November 1, 2010

Gilgit-Baltistan – The Orphaned Land of Pakistan

By Habib R. Sulemani

TODAY IS the "independence day" of my native Gilgit-Baltistan. On November 1, 1947 during a revolt, our forefathers got freedom from the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. A provisional government was se up which declared the region a republic. Raja Shah Rais Khan became President while Mirza Hassan Khan took over as Commander-in-Chief of the forces.

Fifteen days later the Republic of Gilgit-Baltistan acceded to the neighboring republic of Pakistan. Founder of the country Mohammad Ali Jinnah was very happy, but before he could give a constitutional status to the region, unfortunately, he died in 1948. And then started the miseries of the Orphaned Land of Gilgit-Baltistan!

People of this strategically important “province” consider themselves patriotic Pakistanis and have given historic sacrifices for the country during the last 63 years. But, unfortunately, they’ve not been given equal rights of citizenship so far as people of other provinces enjoy under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

We, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, have no representation in the Pakistani Parliament. Therefore, our voice never reaches the corridors of power! Since I started my career as a journalist in the mainstream media of the country, I've been paying taxes according to the law but still I've no right of vote in this country for which three generations of my family have given sacrifices. I'm a more equal citizen of Pakistan! Because I'm from Gilgit-Baltistan, a region about which the Constitution of this country is silent. 

A friend says that if Gilgit-Baltistan had Constitutional rights in Pakistan then any Minister, Member National Assembly or Senator would have raised my case in the corridors of power. It seems true in the current situation as parliamentarians have failed to escape from narrow-minded provincialism! After attempts on my life, I’m restricted to my home for the last seven months but the democratic government is still silent. There is not even one parliamentarian in the country who could dare to speak against the powerful accused. Alas! We've lost the spirit of Mr. Jinnah's liberal Pakistan. 

Now, let me give you some information about my Orphaned Land.

REASON FOR THE INJUSTICE: The Pakistani establishment has deceived successive governments by saying that Gilgit-Baltistan was a part of the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir – a bone of contention between Pakistan and India – therefore, it could not be given a permanent political status until the dispute of Kashmir was resolved! But they didn't give it even a status of the Pakistan-controlled Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). What a shameless argument!

However, last year, under a Presidential Self-rule Order, the Pakistan People's Party-led elected government gave the region an elected administration – governor, chief minister and legislative assembly – for the first time since independence. However, the new setup is powerless and has no Constitutional cover at all. It's said that even a Major of the ISI is more powerful than the elected Chief Minister. Some friends used to joke soon after the elections: "Now you've at least a fake provincial status with fake governor and fake chief minister."

Anyway, there is a fear among the locals that the Presidential Order could be cancelled any time. This fear and uncertainty has further increased the sense of deprivation among the locals in the region, full of undiscovered natural resources.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The intelligentsia of the region (including late F. M. Khan, author of The Story of Gilgit-Baltistan & Chitral) don't accept the official notion that Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Kashmir. Historical evidences also prove that the region had never been a part of Kashmir but was subjugated by the Maharaja's forces for a period of time. However, the brave people of the region got liberation after a series of struggle.

Here are some historical facts about the political relationship between Gilgit-Baltistan, and Kashmir.

1-     Gilgit-Baltistan was divided into self-governing regions and princely states which had their own defense systems.

2-     In 1841, the Maharaja of Kashmir conquered parts of Baltistan and Astore.

3-     In 1860, the Maharaja’s forces conquered Gilgit town.

4-     In 1891, British Indian forces with the help of the Maharaja conquered the princely states of Hunza and Nagar. It extended the colonial rule up to Shundur Pass, and named the region as Gilgit Agency. Thus the Maharaja and British government of India started ruling the region jointly.

5-     In 1935, the British government signed an agreement with the Maharaja and took over the administration of Gilgit sub-division on lease for 60 years. 

6-     On August 1, 1947, Indian Viceroy Lord Mountbatten transferred Gilgit Agency to the Maharaja who appointed Brigadier Ghansara Singh as the first Governor.

7-     On November 1, 1947 the people of Gilgit-Baltistan overthrew the Maharaja’s regime, arrested the Governor and set up their own provisional government. 

8-     On November 15, 1947 the Republic of Gilgit-Baltistan acceded to Pakistan in the hope that it would be enjoying equal rights under a constitution.

