Saturday, January 23, 2010

Baltistan: Six Decades of Impasse

By Mohd Hussanan

Although it has been almost six decades since Pakistan attained control of Baltistan Region, the western part of Ladakh Wazarat of J&K, however, successive Pakistani regimes have failed to recognize it as an integral part of the country. In fact, each regime promotes a different stance regarding the status of Baltistan and Gilgit Regions, and their relationship to the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Until early 1960s, Pakistani governments used to declare the Northern Areas (consisting of Baltistan and Gilgit Regions) as part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The 1965 Indo-Pak War brought Pakistan very close to Peoples' Republic of China, as the new relationship ensured Pakistan with security against a stronger India. As the relationship grew stronger, Pakistan realized the strategic importance of Northern Areas (NAs), which provides strategic land route to China. This compelled the regime to declare NAs as part of Pakistan and reject all claims made by the Government of Azad Jammu & Kashmir (Part of Jammu & Kashmir State under the control of Pakistan) over Baltistan or Gilgit. It was an obvious denial to the agreements between Pakistan, India and the United Nations, and also reflected the contradiction in the statements made by the previous Pakistani governments. The agreements clearly state that the Northern Areas belong to the State of Jammu & Kashmir and Baltistan is Pakistani administered part of Ladakh Province (Wazarat). Factually speaking, Pakistan appropriated both Baltistan and Gilgit regions of J&K, which were temporarily transferred to Islamabad through an agreement with AJK Government in 1949. The agreement between the government of Pakistan and AJK is reproduced here:

"... The matters assigned to the government of Pakistan were listed under caption "A". These subjects were eight in number. It contained the responsibilities of the government of Pakistan in respect of all affairs of Gilgit and Ladakh, the area relevant at that time (which would be Baltistan, since the rest of Ladakh is under Indian control), under the control of Political Agent, at Gilgit".

During the 1960s, another violation took place when the government of Pakistan handed Shaksgam Valley of Baltistan and Raskam Valley of Hunza to the Peoples' Republic of China. Shaksgam (a Balti word meaning 'pile of debris and pebbles') lies across the northern ridge of the Karakoram mountain range and extends to Karakoram Pass near Ladakh. Later, governments of Pakistan and China signed an agreement declaring that once the dispute of the Jammu & Kashmir State is resolved, the control of China over Shaksgam and Raskam will be reconsidered. An abstract of the agreement between Pakistan and PR China went as follows:

"... The two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority 'concerned' will reopen negotiations with the government of the Peoples' Republic of China on the boundary, as described in Article II of the present agreement, of Kashmir so as to sign a boundary treaty to replace the present agreement. (Source: Dawn, Karachi March 3, 1963)

Since the establishment of the current Army Regime of President Musharaf, the government's position on Kashmir has changed significantly and for the first time in the last five decades, the government is ready to accept the realities. The government has taken a bold step to clear up issues that have been in a state of confusion and indecision for a long time; one of them being the stance on J&K viz. a viz. status of Baltistan and Gilgit. In December 2000, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan clearly stated that Northern Areas are part of the disputed State of Jammu and Kashmir. This statement was further confirmed by the Federal Bureau of Foreign Affairs, a week later. As of today, government maintains this position and President Musharaf has reiterated this during couple of his interviews.

It is a historical fact that Baltistan remained part of Dogra state. In "Crisis of Kashmir", Alistair Lamb has described the position of the State, at pages 17 and 18, as:

"In fact, the State contains at least five distinct regions. First, there is Kashmir proper, the so-called Vale along the upper reaches of the Jhelum River with its capital at Srinagar. Second, there is Jammu, with its center at Jammu City. Third, there is Poonch: and fourth, the very extensive tract of Ladakh-Baltistan. Finally, in the northwest is the Gilgit region, comprising Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Gilgit Agency, Yasin, Ishkuma, Hunza and Nagir"

Mr. Joseph Korbel, Member of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), in his book "Danger in Kashmir" at pages 5,6,92 and 202, has described the status of all regions of Jammu & Kashmir State as under:

"The term (Kashmir), as is generally used (for the whole state), is actually not accurate. The official name is the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The state consists of several regions. Its heart is the famous Vale of Kashmir. South of it is the Jammu province, to the east is Ladakh, and north of it, Baltistan; farther north-west are the regions of Hunza and Nagir, and west of them, the Gilgit agency, composed of several political districts. West of the Vale are the districts of Muzaffarabad, Riasi, Poonch and Mirpur."

