Gilgit Baltistan and the Great Game

Dr Shabir Choudhry
A famous historian Peter Hopkins in his work ‘Great Game’ asserted that the ‘Great Game’ was finally brought to ‘an end. The two rival empires had at last reached the limits of their expansion.’ After Kashmir National Party study tour of the region in October 2010, I wrote:
‘The above lease (of Gilgit Wazarat) and developments clearly show that the ‘Great Game’ did not end as claimed by historian Peter Hopkins. If anything, a new dimension was added to this ‘Great Game’; and the British became more concerned about the designs of the Soviet Russia. To the British and other capitalist countries, Russia, under the Communists, was more dangerous and aggressive than under Tzar of 19th Century.’
Now because of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor enormous importance is added to these areas; hence a new chapter in the Great Game. The Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan, while protecting interests of Islamabad, as they have installed him there has stated:
Gilgit, Baltistan and Astore are disputed districts since they were part of the Dogra State of Jammu & Kashmir; however, Ghizer, Diamer, Hunza and Nagar districts are not disputed and therefore an integral part of Pakistan.
When Hafiz Hafeez Ur Rehman was not the Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan he met Kashmir National Party delegation and said: ‘We are all one, but we have been divided for so many decades. We were cut off from the rest of the State and we had no interaction; and because of this alienation there are problems of understanding views and difficulties of each other’. 2
Hafiz Hafeez Ur Rehman further told us that ‘when he went for a conference in Srinagar; he was seen with suspicions, even though I was going to my own country which has been divided by force. In a reply to one question he said to one Pakistani agency man ‘I am going to my homeland and see how our brothers are living there’.4
It is clear he was talking about the entire region of Gilgit Baltistan and not certain parts; and his recent change in stance is to make things easier for his political masters in Islamabad that they can usurp Gilgit Baltistan, or some parts to pave way for the completion of CPEC project.
Legal Position
Irrespective of the views of individuals which are subject to change due to pressures or some incentives, we can prove from the historic documents that all areas of Gilgit Baltistan were, and are constitutional part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. When the British took charge of Gilgit Wazarat they had a written agreement with the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. One only needs to look at articles 1 and 2 of the Agreement. Article one stated:
….but notwithstanding anything in this agreement the said territory shall continue to be included within the dominions of His Highness the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.
Article II – In recognition of the fact that the said territory continues to be included within the dominion of His Highness the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir salutes and customary honours shall be paid in the said territory of the administration on the occasion of the birthday of His Highness, Baisakhi, Dussehra, Basant-Panchmi and on such other occasions as may be agreed upon by His Excellency the Viceroy and Governor-General of India. The flag of His Highness will be flown at the official headquarters of the agency throughout the year.
So no matter what Pakistani Government and their foot soldiers say to usurp areas of Gilgit Baltistan, they cannot change legal and constitutional position. And no matter how nicely the Pakistani officials camouflage their designs, their position in Gilgit Baltistan will always be that of an occupier.
The rights the British granted to the Maharaja Hari Singh in 1935, the Pakistani occupiers are not prepared to give in 2016. Pakistan has total control of the entire Gilgit Baltistan and they regularly lease out very valuable areas to Chinese and other non local people without even telling the local administration. However, the Article IV of the Agreement with British on Gilgit Lease stated:
All rights pertaining to mining are reserved to His Highness the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. The grant of prospecting licenses and mining leases will be made during the period of the agreement mentioned below.
New chapter of the Great Game
In October 2010, I wrote: A New Chapter of the Great Game is unfolding. In the past the main threat was from the Russia, now this danger is from other players with greater interest in the region. New threat is from China and the USA, with India also having keen interest in the region and ambition to revive the old Silk Route to boost economic and strategic goals….
…There is no doubt that Islamabad is facilitating China’s access to the Gulf, and in doing so strengthening China’s hold in strategically important areas; and this is of a great concern to America and India, as they feel their national and strategic interests could be endangered by Chinese assertive manoeuvres….
…It is debateable if India is capable, or even willing to do anything with regard to the above scenario, but the USA is not going to give China a free hand to dominate the region. It is believed that the Americans have also moved in to counter the Chinese threat. Soon after the floods in the summer of 2010, the USA under pretext of help for the flood victims sent a number of aircrafts which raised some eyebrows…
… China was not prepared to commit billions of dollars in a region which was disputed, and over which a major power (India) had a claim, so China demanded that Pakistan should determine its legal status. Under this pressure Pakistan hurriedly introduced ‘Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009’, to ‘legalise’ the annexation of these areas.
