By Aziz Ali Dad
Reacting to news about the plan to convert Gilgit-Baltistan into a province of Pakistan, Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed and President Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan of Azad Jammu and Kashmir recently declared Gilgit-Baltistan as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Abdul Majeed said that the prime minister of Pakistan could not take such a decision unless the people of Jammu and Kashmir agree to it. The president of AJK went to the extent of terming such a step more damaging than the dismemberment of the country in 1971. This chest-thumping by the Kashmiri leadership is an attempt to browbeat the Pakistani state to maintain the status quo in Gilgit-Baltistan.
A salient feature of the statements by the AJK premiere and president regarding Gilgit-Baltistan is their apathetic attitude towards the voices and aspirations of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Similar sentiments were expressed when the government of Pakistan introduced the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-governance Order in 2009. These reactions should not be seen as anomalies; rather they show a consistent pattern in the narrative of Kashmir that has been used by Kashmiri leadership and intelligentsia for more than six decades.
Since the Kashmir imbroglio has its historical roots in the colonial period, the contours of Kashmiri nationalism have also been imbued by colonial mindset and policies of which they themselves are victims. Now the inconsistencies and consistent anomalies in the Kashmiri nationalist narrative have reached a point where, instead of winning sympathies of other non-Kashmiri groups, they are antagonising them against the Kashmiri cause. And the position of Gilgit-Baltistan vis-à-vis Kashmir is a case in point.
Before taking stock of the monomaniac mindset of the Kashmiri leadership, it is important to trace the genealogy of thought and identities formed in the crucible of colonialism. Historically, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan was ruled by different principalities in its various valley domains. Culturally and historically, this region was never a part of Kashmir. It is only after the advent of the British in the middle of the nineteenth century that the region got implicated in Kashmir and the Great Game of which Kashmiris were not players.
Even the very identity of Jammu and Kashmir is a modern phenomenon as the process of boundary making, in the words of Chad Haines, “in the northern frontier of British India commences with the conquest of Punjab in the Anglo-Sikh wars”. Haines in his book ‘Nation, Territory and Globalisation in Pakistan: Traversing the margins’ claims that “A by-product of the wars was the creation of modern Jammu and Kashmir in 1846.”
1846 was the year when the Treaty of Amritsar was signed. At that time the British colonial administration and Dogras did not have a clear idea about the northern frontiers of British India. That is why the territory of Maharaja Gulab Singh in the treaty was loosely defined as “hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies situated eastward of the river Indus…” Thereby, it excluded Hunza, Nagar, Ghizer, Gilgit and Chitral, which were on the west of the Indus. It took the next 100 years to map the unchartered territories situated in the regions spanning from Karakoram, Hindukush, Pamirs, the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau. Subsequently, it helped in boundary-making in High Asia in the twentieth century.
Herman Kreutzmann, in his paper ‘Boundaries and space in Gilgit-Baltistan’, is of the view that “The subsequent boundary-making was part of a strategy to consolidate spheres of influence across borders and significantly affected the areas which are nowadays part of Gilgit-Baltistan. The Karakoram principalities became entities that – in the case of Hunza and Nager – enjoyed a special status as autonomous states under the dual rule in the Gilgit Agency.”
Unlike the account propagated by the Kashmiri leadership, the fact is that the Kashmir valley experienced geographical mutations throughout its history. Even the redrawing of boundaries during the Dogra rule did not elicit any reaction from the then leadership of Kashmir. The Kashmir imbroglio emerged on the international scene only after the redrawing of boundaries after the establishment of the newly independent states of India and Pakistan. Therefore, it can be said that Kashmiri nationalism is a by-product of the apathetic cartographic activities of British explorers and adventurers in High Asia. Now the Kashmiri leadership adduces the same error to subjugate a non-Kashmiri region of Gilgit-Baltistan under the rubric of Kashmir.
When the Indian subcontinent was undergoing major political upheaval and geographical changes after independence from British rule, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan revolted against the exogenous Dogra rule and became independent. It is the only region that has acceded itself to Pakistan. On the other hand, Kashmir has followed a different direction. When the Kashmir issue was raised in the United Nations in 1948, the Pakistani government has made Gilgit-Baltistan a disputed territory in the hope that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan vote in favour of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan.
However, after 67 years, no resolution is in sight. It is injudicious on the part of Pakistani ruling class and Kashmiri leadership to make the region hostage to the Kashmir conflict for an indefinite period. India has already given representation, albeit symbolic, in Lokh Sabha to Gilgit-Baltistan, but it has not harmed the Indian stance on Kashmir. The inclusion of Gilgit-Baltistan will make the Pakistani position stronger. However, the Kashmiri leadership balk at any idea of making Gilgit-Baltistan a province of Pakistan and part of its constitution.
When the leaders are in need of support by the masses for their cause, then the rational way is to win hearts and minds by engaging with people and remaining empathetic to their aspirations. This is possible only when they feel the popular pulse. The Kashmiri leadership acts contrary to this rule, and behaves like a Dogra suzerain whose vassals would follow their whims, vagaries and reactions. The engagement of the Kashmiri leadership with the local people of Gilgit-Baltistan can be well gauged from the fact that none of the major Kashmiri political parties have a presence in the region. They have never ever won even a seat at the Union Council level let alone winning in a constituency of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA).
The postponement of the long overdue political status to Gilgit-Baltistan by Pakistan and opposition by the Kashmiri ruling class has already proven detrimental to the socio-political and economic empowerment of the region. In the long run the apathetic attitude of the Kashmiri leadership towards Gilgit-Baltistan will not only harm the Kashmiri cause. It may well be possible that the majority of the people in this region will not favour Kashmiris in a plebiscite because they fear their identity will be subsumed under Kashmiri nationalism.
For the last 67 years the socio-political, economic and demographic realities in Gilgit-Baltistan have undergone sea change. These developments brought about drastic changes in the political stance regarding Gilgit-Baltistan vis-à-vis Kashmir. Now the Kashmiri leadership cannot coerce the new generation by invoking and imposing decisions, treatise, categories, policies, views and identities manufactured by the colonial power for its vested interest.
The failure of the Kashmiri leadership to liberate Kashmir stems from their inability to create an indigenous narrative, and their over-reliance on decisions of which they themselves are victims. The only sane advice to the Kashmiri leadership and intelligentsia is to do away with narrative of seeing the same deprivations and sufferings in the ‘Other’ – Gilgit-Baltistan.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
SOURCE: THE NEWS