Since Chinese President Xi Jinping declared his brainchild of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) under ‘One Belt One Road’ vision, Indian policymakers, think tanks and media have been vocal in criticizing the project, claiming that the overland corridor passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, a disputed region ‘occupied’ by Pakistan, which is an ‘integral territory’ of Kashmir (and hence India). But historical records prove the Indian claim wrong. It is a settled issue, as the people of Gilgit-Baltistan in 1947 voluntarily merged into Pakistan. The historic timeline tells it all.
The people of Gilgit have always considered themselves to be ethnically different from the Kashmiris and resented being under Kashmir state rule. That feeling contributed to leading them to merge into Pakistan. Immediately after the end of British rule in the sub-continent in 1947, the people of this region decided to join Pakistan through a popular local revolt against the government of Maharaja of Kashmir.
Major William Brown, Maharaja Hari Singh’s Commander of Gilgit Scouts in 1947 believed that the British handover of Gilgit to Kashmir was a huge mistake. He recollected that when he met the Scouts, “Brown recounts that when he met the scouts ”they indirectly made it clear how they despised and hated Kashmir and everything connected with it, how happy and content they had been under the British rule, and how they considered they had been betrayed by the British in the unconditional handing over of their country to Kashmir,” writes Yaqoon Bangash in his book A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.
Major Brown studying the ground realities, communicated with the Pakistani politicians, particularly Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan asking to take over Gilgit. Even the people of Gilgit Agency, through their leaders, approached Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, revered by Pakistanis as Quaid-e-Azam or the great leader, to inform him about their desire to join Pakistan, which was accepted by Jinnah. Pakistan instantly sent Khan Mohammad Alam Khan to the region who arrived on November 16 and took over administration on behalf of Pakistan. Since then Gilgit-Baltistan has enjoyed a special status in Pakistan’s federation.
Sushant Singh, a noted Indian author, in an article in The Indian Express, wrote on August 18, 1016) “… as soon as Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India on October 31, 1947, Major Brown imprisoned Brigadier Ghansara Singh, and informed his erstwhile British Political Agent, Lt Colonel Roger Bacon, who was then at Peshawar, of the accession of Gilgit to Pakistan.”
Sushant Singh added:
“On November 2, Major Brown officially raised the Pakistani flag at his headquarters, and claimed that he and (his deputy Captain) Mathieson had opted for service with Pakistan when the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession in favor of India. Two weeks later, a nominee of the Pakistan government, Sardar Mohammed Alam, was appointed the Political Agent, and took possession of the territory.”
Yaqoob Bangash mentions in his book, Muzzaffar, the raja orderly in Chilas, expressed the public sentiment opposing Kashmir’s accession to India in the following words:
The whole of Gilgit Agency is pro-Pakistan … we could never swear allegiance to Hindustan. Apart from religion, the Gilgit Agency is really a part of the NWFP and is therefore a part of Pakistan. If Kashmir remains independent, well and good … .But if the Maharaja through pig headedness and bad advice, political pressure or attractive remunerations accedes to Hindustan, then there will be trouble here!
Gilgit-Baltistan has an area of 28,174 sq. miles (72,971 sq. km) and is home to over two million people, hundred per cent of whom are Muslims. A significant number of people hailing from GB also reside in different parts of Pakistan, notably in Punjab and Sindh.
After 70 years of silence (1947-2017) India’s current claim over Gilgit-Baltistan is to jeopardize the CPEC, which concerns India most as it allows China to sit on its neck.
The people Gilgit-Baltistan despite having some genuine grievances, such as non-recognition of Gilgit-Baltistan as a province of Pakistan, acute absence of modern facilities, etc., still they in their heart feel themselves as true Pakistanis. The Pakistan government should take appropriate steps to develop the region and remove the silent discontent that prevails among the people before India could extend its spy networks in Gilgit-Baltistan – the windpipe of CPEC.
After Balochistan India now casts its sinister eyes on Gilgit-Baltistan and pours its resources on it to disrupt CPEC. Pakistan neither invaded nor occupied Gilgit-Baltistan. The decision of merging the region to Pakistan was taken by military commander of Maharaja Harri Singh who simply honored the sentiment of the local people who were pro-Pakistan from their heart. So it was the people of Gilgit-Baltistan who made the region a part of Pakistan and India could not reverse their decision.
Pakistan government welcomes the assimilation of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan with mainstream Pakistan by making state employment available for them. (army/educational institutions) Pakistan should immediately declare Gilgit-Baltistan a separate province having its representatives in Pakistan National Assembly. Once the region gets provincial status thousands of job opportunities will be created for the local people. Their facilities for education, health and communication will be expanded, what will integrate the common masses with the mainstream and keep the region out of the paw India’s hegemonic wing ‘RAW’.
(Mohammad Zainal Abedin is a New York-based journalist & researcher who can be used at: firstname.lastname@example.org)