After failing to acquire the desired success in Afghanistan, the Americans realised that the problems of Afghanistan could not be resolved without targeting Pakistan, hence they coined a phrase “Af-Pak” that resulted in focussing certain targets inside Pakistan. Now after growing relationship between China and Pakistan, one analyst coined a phrase ‘Chi- Pak’. He quotes a prediction of a former Pakistani army officer Agha H Amin made in 2012 as follows:
“……Pakistani politicians will remain the puppets of the military; terrorism will remain a tool of foreign policy while the Pakistani military runs the Pakistani state under a facade of PPP or PML or Tehrik-i-Insaaf….. There is no doubt that Pakistan will be a semi autonomous Chinese province by 2030 or so… Pakistani Baluchistan by 2030 would be a completely Chinese run show…” 7
Pakistani media has reported that China has urged Pakistan to settle legal status of Gilgit Baltistan, a disputed area former State of Jammu and Kashmir which borders China, as “China cannot afford to invest billions of dollars on a road that passes through a disputed territory claimed both by India and Pakistan.” In view of this many TV channels of Pakistan arranged TV debates to assess advantages and disadvantages of making Gilgit Baltistan a Province of Pakistan.
After hearing this, people of Jammu and Kashmir from all sides of the divide expressed their strong resentment against Pakistani designs; and some even have threatened to resume a struggle against Pakistan.
On this issue a famous Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, said this move also show ‘Islamabad’s desire to end the Kashmir conflict by formally absorbing the territory it controls — and, by extension, recognizing New Delhi’s claims to parts of the region it controls, such as the Kashmir valley. “If we begin to absorb it so can India. It legitimizes their absorption of the Valley,” she said.
However, one newspaper on Tuesday, 12 January 2016 reported that Chinese have downplayed reports about its reservations over the status of this disputed territory. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told a media briefing that:
“The ownership of the Kashmir region is an issue between India and Pakistan left over from history and should be resolved through dialogues and consultations between the two sides.” 8
It should be noted that China has not been neutral on the issue of the Kashmir dispute. Apart from occupying areas of Jammu and Kashmir in the war with India in 1962, China received a gift of Jammu and Kashmiri territory from Pakistan in 1963. Pakistan, which illegally occupies the vast areas of Gilgit Baltistan, gifted approximately 2000 square miles of the Kashmiri territory (Shaksam Valley) from Gilgit Baltistan, which helped China to link with areas of Aqsai Chin occupied in the war of 1962.
Also China calls areas of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistan as ‘Northern Areas’; and term areas under India as ‘India-controlled Kashmir’.9 China has more than ten thousand troops in areas of Jammu and Kashmir under different pretexts, of course, they officially deny this. Intelligence reports confirm that China is busy digging more than 22 tunnels in Gilgit-Baltistan for deployment of missiles; and there are other areas which are explored for natural resources; and local owners of these lands are barred from going to these areas.
True Kashmiri nationalists openly criticised Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and regarded Pakistan as another occupier; but Pakistani agencies have been fooling people in name of Islam and Muslim brotherhood. If Pakistan officially makes Gilgit Baltistan a province of Pakistan, and includes these areas in the constitution, that will be construed as a stab in the back.
People of Jammu and Kashmir from all regions will oppose this illogical and imperialist move. However, our protests and fight back may not deter Pakistan to change its course.
It will be a test for India’s claim that the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is ‘an integral part of India’. Kashmir watchers and others with economic and strategic interests in the region will examine India’s sincerity to its claim; and India’s future ambitions and her ability to shoulder responsibilities in South Asia and beyond.
Furthermore, if CPEC project goes ahead as planned, it will give enormous powers and influence to China with regard to future of these areas. Then question arises, will India and America allow China with all her future planning and ambitions to sit in this roof of the world and dictate terms.
It is true both Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi were elected on the agenda of economic development, and powerful lobby with enormous economic muscle will not allow them to change the course and lead the countries to another war. However, for how long India and America will be held hostage to the threat of a possible nuclear war in the region; and allow encircling of India and proxy war to continue?
Wars cause destruction and kill innocent people; but the war lobby is very strong; and it is a big business. While tens of millions of people suffer as a result of wars, future of millions of people is also linked with the war lobby; and some have become extremely rich because of wars. In view of this and strategic reasons a limited and short war could not be ruled out.
The ball is in Modi’s court. He has an option to continue with the policy of his predecessors- ‘Abb kay maar aur daikh’ – hit me once again and see; or take a courageous stand which can ultimately enhance welfare of the people, and strengthen peace and stability of the region.


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