By Ashiq Hussain Bhat
Recent news reports from Pakistan suggest that the Nawaz Sharif-led Government of the country, is mulling the merger of Gilgit-Baltistan with the Federation of Pakistan. Such a measure on part of the Pakistan Government would have serious consequences for the rest of Kashmir State because it would set up a precedent for India to merge Kashmir in a similar manner with the Indian Union.
Gilgit and Baltistan were two separate entities inside the former Princely State of Kashmir. Baltistan was part of Ladakh Wazarat right upto August 1948; and Gilgit was a separate Wazarat(district) headed, as was Ladakh, by a Waziri-Wazarat(a sort of Deputy Commissioner). In March 1935, the Maharaja of Kashmir leased it out to the British Government of India. Since then the British Agent at Gilgit exercised full authority there. In fact, the Agent exercised greater control than the Wazir right from 1880s when the British set up an Agency there.
When in 1947, the British decided to withdraw from the sub-continent, and transfer power to Indian hands (Muslim majority Pakistan and non-Muslim majority India) all the agreements, including the Gilgit lease, between the Indian Princes and the British rulers were to lapse, under the provisions of States Memorandum of 12 May 1946, on 15 August-the day of Transfer of Power. Accordingly, the Maharaja deputed Ghansara Singh, Waziri-Wazarat designate, to take over the administration of GilgitWazarat.
Ghanara arrived there on 30 July 1947. However, he found himself unwelcome in Gilgit (Kashmir A Disputed Legacy by Alastair Lamb-pp.118). He found that no administrative set-up existed in Gilgit, not even in name. And the only authority that the people of Gilgit recognized was that of the Corps of Gilgit Scouts, a militia of local men raised by Gilgit Agent in 1913, who did not want to be part of the Maharaja’s Kashmir, or part of an Indian Kashmir.
The Indian Army intervention in Kashmir on 27 October 1947 prompted the Scouts to take action. Openly supported by their British Officers, Major Brown and Captain Mathieson, and by the Muslim component of 6th Battalion of State Forces, they liqudated the Sikh component of the State Forces that manned the Janglote outpost; and forced Ghansara to surrender(The History of Jammu Kashmir Rifles Major Brahma K. Singh-pp.240).
In the ensuing days, led by Colonel ShahzadaMataul-Mulk, the new free army of Gilgit, which comprised of the Scouts, the Muslim component of the erstwhile State Forces, and other locals, and which they named as Azad Central Forces(ACF), headed towards Baltistan. En route, they liquated the Sikh component of State Forces guarding the Tsari Pass on the left bank of Indus River while as the Muslim component guarding the Tsari Pass on the right bank of the River joined hands with them voluntarily (The History of JK Rifles Major B. K. Singh-pp.251 &258 ). They fought pitched battles in February to May 1948 in and around Skardu with the SkarduDogra garrison and the troop reinforcements sent from Srinagar and Kargil. Finally, the ACF forced the Skardu garrison to surrender on 12 August 1948(The History of JK Rifles Major B. K. Singh-pp. 259).
The ACF had already gifted Gilgit in November 1947 to Pakistan on a plate. Now they gifted them Baltistan as well.
Meanwhile, the 1948 Pakistan-India war over Kashmir ended in a ceasefire, courtesy of United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP). The following year, in 1949, the two countries agreed upon demarcation of a ceasefire line (LOC since 1972) which passed through the erstwhile Princely State of Kashmir thereby partitioning it into three parts with Pakistan receiving, in addition to Gilgit and Baltistan, portions of Kashmir and Jammu provinces of the State, collectively referred to as ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)’ by Pakistan and ‘Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK)’ by India.
The UNCIP also recommended a plebiscite for Kashmir State so that the final disposition of the State could be decided in accordance with the wishes of its people. This ascertainment of peoples’ wishes was never effected – India accusing Pakistan of failing to withdraw its forces from State territory as laid down in the UNCIP Resolutions; and Pakistan accusing India of scuttling the process by stalling the appointment of UN-nominated Plebiscite Administrator. Since then the State hasremained a bone of contention among Pakistan, India and Kashmiris which led to wars and internal revolts.
Since January 2016 ,reports started coming from Pakistan that suggested that the Nawaz Sharif Government was seriously considering the issue of merger of Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of the country in total disregard of the consequences this measure would have on the broader issue of Kashmir. It was given out at that time that the Islamabad administration was concerned about the passage of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through internationally disputed Kashmir State territory of Gilgit and Baltistan. So, if they merged Gilgit-Baltistan with Pakistan, it would serve their economic interests.
As of now, February 2017, such reports have again started making rounds. The most recent reports on this issue, published by Pakistani newspapers, suggest that the Nawaz Government has finalized the plan to merge Gilgit-Baltistan with the endorsement of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly which was convened first time in 2009 under the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order.
Should that happen, the balloon of resistance in Kashmir Valley, nurtured by Pakistan itself, would be deflated. New Delhi administration would make merry. Despite their long winded rhetoric that Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK belonged to India and were illegally occupied by Pakistan, and that they meant to liberate these by force, the reality seems to be that they fervently desire Islamabad administration to effect constitutional changes for merger of Gilgit-Baltistan (and also AJK) with Pakistan as provinces at par with other provinces of the federation, because this would create a precedent for them(New Delhi administration) to do likewise with the rest of the State which is under Indian administration. They can easily obtain concurrence for required constitutional changes from the Legislative Assembly of Kashmir which is full of their own people. Probably some sort of nexus has developed on this issue between New Delhi and Islamabad, or Islamabad would not have dared to think of this merger.
If the Islamabad administration allows such a scenario to develop in Kashmir, the pro-self-determination forces, who have been demanding implementation of UNCIP Resolutions, would be left at the mercy of wolves.
Until now, the Kashmir resistance forces accused India of not allowing a plebiscite in Kashmir as laid down in the UNCIP resolutions and instead seeking its merger with the Union with the concurrence of unelected assemblies (the Constituent Assembly in 1950s and the Legislative Assembly since 1957). And, when New Delhi administration eroded in 1964-65 the autonomy of Kashmir after coaxing concurrence from the State Legislative Assembly, Pakistan went to the extent of invading India in 1965, first in the Rann of Kutch; and then in the Chhamb and Jurian sectors in Jammu.
Now the verysame Pakistan has set the process of merger of Kashmir State territories in motion. They can hardly justify their action on the grounds that the Legislative Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan is supportive of these measures; and that people of Gilgit-Baltistan wish to be part of Pakistan. Should they do so, then the New Delhi administration could embark upon a similar adventure; abrogate the Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India; obtain the concurrence of the Kashmir Legislative Assembly; and thereby finally merge Kashmir with the Union of India at par with other States of the Union. This time over, the Legislative Assembly of Kashmir happens to be an elected one (unlike the assemblies of 1950s and 1960s), because a good number of people voted for them in the 2014 elections.
If this were to happen, the people (read Muslims) of Kashmir would have two options available: Either accept the new dispensation hands down and curse Nawaz Sharif Government from the depths of their hearts; or fight back with more vigour. If they settle for the second option, it will, in turn, prompt New Delhi administration to seriously consider their options. They can either do with Kashmiris what Sri Lanka did with Tamils, knowing fully well that the State of Pakistan, which previously claimed to be the traditional protectors of Kashmiris, would be looking the other way, having themselves stabbed them in the back; and/or, kick out the intransigent elements among them(Kashmiris) across the ‘LoC’ (which would have by now been accepted by Pakistan State as International Boundary) just as they(Indians) kicked out people in 1948-49 across Sucheetgarh into Pakistan.
—The author, a political historian, can be reached at: [email protected]