Categorized | Politics

GILGIT-BALTISTSAN ENTERS A NEW ERA

Posted on 25 November 2009 by .

Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly known as the Northern Areas) has entered a new political phase first by the introduction of the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Ordinance issued in September 2009 and the holding of the election to its first Legislative Assembly on November 12, 2009. The PPP won 13 of 23 general seats. The election to one general seat (24th) was postponed due to the death of a candidate. The PPP is expected to get the position of Chief Minister-first in Gilgit-Baltistan. 

Bordering China and Indian-administered Kashmir, the Gilgit-Baltistan region is strategically important.  The Karakoram Highway links it with the Xinjiang Muslim majority region of China.  Gilgit is the focal city for land route and border trade with China.  This region can attract more tourism (inland and foreign) if the authorities can improve arrangements for travel, infra-structure and security. If the land route to Ladakh (Indian Kashmir) is opened, Baltistan can revive its old links and travel and trade will benefit both sides.

The Agha Khan Foundation has made a substantial contribution to promoting education and healthcare and related facilities in the region. However, the region continues to be backward in terms of indicators of socio-economic and human development. Much enthusiasm for the new political arrangements is based on the hope that the elected leadership will address the region’s socio-economic predicament.

While welcoming the new arrangements, most political activists in Gilgit-Baltistan region point out that these are still short of their political demand. They want provincial status for the region like other provinces of Pakistan, often describing the region as the prospective fifth province. Some Kashmiri groups, especially the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) view this region as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and think that the current attempt to upgrade its political and constitutional status amounts to separating it from Kashmir. Some argue that the latest change weakens Pakistan’s traditional case on the future of Jammu and Kashmir, which is based on the UN resolutions passed in 1948 and 1949.

Though Gilgit-Baltistan was treated as a separate administrative unit from Azad Kashmir from 1947 onwards, the government of Pakistan suffered from ambiguity as to its relationship with the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. As Gilgit-Baltistan was part of the Dogra rule in Jammu and Kashmir on August 14/15, 1947, the government of Pakistan thought that the people of this area would be part of any referendum under the UN for determining the future of Kashmir.  Therefore, while treating Gilgit-Baltistan as a separate administrative entity, the future of this territory continued to be linked with the fate of Jammu and Kashmir. 

The historical evidence dating back to the 5th Century AD shows that there were small and autonomous rulers in what is now described as the Gilgit-Baltistan area which was greatly influenced by Tibet and Chinese Turkistan; for some time, Baltistan was part of the Tibetan rule.  In the beginning of 10th Century AD, this area freed itself from the Tibet rule and gradually witnessed the emergence of autonomous kingdoms in different areas. One of the ruler-family, Maqpoon, proved more successful than others in ruling the area.

This area maintained its autonomous entity until 1840 when the military of the Dogra ruler Gulab Singh (Kashmir) led by Zorawar Singh invaded Baltistan and succeeded in humbling different rulers. A revolt against the Dogra rule in 1842 was crushed. Since then the Dogra rulers maintained an over-all control of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The establishment of Pakistan on August 14, 1947 gave an opportunity to the people of Gilgit to challenge the Kashmiri Maharaja. They revolted against his local administrator and, on November 1, 1947, freed Gilgit from the Dogra rule. On November 16, 1947, Gilgit joined Pakistan. Other areas like Baltistan also liberated themselves and joined Pakistan in 1948. The separate states of Hunza and Nagar also acceded to Pakistan.

This brief overview clearly shows that Gilgit-Baltistan became a part of the Dogra rule in Kashmir by conquest and not by consent.  The people of this area revolted against the Dogra rule when they got the opportunity after the end of the British Rule. Their liberation from Dogra rule was a local revolt and they opted for Pakistan out of free will.  

This region remained under the Frontier Crimes Regulations from 1948 to 1973. Basic Democracy system was introduced in 1961. Subsequently various rural development programs were launched and political reforms were introduced from time to time. The latest reform package goes far beyond the earlier political and administrative reforms.  Now Gilgit-Balltistan has an elected legislative assembly, an elected chief minister and a governor.    

The major mainland political parties-PPP, PMLN, PMLQ and MQM- actively participated in the legislative assembly elections. These parties brought with them highly divisive and violent political style, causing violence after the polls.

Hopefully, these political parties will revise their approach so that the new chief minister is able to devote attention to improving the quality of life for the people.

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Author: Hassan Askari

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