Essay

Gilgit games

Print edition : May 12, 2017

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1973, he felt himself free to offer Azad Kashmir three choices--the status quo, provincial status or a full-fledged province of Pakistan. He asked it "not to aspire for an independent status". Photo: The Hindu Archives

Sheikh Abdullah. His government issued a White Paper in 1982 that established convincingly that Gilgit was an integral part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Gen. Zia ul-haq. His assertion that Gilgit was a part of Pakistan was refuted not only by Sheikh Abdullah but also by Azad Kashmir leader Sardar Mohammed Ibrahim. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Kashmiris have objected unanimously to Pakistan’s move to make Gilgit-Baltistan one of its provinces. Rather late in the day they have discovered that Pakistan’s interests are different from those of Kashmir.

The Kashmir dispute brings out the most ludicrous traits in the personality of the states of India and Pakistan. The media and officialdom go into high dudgeon as if on cue. Covertly, India had decided against a plebiscite in Kashmir in 1948. Pakistan did the same in 1958. But, of course, Gilgit has been an integral part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. From successive editions of C.U. Aitchison’s Treaties, Engagements and Sanads (1909, Vol. XI, pages. 256-257) to popular tourist guide books of old, this fact is set out without any qualification ( Ince’s Kashmir Handbook: A Guide for Visitors by Joshua Duke, 1888, pages 281-300; and A Handbook of Jammu and Kashmir State; Government of Jammu and Kashmir, 1945, page 3).

The British messed with Gilgit because of its strategic importance. A British officer was posted there from 1877 to 1881 as Political Agent. Withdrawn in 1881, the Gilgit Agency was re-established in 1889. It covered the Gilgit Wazarat, Hunza, Nagar, Punial, Yasin, Kuh, Ghizi and Ashkuman. The Gilgit Wazarat alone was administered by the State officials. The others enjoyed varying degrees of autonomy. In 1935 a lease was imposed. It was relinquished only on August 1, 1947. A revolt ensured that Gilgit never came under the ruler’s possession. The fact of it being legally a part of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be challenged.

Covert moves

Pakistan has been playing with the entire part of J ammu and Kashmir in its possession regardless of legalities. It broke it up into two parts—Azad Kashmir and “the Northern Areas”. At Muzaffarabad, on November 7, 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto felt himself free to offer Azad Kashmir three choices—the status quo, provincial status or a full-fledged province of Pakistan. He asked it “not to aspire for an independent status”.

Azad Kashmir was annexed indirectly, and the Northern Areas directly. They have been dismembered from the State and claimed to be not a part of Kashmir. But curiously, not part of Pakistan either, formally. The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act, 1974, which Bhutto imposed on Azad Kashmir on August 24, 1974, declares Islam to be “the State religion” (Article 3). It lays down in Article 7(2) that “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.”

The plea of a plebiscite is thus banned. There, none can advocate independence or accession to India. Pakistan imposes such a law on Azad Kashmir, yet demands a plebiscite in the rest of the State. This Constitution also sets up a Council with the Prime Minister of Pakistan as chairman and five of his nominees as members, besides the Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir and six members elected by its Assembly. It wields executive and legislative power. Its secretariat is in Islamabad. The Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) is thus firmly riveted to Pakistan.

The Northern Areas were renamed by the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order made by the Government of Pakistan on September 9, 2009. It is a mere executive order, not a piece of legislation. Where did Pakistan derive its legal authority for such an order? By conquest alone. The order is a virtual replica of the Azad Kashmir Act, 1974. The Governor is appointed by Islamabad. There will be a Gilgit-Baltistan Council headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan in which he will command a majority. There will be a Legislative Assembly but the Council will also have legislative power. Pakistan’s laws prevail. So will Islamic law. Oaths for all pledge them to “remain loyal to Pakistan”. This rules out advocacy of plebiscite for independence or accession to India.

Azad Kashmir’s stand

In a 228-page judgment, three judges of the High Court of Azad Kashmir ruled unanimously on March 8, 1993, that the Northern Areas of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, covering Gilgit and Baltistan and ruled directly by Pakistan, form part of Kashmir.

The court referred to Pakistan’s statements before the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) and its objection to Kashmir’s integration with India. It tartly remarked: “Allowing integration of Northern Areas to any Province of Pakistan would be tantamount to negation of Pakistan’s stance at home and in the Security Council.” This is precisely what Pakistan has done in fact.

Paragraph 9 of the written statement submitted to the court by the Government of Pakistan said: “It is admitted as true that the Northern Areas do not form part of the territories of Pakistan as defined in the Constitution of 1973. However, it is explained [that] on account of that omission, it may not be concluded that the said areas are part of the territories of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.” Were they independent of both, then?

The passage in paragraph 194 of the judgment is followed by a damning censure in paragraph 195: “The Respondent (Pakistan) was unable to satisfy its validity [sic] to keep control by detaching these areas from the rest of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.” The fact of this “detaching” of the areas from Kashmir, which Pakistan calls “disputed” territory, suffices to cook Pakistan’s goose. Its concern is not with the people of Kashmir. It is a land-grabber. The court uses identical language at the end of the judgment on page 227, paragraph 203: “We, therefore, hold that no legitimate cause has been shown by the Respondents No.1 (Pakistan) and 2 (Azad Kashmir), to keep the Northern Areas and their residents (State subjects) detached from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, under separate and arbitrary administrative system and deprive them of fundamental rights.”

