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Baltistan (West Ladakh): 52 Years of Agony
by M. Hasnain Sengge Thsering

Although it has been more than 50 years since West Ladakh (Baltistan) became part of the Federal Government of Pakistan, the Government always failed to recognize this area as an integral part of the present Pakistan. In fact the government has never had a permanent stance regarding the status of Baltistan and Gilgit and its relationship to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, (a disputed territory in the north-east which is claimed by both Pakistan and India and of which, more than 40,000 sq. km of land is under occupation by the People's Republic of China).

Until the 1950s, the Pakistani governments used to declare the Northern Areas (consisting of West Ladakh and Gilgit) as part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir; which was under the temporary control of the Government of Pakistan. During the 1960s, Pakistan fought a war with India and the consequences brought her very close to Peoples' Republic of China. This new relationship provided Pakistan with security against a stronger India as well as being recognized by the super powers of the world.

As the relationship grew stronger, Pakistan realized the strategic importance of the "North" and found that Gilgit was an important town on the only land route to China. This compelled her to declare the Northern Areas as part of Pakistan and rejected all claims made by the Government of Azad Jammu & Kashmir (Part of Jammu & Kashmir State under the control of Pakistan) over Baltistan or Gilgit.

It was an obvious denial to the agreements made by Pakistan, India and the United Nations in 1950s and reflected the contradiction in the statements made by the previous Pakistani governments. The UNO agreements clearly stated that the Northern Areas belong to the State of Jammu & Kashmir and Baltistan is the Pakistani administered part of Ladakh. On Page 140 (No 151) of "High Court of Judicature, Azad Jammu & Kashmir - Verdict on Gilgit and Baltistan", the agreement between the government of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir is mentioned, as reproduced here:

"the second part, postulated in part III, was relevant as by virtue of that part of the agreement, the sphere of administrative jurisdiction was divided among the component parties to the agreement. The matters assigned to the government of Pakistan were listed under caption "A". These subjects were eight in number. It contained the responsibilities of the government of Pakistan in respect of all affairs of Gilgit and Ladakh, the area, at the relevant time (Baltistan under present circumstances, as the rest of Ladakh is under control of the Union of India), under the control of Political Agent, at Gilgit".

By the end of the 1960s, another violation took place when the government of Pakistan handed over part of Baltistan (approx 5,800 sq km) to the Peoples' Republic of China. This area, known as Shaksgam, encompasses the strategic Karakoram mountain range. Later, both governments signed an agreement declaring that once the dispute of the Jammu & Kashmir State is resolved, the control of China over Shaksgam will be reconsidered. An abstract of the agreement between Pakistan and PR China went as follows:

".the two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the government of the peoples' republic of China on the boundary, as described in Article II of the present agreement, of Kashmir so as to sign a boundary treaty to replace the present agreement. (Source: Dawn, Karachi March 3, 1963.")

On the other hand, the people of Baltistan and Gilgit always had a vague attitude concerning their actual standing viz. their recognition as Pakistani citizens or State Subjects . When Baltistan accepted the authority of Pakistan, they were released from the brutality of the Maharajas. Furthermore, they also got freedom from the domination of the Kashmiri Bureaucracy. The Sikh Maharajas had been very cruel to the people of Ladakh Wazarat. In doing so, they manipulated the Kashmiri officials and this laid an impression in the mind of the people of Ladakh that the Kashmiris were oppressors together with the Dogras.

Thus it should be noted carefully that for the people of Ladakh, both the Dogras and the Kashmiris were oppressors alike. The people of Baltistan reacted by always supporting the Pakistani regimes and disassociating themselves from Jammu and Kashmir. They have always demanded to become the fifth province of Pakistan but this has never been accepted by Pakistan, as this would weaken their claim on Kashmir and subsequently would enable India to merge the Ladakh and Jammu areas with her.

This stance of the local Balti people has been very unfortunate.  However it reflects the agony of the past and does not encompass the assessment of the future regarding the pros and cons related to the socio-economic and cultural realities. Moreover, this attitude will automatically cut them adrift from the Indian administered part of Ladakh.

