By Danish Ali
Heartiest felicitations to the inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), who are commemorating their 73 Independence Day today, albeit in a mundane manner.
The year 1947 was a turbulent year for the people of the subcontinent, filled with pandemonium, chaos and sanguinary. The fever of independence was at its peak and the people were ready to leave no stone unturned for the sake of liberation. At last, Liberation was achieved in the mid of August 1947, at a very high cost, and the cost varied from loss of property to the loss of blood of immediate family members. The fate of British India was decided by dividing it into two states namely; Pakistan and India. And the princely states, that had different agreements with the British Raj when the latter was the absolute ruler of the subcontinent, were at liberty to join either of the states. Both the newly carved nations started robust campaigns to lure the rulers and the subjects of the princely states in order to annex these states with their countries. Varieties of tactics were employed to achieve maximum annexation which included exploitation of religious sentiments and coercion.
Among the princely states, the significant one at the time of partition was the state of Jammu and Kashmir. An area replete with, natural resources, picturesque scenery and crucial geostrategic position. Ironically, all of its blessings turned into curses. The state of affairs right after the declaration of independence of Indo-Pak was very perplexing in J&K. The ruler, who by creed was a Sikh, wanted to remain aloof, and make J&K an independent state with himself at the helm. ( at least this remained his position until tribesmen from Pakistan invaded J&K). The majority of the subjects of the state of Jammu and Kashmir were in favour of annexation with Pakistan because of the religious sentiments. Pakistan and India fully abreast of the situation were busy in their own manoeuvrings to annex J&K with their respective territories. And the colonial masters, it seems they had a plan of their own and are still secretly pursuing it lest they could have resolved the matter then, or at least would show some interest now for a peaceful resolution. No one can deny the lion’s share of the British imperialists in keeping the issues unresolved for decades.
A region then administered as part of the J&K was GB, Brig Gansara Sigh was acting as governor of GB and he was an appointee of the Maj Raja of Kashmir. The inhabitants of GB embarked upon their own war of liberation and started to revolt against the notorious Dogra regime. They didn’t receive any type of external aid be it in the form of tribesmen from KPK as in the case of AJK or any other type of support, even moral support from Pakistan. They were barehanded and had to face the regular forces of Mah Raja; 6TH Kashmir infantry was deployed at Gilgit then. The indigenous people of GB fought valiantly and secured their independence on 1 November, 1947. It was a collective effort of the indigenous population, which included the masses, and GB scouts under the command of sub- Major Babar, that made the marvellous achievement possible. Despite being barehanded, the only available arms to fight against a regularly army that was armed to the teeth, were batons and in some cases domestic-axes, the people of GB fought valiantly and made the army flee and the governor hostage. Subsequently, a government was formed with Shah Rais Khan at the helm. The government run the affairs of GB for 16 /17 days, meaning thereby GB remained an independent state for 17 days. Thereafter, the people of GB decided to annex with the state of Pakistan and that too unconditionally, after all it was the will of the indigenous population so no question can be raised. A lower rank public servant was deputed by Pakistan to run the affairs of GB, which was indeed not an exemplary gesture from Pakistan. And to add insult to the injury, the draconian Law of the colonial era i.e. FCR, remained in force for almost two decades after the annexation.
Despite all this, stepmother’s attitude from Pakistan, the people of GB have consistently been loyal to the state of Pakistan and take pride in calling themselves Pakistanis. Their sacrifices starting from 1949 war and continuing till recent war on terror bear this out. On the other hand the state has utterly failed to fulfil its obligations be it with respect to the constitutional status or the provision of basic amenities of life to the people of GB. The issue of constitutional status has become a purely political issue for the mainstream political parties, and they often make fun of the sentiments of the people of GB by issuing contrasting statements on the issue. The federal political parties deliberately prop up the matter of constitutional status at the time of general elections in GB only to secure electoral victory in GBLA. After General elections to GBLA the matter of constitutional status pales into insignificance until the next elections and the matter goes on. It is clear as crystal that a single political party cannot make GB constitutional part of Pakistan, because it requires a constitutional amendment and as per Constitution of Pakistan for constitutional amendment 2/3rd majority in the parliament is sine qua non, and needles to ask which mainstream political party enjoys 2/3rd majority in parliament? If none, then why renowned political figures from Pakistan, including federal ministers, are in GB nowadays and boasting to make the GB fifth province? Do they lack basic knowledge of the constitution of Pakistan or they consider the people of GB ignorant and dumb?
It is irony that in the 21st century, a region with almost 3 million populations is governed by executive orders. Power hasn’t been devolved on the regionally elected assembly and even the matters which as per constitution of Pakistan have been declared exclusively provincial, and provincial governments in Pakistan enjoy exclusive jurisdiction over the specific matters have been deceitfully kept with the federal government in case of GB. The sweet will of the chief Executive overpower even the constitution of Pakistan in case of GB. One such example is the PM’s power to nominate members of GB COUNCIL,(composed of elected and nominated members) which is deemed as the upper house in the case of GB. Does PM enjoy such type of power with respect to the upper house of parliament in Pakistan? Can PM nominate/appoint even a single member to Senate? The existence of such powers in the case of GB is nothing but just a continuation of colonial legacy, the colonial master had introduced such powers to undermine the elected assemblies, through the tactic of appointments/nomination they made possible for their cronies to stand parallel with the elected representatives and thereby use them according to circumstances to undermine the elected legislature.
The other side of the picture i.e. education, health and infrastructure, is even much worse than the issue of identity (constitutional status). Yes, there are complicated issues attached to the constitutional status of GB. It would affect the Kashmir cause, but what about establishing educational institutions, hospitals and other development projects? How would establishment of a medical college or an engineering university affect the Kashmir cause? Is there any resolution of UNGA that inhibits government of Pakistan from providing internet facilities to the region? The people of GB beseech to know why the Security Council has placed strictures on the construction of roads in GB which have literally turned into death spots. Has the ICJ issued orders to disregard merit and make appointments to government services on the basis of political affiliations?
The government should focus on these issues, education, health, internet and infrastructure projects can never be detrimental to the Kashmir cause. And yes there should be at least a sacrosanct document (constitution/ interim constitution) to run the affair of GB and the same should not be an executive order solely dependent on the sweet will of a single person (President/PM). It should patently define the domain of federal and govt of GB should contain similar provisions for amendment thereof as are in the constitution of Pakistan. These are the minimum requisites to bring GB at par with the other provinces. Authorities should seriously ponder on these to bridge the gap between the people of GB and govt which is widening with the passage of time.