Gilgit-Baltistan
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Yaqoob Khan Bangash |

The recent statement by US Defence Secretary James Mattis to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC], goes through ‘disputed territory’ has created a furor in Pakistan. Several commentators have labeled it as clear US support of the Indian stance, while others have used it to further bash the United States. However, what James Mattis has said is exactly Pakistan’s stance!

Let’s get things straight: Secretary Mattis said that the area is ‘disputed.’ The CPEC route goes through Gilgit Baltistan which Pakistan considers a part of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, officially Pakistan actually does consider Gilgit Baltistan to be and disputed territory.  India, on the other hand, also considers Gilgit Baltistan to be a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir but considers it to be part of India, not disputed territory.

The region of Gilgit Baltistan should not be considered part of the disputed territory of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and should be made a constitutional part of Pakistan

Hence, when Secretary Mattis said that the area was ‘disputed’ it was exactly what Pakistan argues, and not India’s stance. That said, Pakistan should stop considering the Gilgit Baltistan area as a part of the Jammu and Kashmir state and should integrate it with the rest of Pakistan. This would be good not only for the security of CPEC but also recognize the aspirations of the people of Gilgit Baltistan which Pakistan has been ignoring since 1947.

Read more: The US-Sino Great Game: Washington embraces Indian position on CPEC

Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir: A leaf from history 

Historically, what is now the area of Gilgit Baltistan was composed of two areas, which were and are often confused. One was the Gilgit Wazarat which was a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the other was the Gilgit Agency, which was much larger, and was controlled and administered by the British. The Gilgit Agency, which was established in 1889, comprised of the Kashmir ruled Wazarat, the tribal areas of Chilas, Koh Ghizr, Ishkoman, and Yasin, and the small states of Hunza and Nagar.

The small Gilgit Wazarat, which was a part of Kashmir State, had an indigenous revolt, without a single Pakistani being involved in the whole process

Then in 1935 the British even leased the Gilgit Wazarat, which had been defacto under British control already, from the Kashmir Maharaja so as to ensure proper government. Hence, while the Jammu and Kashmir State did have a part of Gilgit Baltistan as its territory, all of it was never under its rule, legally or otherwise.

When the British decided to leave India in 1947 and agreed to dissolve the empire into new countries, all leases made with the princely states also came to an end. Therefore, the Kashmir Durbar regained control over the Gilgit Wazarat on August 1, 1947, a fortnight before the British left India.

Then with the stroke of the midnight hour on August 15, 1947, while the State of Jammu and Kashmir emerged as an independent legal entity in the world, so did the tribal areas and the small states of Hunza and Nagar assume their independent character—not under anyone’s control, but their own rulers.

Read more: CPEC and Pakistan’s road to development: Can India sabotage the plan?

When the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, decided to accede to India on October 26, 1947, all the tribal areas and the states decided to accede to Pakistan

Since the land and economy of the Gilgit Agency was so much tied to Kashmir, the rulers of the tribal areas and the two small states were bidding their time to see what decision would Maharaja Hari Singh make, before making their own final decision.

They could stay independent, merge with Kashmir, join whichever country Kashmir joined, or even accede to China or the USSR. These small, strategic and almost inaccessible areas, had more choices than any other area of the Indian Empire!

However, when the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, decided to accede to India on October 26, 1947, all the tribal areas and the states decided to accede to Pakistan. They submitted their mostly handwritten Instruments of Accession to Major Brown, the Commandant of the Gilgit Scouts in Gilgit city, and requested him to further communicate their decision to the Pakistan Government.

When the British decided to leave India in 1947 and agreed to dissolve the empire into new countries, all leases made with the princely states also came to an end

Perturbed at the accession of Kashmir to India, Major Brown, who’s Gilgit Scouts were now officially under the Maharaja, was, in fact, planning his own coup. Brown knew that the people of the Gilgit Wazarat were almost completely Muslim and wanted to throw in their lot with Pakistan, rather than India.

Therefore, in the night in between October 31 and November 1, 1947, he staged a coup d’etat, arrested the Srinagar appointed Governor Brigadier Ghansara Singh, and neutralized the nearby posted Jammu and Kashmir Infantry, detachment. Public support of Major Brown’s actions was overwhelming, and so the very next day Major Brown cabled the premiere of the NWFP that the whole of the Gilgit Agency had now opted for Pakistan.

Read more: “We can think about renaming CPEC” China offers India

This would be good not only for the security of CPEC but also recognize the aspirations of the people of Gilgit Baltistan which Pakistan has been ignoring since 1947

Hence, keeping in view the above, Pakistan should make the right decision and fully integrate the area of Gilgit Baltistan into Pakistan. Nearly two-thirds of the area of the region was never under the Kashmir Durbar in any case and had legally acceded to Pakistan. The small Gilgit Wazarat, which was a part of Kashmir State, had an indigenous revolt, without a single Pakistani being involved in the whole process (in fact, Pakistani officials were surprised when it happened!).

Therefore, the region of Gilgit Baltistan should not be considered part of the disputed territory of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and should be made a constitutional part of Pakistan with its people enjoying all the rights and privileges of a citizen of Pakistan.

Dr. Yaqoob Khan Bangash is Assistant Professor of History at the Information Technology University(ITU) and the Director of the Center for Governance and Policy. He obtained a D Phil from Oxford University and authored the book “A Princely Affair: Accession and Integration of Princely States in Pakistan, 1947-55.” Currently, he is working on his new book “Upholding the Rule of Law: The History of the Lahore High Court”. He regularly writes and speaks in national and international platforms. He tweets: @BangashYK.The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Dr. Yaqoob Khan Bangash is Assistant Professor of History at the Information Technology University(ITU) and the Director of the Center for Governance and Policy. He obtained a D Phil from Oxford University and authored the book "A Princely Affair: Accession and Integration of Princely States in Pakistan, 1947-55." Currently, he is working on his new book "Upholding the Rule of Law: The History of the Lahore High Court". He regularly writes and speaks in national and international platforms. He tweets: @BangashYK

1 COMMENT

  1. I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to understand the complex issue. I believe parliament of Pakistan as well as military should make efforts to integrate GB into Pakistan before it’s too late. We should learn a lesson from FATA, the lawlessness it had and resulting militancy that arose from not integrating it early enough. But keeping in mind Gilgit Baltistan in and of itself does not seem to have enough population to represent a province. I believe there could be two routes taken for integration of GB, one being the route taken for FATA, where they were given representation in Pakistan’s assembly and now will be integrated into KP. Other route could be giving them the status of province, in that case it would be very skewed representation in senate. If GB gets same number of seats in senate as Punjab, this will mean Punjab with a population of roughly 110 M people will be represented by same number of representatives as GB with population of 2-3M. I am not sure what to make of such a big anomaly.

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