Since the establishment of the current Army Regime, the government's position on Kashmir has changed significantly and for the first time in the last five decades, the government is ready to accept the realities, no matter what it costs to Pakistan. The government has taken a bold step to clear up issues that have been in a state of confusion and indecision for a long time; one of the them being the stance on J&K viz. The status of Baltistan and Gilgit.

In December 2000, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan clearly stated that Northern Areas are part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the people of this region would take part in the plebiscite which should be conducted under the supervision of UNO. This statement was further confirmed by the Federal Bureau of Foreign Affairs, a week later.

This was a complete 360 degrees turn, when compared to the policies maintained by the previous regimes. The people of the Northern Areas showed anxiety over this and reflected their sentiments through newspapers and conventions. There were different reactions from different political and religious parties regarding the statement of the Foreign Minister. Although the majority of the people accepted the truth (that Baltistan is part of Ladakh Wazarat); the prime concern was towards an ever-shifting stance of the government of Pakistan regarding this area.

In the meantime, the Press Club of Baltistan took the liberty of the prevailing circumstances and arranged an ALL PARTIES CONFERENCE at Baltistan level. The topic of the conference was "The Jammu and Kashmir State and the status (political & administrative) of Baltistan". Different political, religious and notable figures of the region were invited to express their views relating to the relationship of Baltistan with the Jammu & Kashmir State.

Although more than 50 guests were invited to attend the conference; only approximately 25 availed themselves of the chance of presenting their views. The political and religious parties that attended the meeting included the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), all factions of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), the Tehrik -e- Jafaria Pakistan (TJP), the Jamat Islami Pakistan, the Nationalist Groups including the Baltistan Students Federation (BSF), and different religious and sectarian groups representing the Shia, Nurbaxshi, Sunni and the Ahlehadith faiths, intellectuals and writers. Fortunately, I was also given the opportunity to express my feelings.

The Majority of the representatives of PML  emphasized that the people of Baltistan liberated themselves in 1948 and now they deserved to be recognized as Pakistanis, while one office bearer declared it as part of Wazarat Ladakh, subsequently recognizing Baltistan as part of the Jammu & Kashmir State.

The representatives of the Sunni and Ahlehadith factions of Baltistan  declared Baltistan as part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir and expressed their demand for the liberation of Kashmir.

The representatives of the PPP  presented a divided position. One representative, who is also the current member of the Northern Areas Legislative Council from Skardo City, stated that the Northern Areas are part of Pakistan and their party did not desire to seek the unification of Baltistan with J&K. On the other hand, the PPP President of the Baltistan region stressed that the people of the Northern Areas should accept any deal made by India and Pakistan so that the problem of the status of Baltistan could be resolved as soon as possible.

The representative of the Jamat Islami  Pakistan party declared that the Northern Areas are an inseparable part of J&K and that the local population should not desire provincial status. The Jamat's emphasis was more on "Jehad".

The two representatives of the Nurbaxshi Sect  emphasized the need for unification of both parts of Ladakh situated on both sides of LOC. They declared that although the choice of selecting any option is not in our hands, nevertheless, the people of Baltistan opted for Pakistan in 1948 and this would be our first choice. Regardless of this, if Pakistan had decided to amalgamate us with the Jammu & Kashmir State, then we should readily accept the verdict. Baltistan is the divided part of Ladakh and we request Pakistan, India and the World Powers to strive for the reunification of Ladakh. If Baltistan and Ladakh were united, then we could survive under any option.

The TJP  was represented by the General Secretary as well as a member of the Northern Areas Legislative Council from the Shigar constituency of Baltistan. They said that Baltistan is divided from Ladakh. It has the right to seek reunification with Ladakh as is desired by the people of Kashmir, who are striving to be reunified with the Indian held Kashmir. Before, 1947, Baltistan had always remained part of Ladakh Wazarat and therefore, whenever a plebiscite is arranged in the future in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the regions of Baltistan and Ladakh should be united as one entity to determine their choice. Moreover, their choice should be accepted and respected by everybody.

