GB Independence Day: The History Behind the November 1st “Rebellion”

Tahzeeb Hussain Barcha

A nation used to servitude in any part of the world may accept slavery as a fact of life, but a nation that values liberty would not allow itself to be enslaved by anyone.

Even during the Mughal empire’s era, these states were independent. How, then, could they have accepted the rule of Dogras who had invaded and conquered the region through tyranny?

It wasn’t long before Captain (later Colonel) Mirza Hassan Khan and Subedar Major (Later Captain) Babar Khan, along with the valiant soldiers and officers of Gilgit Scouts took a stand to liberate their region! The mission was to liberate Gilgit and Baltistan. They moved forward towards Tragbal and Gurez to put a stop to the advancing Indian army!

On the other side they fought without any modern military equipment on Deosai plains, 12,000 feet above sea level, where up to 15 feet of snow accumulates in winter season. Thereafter, their struggle paved the way for freedom for the coming generations.

Historically speaking, the Treaty of Amritsar was executed between British East India Company and Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu on 16 March 1846. Under this treaty, the British government sold Kashmir to Rraja Gulab Singh for 75 lakhs (7.5 million) Nanak Shahi, the currency then. The hilly areas in the middle of the Indus river were sold to Gulab Singh. However, the treaty did not apply to Gigit because the area was located on the North side of the Indus River. Maharaja Gulab Singh, however, later violated the Treaty of Amritsar by advancing to Chilas and crossing the Indus River to launch attacks on Gilgit. He could, however, not succeed due to the resistance led by Raja Gohar Aman. In the period after 1860, he not only captured Gilgit but also carried out massacres after advancing to Yasin, capturing four hundred men and women and sending them to Kashmir.

Gilgit was ruled by the British Government and the Dogras till 1935, but after that the British Government leased Gilgit from the Dogras for 60 years. The Brits formed an administrative force called Gilgit Scouts, which was built to protect the frontiers of the empire as well as to boost relations between the emperors of different states. The British government paid their salaries.

After World War II, the British government was weakened and wanted to transfer power over time to the local hands of the subcontinent. According to the well-known historian Dr. Mubarak Ali, “there are two contradictory views regarding the division of the subcontinent, in which the British say that they wanted to transfer power directly and say goodbye to the subcontinent, while according to Muslims and Hindus Has been liberated after struggle and sacrifices.” It is a bitter truth that after the partition of the subcontinent, the British were withdrawing from the subcontinent and it was not in their interest to maintain their rule in a small area like Gilgit. Therefore, the lease was cancelled and Governor Ghansara Singh was given charge of Gilgit.

Meanwhile, Captain Mirza Hassan Khan of the State Army and Subedar-Major Babar Khan of Gilgit Scouts and their partners worked chalked out a plan for independence.

On the night between 26th and 27th October, Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh announced the annexation of Kashmir with India under Indian pressure and on the same day India sent its army into Kashmir. Thus, Captain Mirza Hassan Khan and Subedar Major Babar Khan and their associates intended to carry out their plan and launched the operation on the night between October 31 and November 1. On the morning of 1st November 1947, Governor Ghansara Singh was arrested in Gilgit.

After the arrest of Governor Ghansara Singh, the War of Independence began which continued till 1949. Later, Captain Mirza Hassan Khan took the stand of an independent state, naming it the Islamic Republic of Gilgit. Local Raja, Shah Raees Khan, was made the President while he himself took over the post of Army Commander. Letters were written to Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah for accession to Pakistan.

Pakistan was in trouble since its inception a few months ago. Quaid-e-Azam showed little interest in integrating a remote mountainous region like Gilgit into Pakistan but suggested that the United States and Britain take over Gilgit as soon as possible in view of Russia’s future advance in the region. After which the first representative of Pakistan, Sardar Alam Khan, reached Gilgit on 15 November 1947. But the sword of Indian invasion on Gilgit-Baltistan was still hanging and Baltistan was still under the control of the Dogras. Therefore, the government of Pakistan sent Major Aslam with the code name of Colonel Pasha and made him a commander in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Colonel Pasha established his headquarters in Gilgit. Similarly, the Muslim contingent of the Kashmir Infantry, which was with Captain Mirza Hassan Khan, was added to the Gilgit Scouts and the combined force increased to 2,000. The Kharpocho fort of Skardu was in the custody of Dogra Commander Colonel Thapa. Major Ehsan Ali clashed with Colonel Thapa at different times. Meanwhile, Chitrali volunteer troops arrived under Prince Colonel Mutul Mulk for help. On August 14, 1948, exactly one year after the independence of Pakistan, Colonel Thapa who was occupying Kharpocho fort was forced to surrender and the areas of Gilgit-Baltistan became completely independent and joined Pakistan.

People were very happy after joining Pakistan and they had high hopes for Pakistan for their future. But today, 73 years later, Gilgit-Baltistan is deprived of constitutional rights.

In ancient Greece, kings chose advisers from among the aristocrats, and the system of government was run on their advice. In the same vein, in Gilgit-Baltistan, since the establishment of the Consultative Council in 1970, the general public has been deprived of basic rights by granting privileges to a few aristocrats. Over the last 73 years, many movements took place at the local level, and political parties came into existence and ended, but it is a pity that every party has failed the people here. Moreover, the parties did not fight for rights and showed good conscience for only a few privileged group.

The slot of CM and Governor was first introduced in 2009 under Governance Order 2009 in Gilgit Baltistan. In the last five decades, ruling political parties in the federal governments have introduced various ordinances and laws for Gilgit-Baltistan, but they have not significantly impacted the living standards of the people here. Last month, Pakistan’s ruling government and the opposition almost reached a consensus on granting “provisional provincial status” to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) while agreeing to hold consultations on the issue after the elections of its legislative Assembly.

Later, September 23rd, President Dr. Arif Alvi announced that elections for the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly would be held on November 15th, 2020. Only time will tell whether the government of Pakistan will fulfill the long-standing demand of the people by making Gilgit-Baltistan an interim province after the upcoming elections.

The recent development in making Gilgit-Baltistan a province is a faint ray of hope for the 2 million population of Gilgit Baltistan.  It has been the misfortune of Gilgit-Baltistan that the educated young generation here is still unable to think of the homeland. If the youth of the nation are deprived of the ability to think and the purpose of education is only part of employment. It is useless to pin hopes on the future of this nation. But even today, there is no shortage of people in this nation who have pain for the region who can play a savior role in the future deprivations of the region. This nation again needs leadership like Colonel Mirza Hassan Khan, Captain Babar Khan and Captain Shah Khan who can fight for the rights of the region with true spirit.

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