START OF THE TRAGEDY: The people of Gilgit-Baltistan got independence without the help of any outside force. So they were free to decide their future. Thus the decision to be a part of Pakistan was taken by the provisional government after taking into consideration the will of the people of the region. But what went wrong then? Here are some points. 

1-     In 1948-49, the government of Pakistan mistakenly (local scholars believe it was a bureaucratic error) on the advice of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs represented the case of Gilgit-Baltistan before the UN Security Council ill-advisedly declaring the region a disputed territory. It was a foolish act of the smart bureaucrats of that time!

2-      In March 1951, a liberation leader of Gilgit-Baltistan, Mirza Hassan Khan (famously known as Colonel Hassan), along with former colonel and poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and some Leftist leaders and military officers were arrested on charges of planning a coup d'état against the first Prime Minister of the newly established country, Liaqat Ali Khan. It’s known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. This somehow made the establishment doubtful about the leadership of Gilgit-Baltistan. Thus the establishment resisted giving the region any political status and kept it as a Federally-Administrated Area.

3-     In October 1951 Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated who against the will of the establishment wanted to give a constitutional status to Gilgit-Baltistan. Then started the never-ending rule of civil and military bureaucrats.

GILGIT-BALTISTAN & AZAD KASHMIR: As I've said earlier, historical evidences show that the Maharaja of Kashmir had colonized Gilgit-Baltistan against the wishes of the local population for about a century which ended in 1947.

Geographical, racial and linguistic differences have always remained there, and for the last six decades they have further widened due to the separate statuses of both regions. Now there’s a globalize view of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. The narrow-minded Kashmirism has become of age with those leaders who lived out of the region but advocated for making the liberated regain again a part of Kashmir – the broken and bleeding territory of South Asia!

Here are some points which are really disturbing for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

1-     The over 72,000 sq/km Gilgit-Baltistan region has no Constitutional right even within Pakistan, and the people of the region are being denied basic human rights. It is a great tragedy in the 21st century.

2-     The Pakistan-controlled 4,000 sq/km AJK region enjoys all rights having its own President, Prime Minister, Parliament, High Court and Supreme Court.  

3-     Gilgit-Baltistan has been deprived of development projects. Even the capital city Gilgit lacks electricity. Now, tragically, the region’s proposed Diamer Dam's royalty is going to the neighboring province of Pakhtunkhwa because it has representatives in the Parliament but Gilgit-Baltistan is an orphan! Network of roads is a dream in our mountainous region. The Karakoram Highway has been blocked by landslide and for the last 10 months, the 25,000 people of upper Hunza, Gojal, have been cut off from rest of the country. However, relief comes to the stranded area by road from China.

4-      The AJK has been developed to a great extent. Power is available even in the far-flung villages of the region. There's a network of roads in the scattered valleys.  

5-     Gilgit-Baltistan lacks leadership as the establishment especially the secret agencies have never let the local leadership to grow at national level. The establishment wants deaf and dumb public representatives who could not speak against the injustices. Foreign official trips are beyond the thought of the local leaders; many of them have not even attended the sessions of the Pakistani Parliament. Majority public representatives are half-literate. They don't know how to talk in proper Urdu, English is beyond their control! They're the “yes-men” of the cunning establishment. Some of them don’t know even how to dress for a state-level function and eat at a five-star hotel. However, those few daring and educated leaders who speak against the injustices particularly the inhuman and undemocratic behavior of the bureaucrats, they face humiliation of the worst kind. A noble man who dared to stand against a candidate of the establishment during the last election was humiliated in the traditional disgusting way of the ISI: two of his daughters were maligned at the Karakoram International University Gilgit – considered the secret agency’s nursery for a new breed of militants – through the brigade of rogue bullies.

6-     The leaders of AJK have been given global exposure. They go on official tours to Europe, Americas and other regions, supposedly to highlight the issue of Kashmir. They often attend international meetings and UN sessions. This has given them immense confidence, needed to represent public at any forum. Therefore, Kashmiris have become members of the Parliament not only in India and Pakistan but also in the United Kingdom.

7-     Many public representatives of Gilgit-Baltistan are poor and after the session of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, some of them even shepherd sheep and cattle.

8-     Many public representatives of AJK have industrial and business units not only in the AJK and Pakistan but also in other countries.

STRUGGLE FOR RIGHTS & SECTARIANISM: Whenever the people of Gilgit-Baltistan raise their voice for Constitutional rights, the Pakistani establishment, with the help of secret agencies, creates sectarian violence in the region especially capital city Gilgit.