The General Secretary, TJP stressed that although Baltistan is a part of Jammu & Kashmir State, but it does not portray that this area has ever remained a part of Kashmir Raj (the vale of Kashmir). Therefore, in future, if Baltistan has to negotiate with the political parties of Kashmir, then Baltis will accept it on the basis that Kashmir and Ladakh Wazarat share equal status as provinces of Jammu & Kashmir State. The Kashmiris should realize and accept that Baltistan or Ladakh are not ready to accept an inferior status and will never accept the domination of representatives of the Vale.

He also said that the stance of the Azad Jammu & Kashmir Government regarding Baltistan is embarrassing, as they never spoke on "our behalf" during the last five decades. Moreover, they were not the real representatives of the Jammu & Kashmir State as a whole. He added that the Hurriyat Conference is not the real representative of the people of the Jammu & Kashmir State because they do not have any representation from the areas of Baltistan, Gilgit, Ladakh, Jammu or Poonch.

During the current year, the governments of India and Pakistan are providing opportunities to the Kashmiris to meet each other. The TJP demanded that the same opportunity should be offered to the people of Ladakh Wazarat and that until the dispute of Jammu & Kashmir State is solved, the people of the Northern Areas should be awarded all rights and be given equal status to other citizens of Pakistan.

Before closing the conference, the Nationalists expressed their opinion. The group was represented by the Chairman of the Municipal Council Skardo, the President of the Baltistan Students Federation and myself.

The group emphasized the need to utilize this opportunity to lead the nation to the right direction. For the past 52 years, nobody has felt the need to enlighten the nation about the real political and administrative situation of the Northern Areas concerning the J&K issue. To give a thought to the future of the nation is the responsibility of those who understand and realize, otherwise the whole community would have to follow the commands of others; majority of those who might not show any sincerity to our people or the region.

The group emphasized that it would be unjust to declare that the Northern Areas has no connection to the J&K dilemma. We would not have gathered here if we were not concerned about this issue. Ladakh-Baltistan and Gilgit are the regions which have been most affected by this dilemma. Therefore, it is our responsibility to remain aware of the changing trends and look for a solution, favourable to us.

It is a historical fact that Baltistan remained part of Dogra state, although it would be wrong to consider Baltistan as part of Kashmir province (the Vale) giving an impression that Kashmiris actually have the right of successorship to the Dogra Regimes.

In "Crisis of Kashmir", Alistair Lamb has described the position of the State, at pages 17 and 18, as:

"In fact, the State contains at least five distinct regions. First, there is Kashmir proper, the so-called Vale along the upper reaches of the Jhelum River with its capital at Srinigar. Second, there is the State of Jammu, with its center at Jammu city. Third, there is the district Poonch: and fourth, the very extensive tract of Ladakh and Baltistan. Finally, in the northwest is the Gilgit region, comprising Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Gilgit Agency, Yasin, Ishkuma, Hunza and Nagir"

Mr. Joseph Korbel, Member of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), in his book "Danger in Kashmir" at pages 5,6,92 and 202, has described the status of all regions of Jammu & Kashmir State as under:

"The term (Kashmir), as is generally used (for the whole state), is actually not accurate. It applies (only) to one part of the entire country, the official name of which is the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The state consists of several regions. Its heart is the famous Vale of Kashmir. South of it is the Jammu province, to the east is Ladakh, and north of it, Baltistan; farther north are the regions of Hunza and Nagir, and west of them, the Gilgit agency, composed of several political districts. West of the Vale are the districts of Muzaffarabad, Riasi, Poonch and Mirpur."

On page 23 (No 15) of the same book, the author has described the geographic boundaries of the Jammu & Kashmir State. It states:

".the final shape of J&K state, therefore was articulated during the regime of Ranbir Singh. It was administratively divided into provinces of:

3Ladakh; and
4Gilgit and Frontier Ilaqas.

