GILGIT – BALTISTAN : AN INTEGRAL PART OF INDIA

Lt Col Vaibhav Vadera
11 GARH RIF

“The Government of Pakistan should undertake to use its best endeavours to secure the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir”
– UNSC Resolution Number 47

“We have been citizens of India. We never ceased to be citizens of India. Legally and
technically, we are Indian citizens. We’ve always been Indian citizens and that is why
Pakistan can never grant us constitutional rights. We have binding documents to prove that we are Indian citizens.” These were the recent words of SengeSering, a famous political activist, originally from Gilgit – Baltistan who echos and represents the sentiments of residents of Gilgit as well as Baltistan. The statement is true upto the hilt even though Imran Khan is planning to soon visit the region and make the formal announcement to elevate Gilgit – Baltistan to the status of a full-fledged province with all constitutional rights. Gilgit-Baltistanhas been a part of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir that
is legally an integral part of India as per the Instrument of Accession executed by Maharaja
Hari Singh on 26 October 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, at that time had appointed Ghansar Singh Jamwal to govern the area on his behalf.

However, Pakistan had an ill-intended plan of a military coup which they executed with the
help of treacherous Major William Brown, a British Army officer as part of Operation
DattaKhel.Consequently, Ghansar Singh was taken into protective custody and Gilgit Agency occupied by force. Major William Brown who was posthumously awarded Sitara-i-Imtiaz by Pakistan in 1993, himself acknowledged the severity of his actions when he remarked later that “my actions appeared to possess all the elements of high treason.”Gilgit – Baltistan was thus forcefully and illegally occupied by Pakistan in 1947-48.
Since then, the people of Gilgit – Baltistanwho are pre-dominantly Shias have
been facing the brutality of pre-dominantly Sunni Pakistan state in the form of torture, false sedation & terrorism charges, life imprisonment for opposing onslaught on their resources and much more. Pakistani military has been systematically carrying out operations to keep the people of Gilgit – Baltistan underdeveloped and underprivileged so that they can be used for terrorists activities against India. A total of 60% of people in Gilgit – Baltistanare illiterate Manthal Buddha Rock in Skardu Trango Towers in Karakoram Ranges and are thus easily exploited for recruitment into various Tanzeems. Mr Jamil Maqsood, Central Secretary (Foreign Affairs) of the United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP)clarifies, “they recruit young men to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and other terrorist groups operating from the soil of PoK and Gilgit – Baltistan.” The limited educated people on the other hand are “recruited by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) to propagate in favour of the Pakistani establishment and that is a very dangerous
phenomenon.”

 

Pakistan has also been changing the demography of Gilgit – Baltistan by settling
Sunnis and Panjabis into the region. The Freedom House Report of 2019 confirmed that
Gilgit – Baltistan has undergone government-led demographic engineering and since Jan
2001, the population ratio of 1:4 (non-locals to locals) had changed to 3:4. The original Shia population have decreased from 68% to 41%. Sunni extremists and terrorist groups like Sipah-i-Sahaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Mujahiddin have setup terror training camps in Gilgit – Baltistan and are also involved in sectarian violence
resulting into genocide of Shiamuslims. This demographic change was facilitated by
abrogation of Kashmir’s land owner act known as State Subject Rule by then PM Zulfiqar
Bhutto. It is interesting to note that personalities like Imran Khan, ParvezMusharaff,
TalhaMahmood and Hamid Gul own properties in Gilgit – Baltistan while none of them are
the true inhabitants of this region.

It is pertinent to mention that even China has significant stakes in the demographic
engineering of Gilgit – Baltistan to secure its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
project. Pakistan is reportedly grabbing forest and agricultural lands to transfer them to
Chinese companies for large-scale infrastructure projects. Wahhabi Sunni settlers have
displaced the Shia population from villages on the Karakoram Highway to secure the CPEC.
Moreover, hundreds of Chinese nationals have permanently settled in Gilgit – Baltistan to
establish businesses, thus exploiting local natural resources. China’s interest in Gilgit –
Baltistan is also motivated by the broader ambitions of controlling the Indian Ocean. China’s plans to develop ports like Gawadar, Jiwani, Sonmiani, Pasni and Ormara require absolute control over Gilgit – Baltistan. A 2010 Stratfor report confirmed the presence of 7000-11,000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in Gilgit – Baltistan to guard its infrastructure projects.

Under Chinese pressure, Pakistan nullified the Gilgit – Baltistan Empowerment and SelfGovernance Order of 2009, which granted it a degree of autonomy. Pakistan’s repeated
attempts to change the constitution of Gilgit – Baltistan and Gilgit – Baltistangovernment
ordinances are intended to expedite the process of land allotment to Chinese companies.
But, these vested interests of Pakistan and China, suppression of the local populace,
sectarian violence and exploitation of the natural resources of Gilgit – Baltistan has forced
people to finally speak their hearts-out. The original people of Gilgit – Baltistan are not only protesting on streets against Pakistan but are also putting their legitimate points-across on international forums. The civil society in Gilgit – Baltistan are more than willing to come back in the realms of its only legal home – India. They were particularly jubilant after the recent abrogation of Article 370 by Indian government and creation of Union Territories (UTs) of J&K and Ladakh.AmjadAyubMirza – a political analyst from Mirpur in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, who is currently living in Scotland, celebrated the amendment of Article 370 by cutting a tricolour cake and releasing balloons in the air. As a matter of fact, the people of Gilgit – Baltistan relate themselves more with the people of Ladakh.SengeSering believes that Gilgit  – Baltistan will grow if it physically integrates with Ladakh. He says, “Till August 5 (2019), we were an integral part of Jammu & Kashmir but after the amendment was done in Article 370 and the state was bifurcated into two Union Territories, so, now we are part of Ladakh Union Territory … it will give people a lot of opportunities to grow.”Both Ayub and Senge maintain that amendment of Article 370 has marked the beginning of the end of Pakistan sponsored jihadist violence in Kashmir and has helped the people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to become part of India.

Indian government on its part needs to maintain the momentum and should continue
to respect the aspirations of people of Gilgit – Baltistan by adopting a multi-pronged approach to expedite merger of Gilgit – Baltistan with the only legal heir by diplomatic and if required by military means as well. The “strong protest” by Indian government issued in May 20 over an order by the Pakistan Supreme Court allowing the Imran Khan government to hold elections
in the region of Gilgit – Baltistan, is the step in the right direction. However, as highlighted
earlier, more needs to be done by the Indian state to help its own citizens in Gilgit – Baltistan.

There is also a constant need to repeatedly expose Pakistan as well as China on the
international platforms with respect to their self-serving agendas in Gilgit – Baltistan which
eventually leads to severe violation of human rights in the region. The failure on the part of
previous Indian governments to address this crucial issue and engage the people of Gilgit –
Baltistan has in many ways led to the continued impasse in the region. The present Indian
government has made a good start but it needs to quickly bring the issue to its logical
conclusion. And, the only logical conclusion of this issue is the on-ground manifestation of
the legal fact that Gilgit – Baltistan is an integral part of India !

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