On page 23, the author has described the geographic boundaries of the Jammu & Kashmir State. It states:

"...the final shape of J&K State, therefore was articulated during the regime of Ranbir Singh. It was administratively divided into 'provinces' of:

I Jammu
II Kashmir
III Ladakh (including Baltistan); and
IV Gilgit and Frontier Ilaqas

The area and population of the different provinces of Jammu & Kashmir State are described on page 24 (No 16) of the book, 'Verdict on Gilgit and Baltistan; High Court of Judicature, Azad Jammu and Kashmir'. It states:

"The Jammu & Kashmir State spreads over 84,471 sq. miles. The area of Jammu province is 12,378 sq. miles; Kashmir province 8,539 sq. miles; and Ladakh and Gilgit 63,554 sq. miles."

Again, on page 40 (No 48), it states:

"In the census of India, 1911, volume XX, Part I, REPORT ON KASHMIR, administrative set up of the state, as divided at the relevant time, was described at page 6. The province of Jammu comprised of:

I Jammu;
II Jasrota;
III Udhampur;
IV Reasi; and
V Mirpur districts

Kashmir province comprised of:
I Kashmir north;
II Kashmir south; and
III Muzzaffarabad

The frontier areas comprised of:
I Ladakh Wazarat; and
II Gilgit and Frontier Ilaqas

The internal Jagirs and dependencies were described as:

I Poonch
II Bhadarwah; and
III Chaneni

This administrative description was followed in the subsequent reports for the years 1921, 1931, and 1941. The position which emerged in 1941, substantiated from the census report, in respect of the Frontier Wazarats, was:

I Wazarat Ladakh, with Leh, Skardo and Kargil
II Gilgit, with Gilgit Agency, Astore and Frontier Ilaqas

The Maharajas ruled Ladakh Province for more than a century. They formed a Wazarat (Governorship) of Ladakh combining Purig, Baltistan, Zanskar, central Ladakh and Changthang (Aksai Chin). Although, some intellectuals disagree that Ladakh Wazarat held the status of a Governorship or Province, however, it can be proved from documents that describe authority and definition of the Wazir of Wazarat.

On page 54 (No. 58) of the book, 'Verdict on Gilgit and Baltistan; High Court of Judicature, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the term Governor is defined and reproduced from the Declaration as:

"----the term "Governor" was defined under Section 2(3). It is: 'Governor' means the governors of Jammu and Kashmir and the Wazirs of Ladakh and Gilgit with their respective jurisdiction."

Through the formation of a Wazarat comprising of Balti, Purig, Zanskar and central Ladakh, the Maharajas united the areas under one administrative block - areas already united by same culture, traditions, language, ethnicity, religious beliefs, trade and commercial links and geographical proximity. Skardo was given the status of the winter capital of the Wazarat whereas Leh was the summer capital. The Wazarat was divided into Leh, Kargil and Skardo districts.

The assessment notes of Major J. L. Kaye, Settlement Commissioner appointed by Maharaja Pratap Singh's Government, printed at Ranbir Prakash Press, Jammu in 1904 A.D., states that the following illaqas' are parts of Skardu (District Skardo of Wazarat Ladakh): "Haramosh, Rondu (Rongyul), Shigar, Keris, Parkuta, Tolti, Khapulo and Chorbad"

The people of Ladakh Wazarat also received representation in the State assembly. "The assembly was partly representative (elected) as some of the members were nominated by the Rulers of the State. Among them, four members were nominated from Wazarat of Ladakh; two were Buddhists from Leh, one Muslim from Skardo, and one Muslim from Kargil ~ the nominated members from Ladakh Wazarat, were:

I Raja (Gyalpo) Jigmet Dadool of Stok, from Leh
II Nono Thsewang Rinchan from Leh
III Raja (Gyalpo) Fateh Ali Khan of Skardo, from Skardo
IV Kacho Ahmed Ali Khan from Kargil"