(Frontier Ilaqas comprised of:

7Ishkomen; and

Covering an area of 14,680 sq. miles)"

Thus, from the above-mentioned statements, it is clear that the State of Jammu & Kashmir prior to August 15, 1947, was administratively divided into provinces and Kashmir was just one of the provinces of the "State" and all regions within the Jammu & Kashmir State held equal status to each other. It is obvious from these facts that one occupied region alone cannot be master of the others.

Although the government of Pakistan has shown no interest in acknowledging Gilgit as part of the Jammu & Kashmir State, historical facts prove that Gilgit, together with Baltistan and Ladakh remained part of the Maharaja's State as long as other regions such as Jammu and Kashmir remained under their rule.

On page 4 of the book, High Court of Judicature, Azad Jammu and Kashmir - Verdict on Gilgit and Baltistan (No. 3), it is mentioned as:

"Gilgit was leased out by the then erstwhile ruler of the state (Maharaja Hari Singh) in favour of British government of India through a leased-deed executed on March 26, 1935. "

The same book at page 48 (No 51) reads,

"..thus, the British government secured lease of the area of Gilgit Wazarat for a period of sixty years. The lease was signed on March 26, 1935. As a result of the treaty of lease, changes were made in the nomenclature of the administrative units as:

1Ladakh Wazarat (comprising Tehsils of Leh, Kargil and Skardo);
2Astore district (formerly part of Gilgit district);
3Gilgit (leased area) district;
4Gilgit Agency

The Maharajas maintained their rule over the Ladakh region for more than a century. They formed a Wazarat (Governorship) of Ladakh out of Purig, Baltistan, Zanskar and central Ladakh (including Changthang). Although, some factions do not agree that Ladakh Wazarat held the status of a Governorship,  it can be proved from documents that the Wazir of Wazarat held the authority of a Governor of a province.

On page 54 of the book, High Court of Judicature, Azad Jammu and Kashmir - Verdict on Gilgit and Baltistan (No. 58), the term Governor is defined and reproduced from the Declaration as:

"-----under the provisions of "Prevention of Sedition Act, 1971 Bik.", the term "Governor" was defined under Section 2(3). It is:

"Governor" means the governors of Jammu and Kashmir and the Wazirs of Ladakh and Gilgit with their respective jurisdiction."

Through the formation of a Wazarat comprising of Balti, Purig, Zanskar and central Ladakh, the Maharajas united the areas under one administrative block - areas already united under similar cultures, traditions, language, ethnicity, religious beliefs, trade and socio-economic links. Skardo was given the status of the winter capital of the Wazarat whereas Leh was the summer capital. The Wazarat was divided into Leh, Kargil and Skardo sub divisions.

The people of Ladakh Wazarat also received representation in the State assembly, which proves their equal status to the Kashmir and Jammu provinces. As recorded from the book:

".the assembly was partly representative as some of the members were nominated by the Ruler of the State. Among them, five members were nominated from Wazarats of Ladakh and Gilgit; two were Buddhists from Leh, one Muslim from Skardo, one Muslim from Kargil and one Muslim from Gilgit Wazarat~ the nominated members from Ladakh Wazarat, were:

1Raja Jigmet Dadool of Stok, from Leh
2Nono Thsewang Rinchan from Leh
3Raja Fateh Ali Khan of Skardo from Skardo
4Mr. Ahmed Ali Khan from Skardo

and from Gilgit Wazarat

5Raja Reza Khan"

The actual area and population of the different provinces of Jammu & Kashmir State are described on page 24 (No 16) of the same book. It says:

" The Jammu & Kashmir State spreads over 84,471 sq. miles. The area of Jammu province was 12,378 sq. miles; Kashmir province 8,539 sq. miles; and Ladakh, Gilgit and Frontier Ilaqas (Northern Areas) 63,554 sq. miles. According to the census of 1941, the total population of the state."

Again, on page 40 (No 48), the writer states:

"In the census of India, 1911, volume XX, Part I, REPORT ON KASHMIR, administrative set up of the state, as divided at the relevant time, was described at page 6. The province of Jammu comprised of:

4Reasi; and
5Mirpur districts.