During the dark era of General Zia, worst sectarian clashes were sponsored under the state. Many people believe that it was a deliberate effort of the dictator to kill the Shia majority, and bring the Sunni Afghan refuges to live in Gilgit-Baltistan permanently.

This alleged dream of the former dictator could not come true but the sectarian killings, started in the 1980s, still goes on. Many innocent people especially government officers and professionals have been assassinated from both sides, Shia and Sunni. The innocent common people of both sects are surprised who comes suddenly on the scene... kills some people from one sect and disappear... then some people from the opposite sect are made target, and impression of sectarian target-killing is given to the public through the establishment-controlled media.

"Even senior journalist have become public-relation officers, who first publish a news of certain officer and then go to his office along copy of the news item to get a smile at least," a friend from Gilgit told on telephone recently. 

“Even vegetable and fruit vendors have become journalist in Gilgit-Baltistan. They do what their masters order them," he added. "The common people are scared to death when they hear names of the ISI and MI. Both agencies have spread their network in a way that no-one can trust anybody in the city. People fear to talk to each other.”

“Then how the sectarian killings happen in a small city like Gilgit?” I asked.

“That’s the question,” he said. “For the world’s best spy agency and army, it’s absolutely not impossible to control sectarian killings in a small city like Gilgit if they really wanted to do so!!”

1- Shia factor: The majority of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are Asna Ashri Shia Muslims. The establishment fears that a province dominated by Shias in a Sunni-majority country could create any problem to the security of the state. They Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case is also in their minds.

This fear became stronger after the Islamic revolution in the neighboring Iran. Thus the secret agencies have hired some locals of the community and try to stop any political movement especially for the constitutional rights of the region. A group of media persons, especially the Uks Network of Zaffar Abbas of daily Dawn, is playing a vital rule in depoliticizing the Shia community as a part of the strategy of the secret agencies.

There is a propaganda that the region would be a separate Shia state like Iran. But people know that such a state can't survive surrounded by Sunni-majority regions of Kashghar, Kashmir, Kohistan and Kabul (K4). Moreover, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are thinking globally and they're not separatists either. They just seek basic human rights under the Constitution of the country.

2- Ismaili factor: The Ismaili Shia Muslims are also dominating in two out of seven districts. Due to the international status of The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Ismailis, the establishment fears that the community could create hurdles anytime.

Thus the establishment has succeed in appointing government officers as office-bearers of the Ismaili Regional Council and in this way they’ve created a new group named after Allama Nasir Hunzai in the community. The secret agencies brought out a scandal of this famous poet of Brushaski language when president of the Ismaili Council was a Wakhi-speaking government officer, Zaffar Iqbal. The current president Assistant Professor (KIU) Manzoor Ali is a Brushaski-speaking and the agencies used him against my family (Wakhi-speaking).

The agencies have ignited the fire of racial-conflict, Wakhi-Brushashki, within the Ismaili community to make sure that they can't unite and do anything politically for their rights. The divide-and-rule policy is in vogue since the so-called independence.

The theory of an Ismaili state in the region is as impossible as any other sectarian based state. The landlocked region can't survive in isolation.   

3- Noorbakhshi factor: Noobakhshi Shia Muslims dominate the Ganchay district of Baltistan. To control them, the secret agencies have divided the community into two groups. One group is tilting towards the Asna Ashri Shias while the other is linked to the Wahabi Sunnis under an alleged Saudi Arabian project in the region. Thus they can't be united in any way to seek political rights in the region.

4- Sunni factor: Sunni Muslims of the region have been told that they should oppose any demand for political rights, saying that such a thing would make them a minority like the Sunnis in Iran, where they reportedly can't even build a mosque or get higher positions in the government.

They've been told to advocate for rejoining Kashmir, in this way their minority status would be changed. This is really a dirty game of the dirty establishment. Maulana Fazl Rehman of the JUI is a key player in this game besides the Jamaat-e-Islami.

WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT: But the dirty old tricks should be abandoned now! This would be good for the cunning establishment as well as for the locals and above all for our country. The poor people of Gilgit-Baltistan should not be deprived of their constitutional rights anymore. The must be an active part of the national mainstream. They should be given representation in the Pakistani Parliament. This will give a positive message to other parts of the confederation and the outside world.

The Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and other political groups had publicly announced during the last elections in the region that they would give Gilgit-Baltistan representation in the National Assembly and Senate. Indeed, they can make the country stronger in this way. But they all are silent since then. Was it just a traditional election game? It seems so!

