Gilgit and Baltistan: Pak’s new move on status

By K.N. Pandita

India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire in J&K on the night of 30-31 December 1948. India minced no words and claimed that the Maharaja had signed the Instrument of Accession of his entire state to the Indian Union and the latter pronounced J&K as an integral part of the Indian Union.

But Pakistan stuck to a different stance. She maintained that PoK meaning the part of the State-controlled by her in the post-ceasefire period was an independent entity and not an integral part of Pakistan. In a historic decision, the High Court of PoK declared that Gilgit-Baltistan was part of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan took the case to its Supreme Court.

Pakistan was hesitant to integrate PoK for two reasons: one, integration of PoK into the Dominion of Pakistan would deny Islamabad the logistical option of conducting military operations against Indian forces in J&K. Second, the Muslim League had conceded the independent identity of PoK when Sardar Ibrahim Khan announced the independence and sovereignty of PoK from the Dogra authority on 24 October 1947 at Muzaffarabad. He also announced setting up of the Azad Kashmir government. Pakistan would not want to lose the lever of PoK against India.

Pakistan’s contention is as this. A ceasefire was accepted by both sides and implemented on the midnight of 30-31 December 1948 – that is almost a year after the tribal lashkars had led an incursion into Kashmir. Did it not mean that Pakistan is a stakeholder? Did not the ceasefire agreement indirectly establish the authority of Pakistan over the part of the State that she controlled at the midnight stroke on 31 December 19048? It nullifies the argument that the fate of the PoK is yet to be decided or that the task of partition is still incomplete.

However, we shall recollect that ceasefire was meant to stop the fighting, give respite to the warring sides and find a peaceful solution to the problem. Pakistan-sponsored lashkars first invaded Muzaffarabad and then continued to fight for one full year to arrive at ceasefire decision. Contrarily, India first confirmed accession by the competent authority and then only brought in her forces to push back the invaders. There is a difference in their standpoints.

As the incursion of tribal lashkars preceded Gilgit Scouts rose in rebellion against the authority of the Maharaja of J&K. Captain Brown of the British Army commanding the Gilgit Scouts led that revolt. Thakur Ghansara Singh, the Governor of Gilgit Wazarat was defeated, arrested and deposed from authority. The Muslim contingents of the State force mutinied and attacked and killed the Gorkha soldiers of the State Army in Skardu. Indian forces could not come to their rescue. This was a war going on between the two countries and the ceasefire agreement put a seal on the issue of what area remained occupied by which side. Don’t forget that India took the case to the UN Security Council with the explicit request of ensuring that the invading lashkars and Pak regulars were thrown out of the territory of J&K State as they were invaders.

Possession is the nine-tenth of law. Pakistan has owned PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan ever since. That is true but the point is that India never accepted that position of Pakistan. Its stand on the matter was more than clear when in 1994 an Indian Parliamentary resolution asserted its right and ability to take back the illegally occupied territories of the original state. Why India did not take it back is a different question. As a responsible country wedded to democratic dispensation India has always emphasized bilateral dialogue and no third party mediation. India is still holding that line. Moreover, the SC Resolution of 1948 stipulated that Pakistan would withdraw all its forces and fighting personnel from the PoK, the central authority of administering the state would be restored to Srinagar, India would reduce the number of her troops in the valley and, thereafter, the SC would proceed with the plebiscite in the State. Pakistan failed to fulfil its commitment and instead of withdrawing, she reinforced her strength in PoK. The UN Resolution in question lost its sanctity.

Indian policy planners expected that Pakistan would be willing to make a deal and convert the LoC into an international border. This was phantasmal. Why did not the Indian planners take into account the ultimate objectives and strategies of the British colonial power particularly at a time when the Bolshevik revolution had succeeded in the Central Asian region and communist ideology, prompted by the lurking desire of reaching the hot waters of the Indian Ocean was spreading out its fangs southward. Why should India have expected Pakistan to come forward and make a deal with India? She had already been part of military alliances of the Anglo-American bloc like Baghdad Pact, CENTO, and SEATO. Northern areas were strategical of crucial importance to the Anglo-American bloc and they were too willing to see that Pakistan remained more aligned than the allies.

Moreover, India reduced her weight in regional strategy by pandering to the Non-Aligned movement forgetting her strategic importance in the India-Pacific region. A country weak militarily as well as economically, should have been very discreet in giving her adversaries any chance of suspecting her credentials.

When China hounded us down in Arunachal Pradesh and Nehru begged for military assistance from the US, the entire western world laughed at our naivety. To the Russians, China was a brother while India was a friend.

Rise of China as the new powerful economic and military actor on the South Asian political chessboard completely changed the entire political scenario in Northern India particularly the UT of J&K. Under pressure from China, Pakistan is looking for a way out that would allay the fears of China about the ultimate status of Gilgit Baltistan. She has stakes in CPEC and R&B. Islamabad has devised integration of Gilgit Baltistan into the national territory and thus does away with the court order that has recognized this region as part of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir.

As was expected, India lodged a strong protest against Pakistan intending to convert Gilgit Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan. However, it has to be noted that India has only lodged a protest and not extended any threat that would intrinsically recall the Indian parliament’s unanimous resolution of 1994.

The interesting aspect of this development is to find out if Pakistan’s move of integrating GB into the national territory is only a gimmick or is fraught with a well-calculated sequential resolution of Kashmir issue.

If the gamble of Pak Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political adviser, Moeed Yusuf, makes any sense, particularly when he has clout with the Americans and had also visited New Delhi in 2018, does it come into play somewhere and somehow in the current situation? One can understand that China’s interests lie in a peaceful resolution of Kashmir issue provided it gives her leverage in converting Gilgit Baltistan as the ultimate Himalayan. China has very shrewdly caught the time by the forelock. Moscow no more evinces interest in India having a foothold in Gilgit Baltistan or blocking China’s mobility south of the Karakorum, nor does she consider it feasible to adopt rivalling attitude towards China.

With India agreeing to barter Gilgit Baltistan with her part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and ensuring the deal through an international or preferably UN-sponsored formula; there could be chances for grabbing the elusive peace in the region. But any proposal along these parameters has to be discussed at length and preferably in consultation with big powers.

China also understands that with Modi at the helm, there is a good possibility of pushing the broad contours of negotiations because Modi has the capacity of absorbing the resentment from a wide segment of Indian society. But the crux of the formula is what Dr Manmohan Singh the former prime minister of India expressed a couple of times during his tenure. He had said that there could be no redrawing of the LoC, though of course, straightening some minor angularities may not be ruled out. China cannot run away with Aksaichin and Shaksgam valley.

In any scheme of this nature, some nagging issues and by-issues will have to be taken care of. These pertain to demographic complexities, internal displacements, rehabilitation of displaced and marginalized people and establishing the broad contours of bilateral trade between the two countries under the aegis of the World Bank or other international agencies. The nitty-gritty has to be addressed with patience.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar).

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