on having an anatomical view of Gilgit-Baltistan’s history, it has to be concluded that the region has all along enjoyed the historical position of its own as a distinct entity, for all intents and purposes. Therefore, declaring it as a constitutional part of Pakistan in congruence with the cumulative will the people of the region exercised in favor of Pakistan after liberating this vast territory without any outside assistance should not in any way be spurned. The people of the region are not at all, desponded this time round as they believe quite sanguinely that the honourable apex court is to pronounce decision based on and in consonance with the historical background of Gilgit-Baltistan. They are equally hopeful that the government of Imran Khan will have regard for the legitimate demand of the people and declare the region as constitutional part of Pakistan in keeping with the region’s largely distinct historical background instead of placing reliance on afore-said one chapter encompassing about one hundred years history of forcible occupation of Dogra and annexation of Gilgit-Baltistan with the Jammu and Kashmir State (1846 – 01-11-1947) to settle the lingering core issue once and for all.
The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He tweets@SayedShams