Gilgit Baltistan A Battleground For A Future War
By Dr Shabir Choudhry
01 April, 2011
Speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry in a Seminar held in House of Commons (the British Parliament) organised by The Democracy Forum on 31 March 2011.
Madam Chair, friends and colleagues Aslamo Alaykam and good afternoon. I am grateful to The Democracy Forum for arranging this seminar and for providing me this opportunity to express my views on this important topic.
I was once asked to speak on a topic of Mangla Dam upraising. This dam was built in Mirpur, Pakistani Administered Kashmir in 1967, to cater for power and water needs of Pakistan. After failing to build Kalabagh Dam in Pakistan, Pakistani authorities decided to upraise the Mangla Dam. In my speech I explained why Pakistan was upraising this dam and what its implications were.
After the speech one man said, ‘Your entire speech was against Pakistan and you have not said a single word against India’. I said to him, the topic was upraising of the Mangla Dam and Pakistani government was responsible for that, how could I drag India into this debate. But the man insisted that I should have, somehow, criticised India otherwise people would regard you pro India and anti Pakistan.
Unfortunately, over the years a political culture has been established that one has to overlook what Pakistani governments have done to the Kashmiris and continue to do so, but should actively and forcefully criticise India; in order to get a ‘certificate’ of being loyal to the cause of people of Jammu and Kashmir.
The topic of this seminar is Gilgit Baltistan, a region which is legally part of former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir; and which is illegally occupied by Pakistan. I don’t know how to criticise India for what Pakistan and China are doing in Gilgit Baltistan.
Perhaps, I can criticise India for having a contradictory policy on Gilgit Baltistan; and for remaining a silent spectator over the plight of people of this region who are oppressed and deprived of fundamental human rights.
Areas of Gilgit Baltistan have great strategic importance; and are also full of natural resources. Because of the strategic importance, these areas were very shrewdly separated from the rest of the State. Some parts of this region were leased by the British in 1935 to keep watch on advance of the Soviet Russia. Before the end of the British Raj, these areas were returned to the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir; but the British ensured that these areas didn’t get in to wrong hands.
William Alexander Brown, known as Major Brown played an important role in Gilgit Rebellion, and ensured that these areas remain under control of Pakistan. Major Brown must have done something worthwhile that he was awarded MBE by the British government; and a medal from Pakistan known as Star of Pakistan.
Let us briefly look at the role of Major Brown.
· He was born on 22 December 1922 and came to India in December 1941;
· He became an officer of Frontier Force Regiment which was later converted to Gilgit Scouts in 1943.
· He served Gilgit Scouts for 3 years and also learnt Pashto and Sheena languages;
· He was appointed Assistant Political Agent for Chilas;
· Between 1946 and July 1947 he served as an officer in Tochi Scouts and Chitral Scouts;
Because of his good rapport with the Gilgit Scouts, knowledge of the region and importance of these areas he was made a Commander of Gilgit Scouts on 29th July 1947;
He was an employee of the Jammu and Kashmir government up till 1st November 1947 when the Gilgit Rebellion took place.
Colonel Bacon who was a Political Agent of Gilgit met Major Brown and told him that Lord Mountbatten has decided to return areas of Gilgit Baltistan to the Ruler of Jammu and Kashmir on 1st August 1947. It was possible that the Maharaja could have appointed his own man as a head of Gilgit Scouts, but the British wanted to ensure that their trusted man is in control of the Gilgit Scouts – the only military force in the region.
Major Brown in his book ‘The Gilgit Rebellion’ notes, and I quote: ‘All Gilgit wanted was the peace and security afforded under the Pax Britanica and the method by which this could have been continued, despite partition, would have been to have made the Gilgit Agency an agency of the North West Frontier Province, directly under HE Governor. This would have ensured continuity in administration, peace, security, and unity: unfertile ground for Soviet seed. My duty was obvious. I must return to Gilgit and lead, advise and help the people over the transition period.’ Unquote
Source: Independence of Gilgit Baltistan, by Ghulam Rasool, page 122
So one can see his mission was clear. Although he was an employee of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir but his loyalty was not with him. On 30th July 1947 Briagdier Gansara Singh as a Governor of the area and accompanied by General Scott and Captain Saeed Durani reached Gilgit by air. A large crowed consisting of army officials, Gilgit Scouts, rulers of different regions and other notables welcome them.
