Mon. Jun 21st, 2021

[Book Review] Gilgit-Baltistan in Constitutional Limbo

Aafiyat Nazar

The book by an established historian, Zafar Iqbal, has two pictures on the title page: the President (head of state) House, Islamabad, and in the background lies a four-dimensional pillar-like monument with an ibex statue on top. The names of ex Gilgit Scout soldiers and officers, who sacrificed their lives for the independence of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), are inscribed on the pillar.

The monument speaks loudly about the sacrifices the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have made for Pakistan by not only securing 72971 sq. km area, which enabled China and Pakistan to embark on the mega CPEC project, but it also declares their contribution for the people of Kashmir in the 1947-48 war. The later picture continuously narrating the region’s story, while the former turning a deaf ear to it, even after the lapse of 73 years.

The ibex on top of the pillar, an icon logo of Gilgit Scout, denotes courage; it can pass through the most impenetrable mountains. Usually, its movement is confined to the mountainous regions, thus expecting it to leave the limits of mountains would be an anomaly. Surprisingly, Non-Custom Paid vehicles smuggled from Afghanistan via KPK, bound to move within the territory of GB have also been assigned with the same logo, symbolizing their limits.

Likewise, the saga of GB espouses limits, deprivation, and marginalization. Unfortunately, they have been suffering in terms of their political, social, economic, and basic human rights.

Iqbal’s narration of GB’s history is captivating. Starting with the ancient settlers, derivative of the name Kashmir, and its geography and boundary that emanated from the 1845 Amritsar agreement, he moves on to the subsequent border settlements by the British Indian govt. with China and USSR. He reveals the Maharaja of Kashmir never demarcated its territorial boundaries.  Moreover, he explains that Gilgit was never part of Kashmir, albeit, the latter on several occasions invaded the former and were uprooted by the combined forces of the small kingdoms under the leadership of Gauhar Aman of Yasin.

Iqbal explains how the modern boundary evolved after the Anglo-Sikh war that led to the creation of the Kashmir state, which had no existence as a political entity before the treaty of Amritsar. Furthermore, he thinks had the treaties of Lahore, 9, and 11 March 1845 and the subsequent Amritsar not been reached, the Kashmir issue would not have arisen during the 1947 partition. He has also furnished the treaty of Amritsar article IV of which puts a limit on the Maharaja for any change in the territories of Kashmir without the concurrence of the British Govt. Hence, Gigit, Hunza, Nagar, and other areas were not part of Kashmir nor there is any British Govt. documentary proof.

Surprisingly, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) has erroneously accepted the Indian stance on GB and termed it disputed territory without assessing its implications. Iqbal has rightly mentioned that the Pakistani leadership on the issue has remained and continued to be shortsighted.

Iqbal has also analyzed the negative roles of AJK leadership in keeping the people of GB suffering. They not only ruthlessly blocked reforms but also appear to have a stance similar to Indian Govt. on GB. Thus, the Kashmiri leadership has in a way supported human rights violations in GB.

In the CPEC scenario, China is not in a position to jeopardize its investment and has raised its concern about the status of GB. As a result, the recommendations of the Sartaj Aziz committee proposed political and structural reform, which is still awaited.

Moreover, Iqbal discusses the immediate imposition of FCR in GB by the GoP, perhaps as a punishment for its voluntary accession. He also highlights the critical role of Major Brown in the revolt and its subsequent accession.  Moreover, he has discussed the snail pace measures taken by successive Pakistani governments to make cosmetic changes through various orders, starting from the advisory council system introduced in 1970 under which election was held for the first time on 30 December 1970. The name of the council was changed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto under Legal Framework Order 1975. This Order was repealed by other Legal Framework Orders in 1994 and 2009 by PPP governments. Resultantly, the Council was renamed and termed as Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and it was allowed to legislate on 65 items about local issues. Meanwhile, a council was created and the power given the legislative Assembly was shrewdly taken back through it. Similarly, the Deputy Chief Executive’s name was changed to Chief Minister with the addition of Islamabad chosen governor.

The author has analyzed different recommendations for the solution of the issue of GB and proposed amendments in the constitution of Pakistan.

The book ends with the powerful remarks: GoP “…needs to understand that the legitimate rights of the people of AJK and GB cannot be held hostage because of the unresolved Kashmir conflict and there is no time-bound answer about when the Kashmir conflict will be resolved…”.

Overall, the author has researched well. Multiple evidences and testimonies provide the basis for his arguments and conclusions.

The writer is an educator and based in Hunza

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