Infighting for power amongst local rulers of Gilgit resulted in an ousted Raja going to Kashmir to seek assistance from the Sikhs in 1842. An army of one thousand was sent to Gilgi—an ac which reshaped history by introducing a new outside force, Sikhs, in the region. On March 16, 1849, Kashmir was sold to Gulab Singh by the British which created the new princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. In this treaty, there was no mention of Gilgit, Baltistan, Chilas, Hunza, Nager or Yasin. It was only after the death of Raja Gohar Aman in 1860 that some local rajas, who were fugitives in Jammu, returned to Gilgit with the Dogra army and occupied it.

In 1877, due to a threat by the Russians, Britishers appointed Major John Biddluph as an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) and the region practically remained under British control. In 1928, the position of the region was clarified in a letter from a British resident of Kashmir to the director of the Frontier Circles survey of India that the territory which comprised of the Gilgit agency falls into three categories; state territory -i.e., Gilgit Wazarat, comprising of Gilgit tehsil including Bunji with its niabat of Astor. Second, the political districts of Nager, Hunza, Punial, Yasin, Ishkoman and Chilas. Last, the un-administered areas of Darel, Tangir, Kandia, Jhalkot, Sazin, Shatial and Harbun. It was also mentioned in the gazetteer that these areas acknowledge the suzerainty of Kashmir but form no part of its territory and they only pay tribute to the Maharaja annually. On March 20 1935, the British decided to take Gilgit Wazarat on lease from the Maharaja for 60 years and an agreement was signed. Accordingly, the entire Gilgit agency was handed over to Maharaja. The local population was never consulted about it as they, along with rajas, had already decided in the favour of Pakistan.

On August 1 1947, Brigadier Ghansara Singh took over as governor. The people in Gilgit never accepted his authority and on the night of October 31, the residence of the governor was surrounded by scouts. The following morning, the Brigadier surrendered; the Dogra flag was pulled down as Pakistan’s flag was raised. The liberation forces emancipated Skardu exactly one year after Pakistan’s independence when Major Thappa, with his 250 soldiers, surrendered. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan were able to liberate their land from the Dogras and Indian army without any external help and defeated a well-equipped and trained army with meagre resources.

In 1949, through the Karachi agreement, Gilgit’s agency was transferred to the government of Pakistan from NWFP and the ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas was created. According to the United Nation Security Council resolution number 80, both Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas were included within the state of Jammu and Kashmir as areas which will be demilitarised prior to the holding of a plebiscite. According to Alistar Lamb, the resolution threw Northern Areas into a melting pot of the Kashmir dispute. Apparently, it was linked with Kashmir’s issue to win the support of the people in case of a plebiscite. Successive federal governments introduced different administrative and judicial reforms but not up to the expectation of the people.

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan were citizens of Pakistan and directed the government to initiate appropriate administrative and legislative measures. In 2009, Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order (GBESGO) was introduced according to which, the Northern Areas were named as Gilgit-Baltistan. The re-naming of the region was welcomed as it gave it a name that the people could identify a long-standing demand to. The order gave it a province like status with no representation in the Parliament. In 2015, the federal government constituted a committee headed by Sartaj Aziz which proposed giving Gilgit-Baltistan the status of a province. On May 27 2018, a new Gilgit-Baltistan order was introduced and all the powers of the Gilgit Baltistan Council were transferred to its assembly. There was a mixed response to this order as the majority termed it to be prime minister centric with absolute powers. The GBESGO of 2009 and the Gilgit Baltistan Order of 2018 were challenged in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In response, it reconfirmed its earlier judgement given in the case of Al-Jehad Trust that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are citizens of Pakistan. The court also suggested that certain changes should be made to the presidential order issued by the present government and instructed the federal government to promulgate the modified Gilgit-Baltistan Reforms of 2019.

On August 5 2019, India revoked the special status of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) by abrogating article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution thereby bulldozing all UNSC resolutions and annexing the IOJ&K. This was followed by the issue of the map where Gilgit-Baltistan was shown in the union territory of Ladakh. The aim of issuing a new map was to permanently change the status of Occupied Kashmir by giving India control of a region that it did not physically possess. The demand of people is a merger with Pakistan and their representation in the political and constitutional structure of the country—a demand that has remained for the last 73 years because they liberated the region without any outside support or backing.

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are loyal and true patriots who want their identity with Pakistan. Their demand is that they be declared as constitutional citizens of Pakistan with Gilgit-Baltistan being made the fifth province of the country. Its assembly has already adopted a unanimous resolution for a full-fledged provisional provincial status for the region. The government has to find a way that will give them their full rights within Pakistan in accordance with the international commitment under the UNSC resolution on Kashmir. This can be done by giving Gilgit-Baltistan provincial status on a provisional basis, pending the implementation of the UNSC resolution. Proper representation may be given in the Parliament, National Economic Council (NEC), Council of Common Interest (CCI) and Indus River System Authority (ISRA) with the powers to participate in decision making. Their people are convinced that Imran Khan’s government can take this historic decision and grant them their basic rights by making Gilgit-Baltistan the fifth province of the country.

Masud Ahmed Khan

The writer is a retired brigadier and freelance columnist.