From the above-mentioned statements, it is clear that the State of Jammu & Kashmir prior to August 15, 1947, was administratively divided into provinces and regions, and included Gilgit and Baltistan with clear geographical boundaries. By 1948, as different nations were fighting to annex the State, the Wazarat of Ladakh existed with all its areas intact. Within a few months of war and the tribal attacks, the whole scenario changed and Ladakh Wazarat got divided between Pakistan and India. Later, in all the agreements between Pakistan, India and the UNO, Baltistan is referred to as Ladakh or the Pakistani administered part of Ladakh. A decade later, Baltistan was incorporated into the Northern Areas along with Gilgit Wazarat, Gilgit Agency and the tribal Illaqas. A political agent from NWFP was imposed on local people usurping local autonomy and undermining religious, cultural and political freedom.

After 59 years of confusion, distrust and disillusion, the chances of reunification of both parts of the Jammu & Kashmir State are once again mulled over. Now the question arises whether Baltistan should be directly incorporated into Pakistan or should the status of Ladakh Wazarat be restored and re-unify Baltistan with the Jammu & Kashmir State. Politicians, intellectuals and religious leaders of Baltistan have shown mixed reactions in this regard. Although the majority of the people of Baltistan agree that the region is part of Ladakh Wazarat; the prime concern is towards an ever-shifting stance of the government of Pakistan regarding this area. Some believe that by recognizing Baltistan as part of the Jammu & Kashmir State, local people will get to choose from one of the many options emerging on the political arena, such as incorporation of the State into Pakistan, India or a division between both. Some groups also talk of an independent State. Others talk of division of J&K on ethnic/linguistic grounds and some consider religion to be the determining factor. China, occupying more than 40,000 sq. km of Ladakh, Shaksgam and Raskam, must also not be forgotten. The more one thinks of this matter, the more options appear for consideration, hence providing varied choices for the people of Baltistan.

The leaders of Baltistan should utilize this opportunity to lead the nation in the right direction. It would be unjust to declare that Baltistan has no connection to the J&K dilemma. We would not have debated over J&K issue for 59 years if we were not connected to this issue. We wouldn't have lived in Pakistan like second class humans without any political, judicial, religious or cultural rights if our fate was not linked to J&K as a disputed region between India and Pakistan. In fact, Ladakh and Baltistan have been most affected by this dilemma and to prove it, I mention Kargil War fought on our land, among many other evidences.

Ignoring emerging alternatives and varied possibilities related to our political future will harm Baltistan in the long run. I must say that today's scenario enables us to make a choice best suited for socio-economic, cultural and religious freedom and development of the region. We are born with the natural right to have choices and the right to exercise this right with absolute freedom. Balti leaders should rather try to turn these options into an opportunity. This way, we can ensure a prosperous future for the coming generations. We must not let others make decisions for us. If we fail to respond to this prevailing situation, then we might face another crisis similar to the one happened in 1948, when the people of Ladakh and Baltistan were forced to part ways. We should extend our full co-operation to initiate dialogues with other interested parties of the Jammu & Kashmir State so that our demands could be heard. We also request the Pakistani government to allow Ladakhis and Baltis on both sides of the LOC to hold dialogues on regular basis.

While formulating options, not just religion but other major social features like culture, language, historical background, trade and commercial links and geographical proximity should also become parameters to address the issue. If today, Kashmiris on both sides of the LOC desire reunification, it is basic right of the people of Baltistan and Ladakh to look for the possibilities of their reunification as well. A unified Ladakh will provide political empowerment and subsequent enhancement of cultural, religious and socio-economic status of the region. In order to ensure freedom of expression and religion, it is necessary to maintain the secular face of the J&K State. The unification of Ladakh Wazarat will help maintaining the secularity of the Jammu & Kashmir State.

The people of Ladakh and Baltistan have tolerated the separation of the Wazarat for the last six decades. In 1948, Ladakh and Baltistan were separated through a conspiracy and we are facing the consequences. Now it is becoming a reality and a concern of the community that if a solution for the Jammu & Kashmir State is proposed which ends in a permanent division of Wazarat Ladakh, then it will be a threat to regional security and to the local people as well. A divided Ladakh and Baltistan, under any of the emerging options, will fail to achieve socio-economic and cultural progress, the way local people desire. This unnatural division should be dealt with strong opposition from both sides of the LOC.

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