Gilgit-Baltistan’s Constitutional Locus

By Syed Shamsuddin

A flurry of activity in terms of determination of the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan, obviously in consonance with the region’s correct historical perspective, has this time around gathered momentum with the ‘All Parliamentary Parties’ demonstrably being on the same page, as  reported by a leading regional Urdu daily the other day.

It is noteworthy that there has been a persistent anxiety among the region’s people over the way Gilgit-Baltistan has been ruled from day one; they are constantly being kept deprived of constitutional dispensation for the last seventy two years by subjecting the people to an amorphous system of governance which has by now morphed into a unconstitutional province sui generis.

Mired in a strange situation, and caught in a maelstrom, the process underway has, over time, added only to disillusionment and discontentment ad nausea. Much has so far been written on the need for earliest resolution of the issue, but to no avail. What has, nonetheless, been underway instead, time and again, is resorting to issuance of governance orders periodically, sans a holistic approach to address the problem fully and in conformity with the genuine demands of the people.

What is, nevertheless, of significance is that the leadership of ‘GB’s parliamentary parties’, as reported, is assertive vocally and quite justifiably.  ‘Why cannot the GB people become Pakistani in constitutional parlance when Afghan citizens can?” read the lead story of Daily K2, a newspaper being published from Gilgit-Baltistan.

Earlier, the ‘All parties Conference’ unanimously rejected the prospective Order 2020 which is said to be on the anvil at the Center for enforcement. The people and leadership of GB have, at long last, come to realize that the only way out of the present unjust dispensation which, to them, tends to treat the GBians as mere servants, is only by giving them full-fledged constitutional rights by declaring the area as part of Pakistan, even provisionally.  The people of GB are increasingly saying that such a mechanism could in no way be detrimental to the lingering Kashmir dispute, pending resolution before the United Nations since 1947.

The ‘parliamentary parties’, in unison, called upon the UN Secretary General that Gilgit-Baltistan be excluded from the Kashmir dispute and dealt with separately and instantly as the world body is not getting its Resolutions implemented for the last seven decades at a stretch. As per report, the parliamentary parties included Islami Tehrik Pakistan, Pakistan Muslim League-N, PTI GB chapter, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), JUI and MWM. In this jointly addressed epistle to the UN Secretary General, it was emphasized how the fate of GB hangs in balance since 1947 when the people here bravely drove out the occupying Dogra forces and regained possession of their territory on first November well nigh three months after the emergence of Pakistan. It the wake of this, they acceded to Pakistan as a free people exercising their free will on which India appealed before the UN with the result that the fate of GB got toed to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute since then. The letter said the parliamentary parties of GB welcome the Secretary General to Pakistan and expressed fervently th hopefulness that the world body would employ all measures to end the illegal Indian occupation of Kashmir and massive deployment of its forces by India in Indian occupied Kashmir and the lockdown. They also vehemently rejected the American ‘Deal of the Century’ the epistle is referred to having contained.

Significantly, noticeable consensus among the parties of Gilgit-Baltitan is being witnessed this time insofar as an outright rejection of the prospective Order 2020 which to them could be yet another attempt of governing the region autocratically. No dispensation less than constitutional recognition of the area and treating these people equal citizens of Pakistan with full-fledged citizenry rights would be acceptable to them.

Viewed in retrospect with a minute anatomy of history of Gilgit-Baltistan, it would become crystal clear that until the fourth decade of the nineteenth century, the region constituting a cluster of well nigh a dozen tiny mountain kingdoms or principalities each quite independent of the other had never before its history witnessed foreign domination from times immemorial. Given which this landlocked region never had any nexus whatsoever, to any adjoining power to put it succinctly. It is only during the course of the second half of the 19th century that the Sikhs followed by the Dogras eyed the region and started making ceaseless incursions into this land from the east at long last, led to occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan towards the close of that century.

In the aftermath of the above, the region continued to be under forcible occupation of the alien powers as long as it as was done away with in the like manner by the valiant people of this region on first November 1947. Not simply did these brave people drove out the Dogras from their territory but that they launched a virulent struggle with attempt to penetrate into Kashmir to liberate it demonstrating solidarity and sympathety with those people as testified by the historical records. An unbiased look at and dispassionate study of this region would make it manifestly clear that Gilgit-Baltistan did not historically constitute an integral part of the Jammu & Kashmir State except the relationship between the two being merely that of the occupier and the occupied that existed for the above brief period.

It is however, correct that the liberators acceded to Pakistan after remaining independent for about a fortnight as a free people exercising their own free will – no matter this stands shelved till today because of s sheer misunderstanding. There has indubitably been a sheer mishandling and consequential misrepresentation of Gilgit-Baltistan’s case before the Unite Nations from the very inception which led to a conundrum with respect to the area’s constitutional status continuing till to-date. The quiescence on their part over the preceding seven decades is an exemplary demonstration of their tremendous love for Pakistan and deep longing for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute pending before the UN. Quite unexaggeratedly, no people on earth may equal them in such a patience and perseverance to be on long wait for constitutional dispensation. This is disregarding the fact that the Kashmiri leadership lukewarmly disowned the G-B people as is well evident from the Karachi Agreement entered into with the Pakistan government without bothering to have this region’s representation or taking Gilgit-Baltistan’s leadership into confidence during the course. They way G-B people had made supreme sacrifices for the Kashmiris must have been evocative of commensurate empathy – something still visibly wanting. In the wake of what is called the Karachi Agreement, FCR in Gilgit-Baltistan which was first introduced by the British, was revamped and perpetuated here until it was finally done away with Z.A Bhutto government in 1972 while the AJK leadership left the people of Gilgit-Batistan in lurch by being mere silent spectator.

Let it be known to the Kashmiri leaders that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan from day one, have stood solidly by the Kashmiris and supported their struggle to seek freedom from Indian occupation as alluded to in the above. Even during the course of libration of Gilgit-Baltistan, the revolutionary local commanders crossed the horrifically snow-capped mountains and passes in a bid to penetrate into Srinagar to help liberate Kashmir even in the face of all odds resulting from vagaries of harsh climatic conditions besides being countless difficulties encountered in terms of arms and munition. Many lost their life and limbs during the course for the cause of their Kashmiri brethren – something continuing till to- day. Leaving everything else aside, the seven decade long constitutional limbo itself a supreme sacrifice for the sake of Kashmiris despite knowing that the G-B historically enjoyed the locus of a distinct geo-political entity except the brief forcible occupation by the Dogras barely spanning a century which was done away with by these people heroically in 1947. Let the myth in regard to Gilgit-Baltistan’s status or locus be not taken for reality as fiction cannot be substituted for truth in any way. Admittedly, the people of G-B have suffered tremendously for the last seventy two years at a stretch – a situation needs be remedies at least at this juncture by unequivocally declaring the area  as provisional constitutional province without the idea being back-burnered any longer in the prevailing scenarios. It will be recalled that the government had constituted a committee comprising historians for giving a correct perspective to Gigit-Baltistan’s history. In conclusion, the committee made its recommendation for acceding to the demand of the regional people but this too did evoke a positive response from the relevant quarters.

The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor. He can be reached at Email: shamskazmi.syed@gmail.com

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