Major Brown very quickly re-established his contacts with all important rulers of different regions and officers of the Gilgit Scouts, some of them were his personal friends and trusted colleagues. He also strengthened communal sentiments within the Gilgit Scouts, Jammu and Kashmir Army and among the ruling elite. In his book, The Kashmir Rebellion, Major Brown writes an account of a meeting with a son of Ruler of Nager, Raja Muzaffar Ul Din Shah who said, and I quote:
‘If Kashmir remains independent, well and good. We shall be independent here but we can also keep friendliest relationship with our brothers in Pakistan. If Kashmir accedes to Pakistan even better. But if the Maharaja through pig – headedness, bad advice, political pressure or attractive remuneration accedes to Hindustan, then there will be trouble here.’ Unquote
Raja Muzaffar Ul Din Shah further advises Major Brown, as to how he should handle the Gilgit Scouts – the only local armed force in the event of Kashmir joining India, because some units of the Gilgit Scouts were unpredictable and 6th Battalion of the Kashmir Infantry stationed at Bunji ‘would soon put an end to an insurrection of any sort.’
Major Brown also secretly won over support of some Muslim officers of the Maharaja army, which included Captain Hassan, Captain Saeed Durani, Captain Mohammed Khan and Lieutenant Ghulam Haider. One night during a drink session Captain Saeed and Captain Mohammed Khan said: ‘the Maharaja should remain independent, but if he joins India then as a true Muslims he will resign from the Kashmir Army.
The last straw was Major Brown’s disagreement over some administrative issue with Governor’s staff that came from Srinagar. The Governor sided with his staff; and Major Brown got extremely angry and locked himself up in a room to analyse the situation and plan his future action. In his book, The Gilgit Rebellion, Major Brown writes, and I quote:
‘I, therefore, felt it was my duty, as the only Britisher left, to follow a course which would prevent this. And further, as a liberal member of the world’s paragon of democracy, I considered that the whole of Kashmir, including Gilgit Province, unquestionably go to Pakistan in view of the fact that the population was predominantly Muslim. Partisan, traitor, revolutionary, I may have been, but that evening my sentiments dictated that if the Maharaja acceded to India, then I would forego all the allegiance to him and I would not rest content until I had done the utmost in my power to ensure that not only the Gilgit Province joined Pakistan, but the whole of Kashmir also.’ Unquote
Source: Independence of Gilgit Baltistan, by Ghulam Rasool, page 13
On 30th October 1947, Colonel Bacon, after his farewell party gave briefing to Major Brown, and concluded: “I give the Kashmir Administration three months in Gilgit. Then something will happen.”
Source: Independence of Gilgit Baltistan, by Ghulam Rasool, page 124
That something happened as predicted or planned; and sequence of events is very important in this. The Pakistani government, which included the British officials on key posts, hoped that the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir would join Pakistan, but once they realised that the Maharaja was not prepared to accede to Pakistan they managed the Tribal Invasion.
· Pakistani officials violated the Standstill Agreement with the Maharaja and the Tribal Invasion of Kashmir started on 22 October 1947;
· Realising threat to his throne and his people, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir asked India for help;
· Indian government asked the Maharaja to accede to India, which he did under pressure;
· The accession was provisionally accepted and the Indian forces landed in Srinagar on the morning of 27th October.
During all this time nothing happened in Gilgit Baltistan. Those who didn’t want Kashmir to become a part of India, or at least, Gilgit Baltistan to go to India, planned the tribal invasion hoping that they will have strategically important areas of the State under their control.
The plan didn’t work because the Tribesmen wasted 3 valuable days in Baramullah looting, raping women and celebrating their success. If they had proceeded to Srinagar they could have easily captured the capital before the arrival of the Indian troops, as there was no one to defend the city.
After the ‘Provisional accession’ on 26th October the Indian forces reached Srinagar on the morning of 27th October; but those who planned and controlled the tribal invasion did not do anything in Gilgit Baltistan because they hoped that Srinagar would be captured. Once they realised that the tribesmen were only good against the civilians, and they quickly retreated after encountering the Indian army, they gave a green signal to Major Brown and the much talked the Gilgit Rebellion took place on 1st of November 1947.