Gilgit-Baltistan should have been an integral part of Pakistan as the Fifth Province right from the very beginning. But, unfortunately, it could not happen. However, the ruling class of Pakistan can do this task even today. Yes bravo! Still it’s not too late!

1- Pakistan: swinging between extremism & liberalism 
2- Journalist seeks protection


  1. It is disgusting to see the way you are fanning racial, ethnic and sectarian differences. That too for a personal issue!

    You are famous as a person who has never gone to the Jamat Khana, or never prayed anywhere. And you are very happy about being "secular", or whatever myriad identity you have woven for yourself. While you have every right to worship anyone, or no one, you do not have any right to play the sinister role of dividing our peaceful communities for your personal/familial agenda, whatever it is.

    By doing so, not only are you losing each and any opportunity to win sympathy of the local people, you are also creating new enemies.

    As a Wakhi speaking native of Gojal Valley, I would like to ask you to nor drag all of us into your personal dirty business. There is a lot of social tension in the region because of natural hazards. You are aggravating the situation by using your mastery (or the lack of it!) of pen.

    Why not shall we believe that you are yourself an agent of the ISI tasked to widen the ethnic differences between the Wakhi speaking and Burushaski speaking people.

    You have been writing against ISI in each of your posts, but it seems that these writings are part of a smokescreen that you are putting together to divert attention from your actual mission.

    If you can write openly against anyone, there are people out there who can write against you and your ageing, withered, sensationalization attempts!

    If you have any intellectual honesty in your being, allow this post on your blog. If you filter it, I will believe that your writings are part of propaganda and smear campaign, instead of being grounded in the rational domain.


  2. Sulemani Sahib

    Be meba le bes pirishaan ba. You consider yourself as Pakistani, which is blunder.

    Abdul Hamid Khan
    Balawaristan National Front (BNF)
    Head Office: Majini Mahla, Gilgit, Balawaristan (Pakistan & China Occupied Gilgit Baltistan)

  3. i know that sulemani is true observer can not write false

  4. which two districts are ismaili dominated?

  5. Dear Mr. Kokon,

    Their needs to be made a slight correction in your observation.

    Mr. Sulemani infact wants to say that a political divide is being created in the region, which is quite evident if you go there, for example.

    So before blaming please read this article and look in between the lines what this article is about!

    I hope you understand what I mean!

    self Exiled Person of Hunza
    (Dear All, Our Homeland is burning, please try to read the history of Gilgit Baltistan and get hands in Hand for betterment of Humanity not a sect, or a community)

  6. this is not a piece of cake that the Pakistani government can easily give us constitutional status its hard only saying are not enough implementation on these saying is important

  7. Dear all,

    I am a tourist from karachi and visited gilgit-baltistan in 2010...i also have many gilgiti & hunzai frndz here in karachi who r working and studying like other pakistani..they dnt face any dicrimination here...also during my visit i found the ppl very happy..the region is now being controlled by the locals who belong to lower middle class and middle class familieis and can better solve the issues of their region...even burecrates r also local ppl..pakistani govt is doing alot 4 the ppl of gilgit-baltistan and we all pakistans love that place and ppl irrespective of their sects, cast, ethinty...we all r muslims and brothers...dnt create a sense of discrimination among ppl...god bless u all!!
    Saud Khan

    1. Dear u only visit G.b for vocations and u r not staying in G.b who told you burecartes are local people its not true all are imported lords ...pakistan gave nothing to Gilgit-Baltistan except donating terrorism and destroying our tourism industry ..if people of G.b are also citizens of pakistan why people of G.b canot caste single vote,why we dnt have judicial ,executive and legislative rights ,,,besides all these things why karachi university have different admission policy category for A Class, B Class category

  8. i have lived in that area for 2 years, i remember there was a rift between, noorbakhsis,asna ashris and sunnis, but it rarely came to surface, the sectarian rifts were mainly discussed in army circles, i also remember people used to tell me about lashkar a taliban type from neighboring chirtral tried to come to takeover some villages of gilgit agency but stopped by military. In general the place was peaceful and people were friendly, i can understand your pain, i have lived in Balochistan for many years and i know how people of Balochistan are deprived of their basic rights, and now many rebellious groups emerged when they were denied of their rights. Unfortunately due to stronghold of military in strategically important areas and underdevelopment of civil institutions in country lead to such a desperate situation, things will only get better if democracy continued in country and people become important not nuclear bombs and war machines.