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Azad Kashmir said that “the findings of the High Court on the point that the Northern Areas were historically and constitutionally part and parcel of the Jammu and Kashmir State before 14 August 1947 suffer from no legal infirmity; even otherwise this fact has not been challenged by the Federation of Pakistan before this Court. Thus, the said findings stand confirmed.” It concluded: “To summarise, in the light of what has been stated, the conclusion which we reach is that the Northern Areas are a part of Jammu and Kashmir State but are not a part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, as defined in the Interim Constitution Act, 1974.” On May 28, 1999, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that “the people of Northern Areas are citizens of Pakistan”.

The Sheikh’s indictment

“Mr Bhutto, you are wailing about the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but what about the fate of 1.5 million people in occupied Kashmir who have been denied basic rights and are suffering for long?” Sheikh Abdullah asked at a rally in Srinagar on March 2, 1975. His indictment is unanswerable. In truth, after the Simla Agreement of 1972, Bhutto confirmed suspicions of a tacit accord on partition when, on September 25, 1974, he formally annexed Hunza to Pakistan. Zia-ul-Haq went further. He nominated three observers from the Northern Areas to the Majlis-e-Shoora and claimed they were part of Pakistan. Indian correspondents drew conflicting explanations from him. They were told that Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu were parts of Pakistan, not disputed territories. This drew a strong and identical reaction from both parts of Kashmir.

Sheikh Abdullah’s government issued a White Paper in May 1982 entitled “Statement of Facts: Gilgit, Hunza, Yasin, Ponial, Chitral and Skardu”. It cited authoritative material, with a bibliography and a map, to establish convincingly that these areas have from time immemorial formed integral parts of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

On June 3, 1982, Azad Kashmir leader Sardar Mohammed Ibrahim challenged Zia’s assertion. With characteristic guile, Zia backtracked. He told an Indian journalist that the “Northern Areas and Kashmir are disputed territories and we accept them as such. Period. We do not accept them as part of Pakistan; otherwise the whole battle is lost. How can we talk about Kashmir and the U.N. and things like that?” It was a tactical retreat. To another journalist, Zia complained he had not been correctly reported and asserted, once again, that while Kashmir is a disputed area, not so the Northern Areas, Gilgit, Hunza. He went further: When reminded that these were part of Kashmir, Zia retorted: “May be it [sic] was part of Kashmir when Kashmir was Kashmir. Today, we don’t accept.”

Northern Areas parameters

The High Court had defined the Northern Areas carefully. The State of Jammu and Kashmir was divided into four provinces—Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and Gilgit and Frontier Ilaqas (areas). The Frontier Ilaqas comprised Hunza, Nagar, Punial, Yasin, Kuh, Ghizar, Ishkoman and Chilas. Gilgit was leased to the British by the Maharaja of Kashmir on March 26, 1935, and recovered on August 1, 1947.

Gilgit, Baltistan and former Frontier Ilaqas were designated as “Northern Areas”, with an area of 63,553 square miles and a population that some estimate at 1.5 million. Baltistan is basically the district of Skardu. Administratively, Pakistan has split the Northern Areas into the districts of Gilgit, Diamer, Skardu, Ghizar and Chilas.

The White Paper of the government of Kashmir is obviously written by a historian. It is rich in details. For instance: “Skardu fell to Pakistani raiders on 14 August 1948. Uptill then it was ruled by the government headed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, which was appointed by Maharaja in March 1948. The last Wazir Wazarat of Skardu was an officer from Jammu, Mr Amar Nath Pragal. He was brutally killed by the invaders and the district treasury ransacked, which even at that time contained ninety thousand and odd rupees in Indian currency. The local administration was mostly manned by officials hailing from Jammu and Kashmir provinces. Many of them managed to escape; a number of them were taken prisoners. These were to return only after an exchange of political prisoners between India and Pakistan and were absorbed in State government cadres.”

Kashmiris have objected unanimously to Pakistan’s move to make Gilgit-Baltistan one of its provinces. Rather late in the day they have discovered that Pakistan’s interests are different from those of Kashmir. The Palestinians discovered that of the Arab states. In 1949, Zafrullah Khan insisted on the exclusion of independence as an option for Kashmir.

Kashmiris must shed illusions and face the realities. They must evolve a peaceful strategy of a movement that shuns dharnas and closures and relies on effective, powerful protests. This will earn them much goodwill and political strength.

For India and Pakistan, too, the best course is to accept the realities and try to remove their curbs by allowing the people in both parts of the State a say on their future. The Four Point Plan is still relevant. It is the only solution: withdraw the troops from the borders; allow free movement of people, material and literature across the Line of Control; grant self-rule ( azadi) to both parts of Kashmir; and have the mechanism already agreed between India and Pakistan for coordination and cooperation.

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