This region, as we all know, is legally part of former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has ruled this region with an iron fist and deprived people of their fundamental rights. Pakistan has virtually annexed these areas.
Role of China
Kashmir National Party sent a delegation to Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan to find out what was going on there. During our visit, we conducted a sample survey and have compiled a report on the visit, copies of which are available here.
It was reconfirmed that the people of Gilgit Baltistan were not happy with the rule of Pakistan. They were treated like colonised people; and their resources were looted and plundered; and in this regard government of China is also helping Pakistan.
Government of Pakistan and their proxies are trying to make China a part of the Kashmir Dispute. To me and my colleagues this is very dangerous move and could endanger peace and stability of Gilgit Baltistan and South Asia.
Some pro Pakistan Kashmiris claim that China is already a part of the Kashmir dispute, because China made some suggestions for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute in 1948. This is ridiculous argument. Many countries have, one way or the other, supported resolutions on Kashmir or opposed them; does that mean they are all part of the Kashmir dispute?
Apart from that China of 1948 is different to the China of today. Republic Of China joined the UN in October 1945; and under Article 23, became one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. But in October 1949 the Communist Chinese took over China and informed the UN on 18 November 1949.
The Communists ruled China as Peoples Republic of China, but they were not a member of the UN. However, the Republic Of China was relocated to Taiwan and enjoyed all the powers as the Permanent Member of the Security Council.
The present day China, which holds a veto power in the Security Council and has a large army in Gilgit Baltistan became a member of the UN in October 1971. So we can see that China and the people who made some suggestions about the resolution of Kashmir have no role in the Kashmir dispute.
I acknowledge we have one of the best Polo grounds in Gilgit Baltistan and people like to play and watch Polo matches, but believe me Chinese are not there to play Polo game. Their game is very dangerous and needs to be understood.
In the past danger to these areas and the Indian Sub continent was from the Russians; and now that danger is from China. It is unfortunate that this time government of Pakistan is very keen to provide helping hand to the Chinese to have a foothold in this region; which could be extremely disastrous to Gilgit Baltistan and South Asia. Pakistani government is playing this dangerous game, as they face instability and a bleak future. Pakistani governments want to ensure that if they go down, then these areas are taken over by China, and India or another power doesn’t step in.
For this purpose they want to make China a party to the Kashmir dispute, but they need to understand that if China becomes a party to the dispute they will also be a party to resolution of the Kashmir dispute; and that will create enormous problems for Gilgit Baltistan and the region.
China has its own agenda, not only related to Gilgit Baltistan but it goes far beyond the shores of Gawadar; and this is where China and India could be in direct competition with each other for markets and energy resources. This cold war or competition could attract other players in the region; and our region could become a battleground for a future war with disastrous consequences for Gilgit Baltistan and the entire region.
India wants to use Chabhar port of Iran, which is only 44 miles away from Gawadar Port, to have access to markets of Central Asia; and for this purpose they have completed 200 Kilo Meters of road in Afghanistan province of Nimroz, which will reduce its dependence on trucking goods through Pakistan.
What people of Gilgit Baltistan say?
Madam Chair, as pointed above we conducted a sample survey in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir during our visit; and found the views of the people quite interesting. We have published a complete report including the survey and it is available for the people to take away. However, I produce answers to 2 questions, which will give you an indication what is included in the report.
Q8.Who would you vote for, if there was an internationally arranged referendum with no threat of intimidation or coercion, and you were given only two options either to join India or Pakistan?
A. 45% said they will vote for Pakistan
B. 30% said they will boycott it
C. 15% said they will decide on the day
D. 10% said they will vote for India as they have seen what Pakistan is like
Q9. And if a Third Option of an independent Jammu and Kashmir is also included then who would you vote?
A. 60% said they will vote for the Third option of independence
B. 30% said they will vote for Pakistan
C. 10% said they will vote for India
Madam Chair, in conclusion, I want to say that those forces which planned the Tribal Invasion and the Gilgit Rebellion to cut off these areas from the rest of the State are back in action. This time their game plan is different. They want to drag in China and other powers in Gilgit Baltistan which will create enormous problems for the people of Gilgit Baltistan and the entire South Asia.
I thank you for your patience.
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