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The case of Gilgit-Baltistan is different

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IN his article ‘Why the ‘united states of Kashmir?’ (Encounter, January 14), Dr Moonis Ahmar displays a partial understanding of the historical complexities concerning the Gilgit-Baltistan region. He assumes that ‘Gilgit-Baltistan and Hunza’ have ‘a historical affiliation with J&K.’ Instead of disputing the received wisdom about Gilgit-Baltistan vis-a-vis Kashmir, he employs the received assumptions to construct the edifice of his arguments about the issue.

The writer does mention the existence of a historical basis of suspicion and mistrust of at least three regions — Jammu, Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan — which are to become part of the proposed ‘united states of Kashmir’, but he does not reconsider his basic assumption nor sheds light on the historical basis of such a suspicion. In order to understand why there exists suspicion and mistrust among the people of the Gilgit-Baltistan region about the idea of having a ‘united states of Kashmir’ it is important to understand the historical experiences and cultural ethos of the region.

Historically, the Kashmiri leadership has remained apathetic towards the political, economic and social deprivation of Gilgit-Baltistan. Its view about the region manifests a mindset typical of colonialists. They have only territorial interest in this matter and the problems of the local populace are not worth considering. The only argument Kashmiri leaders and pro-Kashmiri intellectuals put forward to justify their assertion about Gilgit-Baltistan being a part of the J&K state is the signing of the lease of Kashmir between Maharaja Hari Singh and the British. If this lease is the basis for declaring Gilgit-Baltistan a part of Kashmir then why do Kashmiri leaders refuse to acknowledge Dogra’s act of annexation of the Jammu and Kashmir state with India? The fact is that Dogra rule in Gilgit-Baltistan was confined to the military garrisons of Gilgit town and Bonji village. The Maharaja never ruled the princely states of Hunza and Nagar, for instance.

To ignore the key role of the leaders of the war of independence of Gilgit-Baltistan in attaining freedom from Dogra rule, Kashmiri leaders and writers, while toeing the line of the establishment, tend to regard Major Brown as the leader of the revolt against Dogras. This is despite the fact that Major Brown played a dubious role in the war. There exists ample evidence in local as well as national historical documents that refutes the ahistorical position taken by Kashmiri leaders regarding the role of Major Brown whom they give the status of ‘a hero’ at the expense of genuine heroes who shed their blood for the freedom of the region. The advance of Gilgit Scouts in Kashmir was halted by the then Kashmiri leaders who were busy in shenanigans to turn the tide of events towards achieving their personal political gains.

Again in the Karachi agreement, the Kashmiri leaders and the establishment of Pakistan tried to keep representatives of Gilgit-Baltistan away from taking part in the decision-making process about the status of the region. The nexus between the two reduced the role of the Northern Areas Council to that of an advisory body. Therefore, the legality of the agreement is doubtful. The fact is that the Karachi agreement shows double standards of the Pakistani ruling class in general and the Kashmiri leadership in particular. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are unhappy over the fact that their region has been treated as a colony and they have been denied their basic rights.

The agreement and its repercussions on the political and social life of the region have some analogy to that of the Maharaja’s accord with the British rulers regarding accessation of the Jammu and Kashmir state. History shows that the Dogras, who did not consult the Kashmiris’ representatives, signed an agreement with the departing British. The Kashmiri leadership, following the Dogras, signed the Karachi Agreement without obtaining the consent of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. This region is economically and politically backward and it is deplorable that the leadership of Azad Kashmir never acted to improve the living conditions of its people.

The double-standard approach of the leadership of Kashmir was in evidence again when the Azad Kashmir Assembly passed a resolution in 1972 demanding return of the region to Azad Kashmir. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan could not question the legitimacy of the resolution since there is no representation of their region in the Azad Kashmir Assembly. Such a resolution, which the Kashmiri leadership adopted to appropriate Gilgit-Baltistan, is no less arbitrary in character that the one passed by the Indian parliament which demanded the ‘return’ of Azad Kashmir to India. It is because of this kind of attitude that Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan and leaders like him have been rejected by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Besides, the absence of major Kashmiri parties in the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC), which was set up to give legal status to the former princely states of this region and also to link it with Pakistan, bears testimony to the fact that the two regions, Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, are different and detached from each other in terms of their culture and history. But the leadership of Azad Kashmir spares no efforts to create false notions about the history of this region to substantiate their claims that it has always been a part of the Jammu and Kashmir state and hence now a part of Azad Kashmir. For the purpose, they do not hesitate to distort the geographical, socio-economic, cultural and political realities of the region.

The current leadership in Azad Kashmir and that of the India-held Kashmir, in particular the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, needs to take into consideration these factors and also be mindful of the cultural sensitivities of the indigenous people of Gilgit-Baltistan, well reflected in their local dialects, before taking any decision regarding the status of the region. One is afraid that most of the Kashmiri intelligentsia may not have sufficient knowledge of the vernacular languages of Gilgit-Baltistan to understand its indigenous culture and ethos. Only by excluding Gilgit-Baltistan, will the proposed idea of a united states of Kashmir be viable.

Published: Dawn Feb 28, 2006


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