Kashmir province comprised of:
1Kashmir north;
2Kashmir south; and

The frontier area comprised of:
1Ladakh Wazarat; and
2Gilgit and Frontier Ilaqas

The internal Jagirs and dependencies were described as:

2Bhadarwah; and

This administrative description was followed in the subsequent reports for the years 1921, 1931, and 1941.

The position which emerged in 1941, as seen in the census report described above, in respect of the Frontier Districts, was:

1Wazarat Ladakh, with Leh, Skardo and Kargil as Tehsils
2Gilgit, with Gilgit Wazarat and Astore as Tehsils
3Frontier Ilaqas ."

By 1948, as different nations were fighting to annex the State, the Wazarat of Ladakh existed with all its areas intact. Within a few months of the war and the tribal attacks, the whole scenario changed and Ladakh Wazarat got divided between Pakistan and India. Later, in all the agreements between Pakistan, India and the UNO, Baltistan was always referred to as Ladakh or the Pakistani administered part of Ladakh.

A few years later, the Gilgit Wazarat, the Gilgit Agency and Baltistan (the part of Ladakh under Pakistani administration) were transformed into one administrative unit known as the Northern Areas. This has been referred on page 40 (No 48) of the book; High Court of Judicature, Azad Jammu and Kashmir - Verdict on Gilgit and Baltistan as:

" present, Gilgit, Baltistan (part of Ladakh) and the former Frontier Ilaqas are designated as "the Northern Areas".

All the above-mentioned references clearly state the links between Baltistan and Ladakh confirming the centuries old bond. Technically speaking, the political relationship of Baltistan with J&K is a mere coincidence and only became a reality when the Dogras invaded both lands to unite them under one administrative area. Therefore, without acknowledging the connection of Ladakh and Baltistan, the link with Kashmir or Jammu does not become obvious.

After 52 years of confusion, distrust and disillusion, the world is considering the chances of reunification of both parts of the Jammu & Kashmir State. Now the question arises whether Baltistan should be directly incorporated into Pakistan or should the status of Ladakh Wazarat be restored in order to amalgamate the area with the Jammu & Kashmir State. By recognizing Baltistan as part of the Jammu & Kashmir State, it also gets the chance to choose from one of the many options emerging on the political arena i.e. incorporation of the State into Pakistan, India or a division between both. Some groups also talk of an independent State. Others talk of division on ethnic grounds and some consider religion to be the determining factor. China, who is occupying more than 40,000 sq. km of Ladakh must also not be forgotten as they have forwarded claims to the UNO over Baltistan, Ladakh and Hunza-Nagar on different occasions. The more one thinks of this matter, the more options appear for consideration.

The political history encompassing the last 50 years shows that J&K is no longer an internal matter for India or a bilateral problem for India and Pakistan. It is more than obvious that the involvement of the "Super Powers" into this matter has increased over the last few decades and that now India or Pakistan  alone cannot solve this issue according to their preferences. Furthermore, since 1998, the increasing world recognition and acceptability towards the different political factions of the J&K state has compelled both Pakistan and India to listen and acknowledge the legitimate status of the "Kashmiris" as the "third party". The world powers have been successful in manipulating these factions to incorporate their interests and understanding of the situation. Hence, it could be predicted that one day, India and Pakistan might have to submit to the wishes of the state subjects. If they do so, the interests of all the parties have to be addressed in order to achieve the best result.

What ever the solution is to this dilemma, at least one thing is obvious, that the result should satisfy all the players. Players like the United States of America, the European Community, India, Pakistan, the Peoples' Republic of China, the United Nations Organisation, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as well as the State Subjects (currently only Kashmiris). So where do the people of Ladakh and Baltistan stand?

It is high time and the need of the hour to define our role by sensing the shifting trends. We should try to assess the factors that govern our fate and show our immediate intention to tackle those issues. One thing is clear that as long as Ladakh and Baltistan is divided, nothing would happen to promote our interests. Therefore, our major focus and concern should be to work together for the unification of both parts of Ladakh Wazarat. The concerns for the amalgamation with any of the "OPTIONS" should remain the second priority. Instead of opposing the different possibilities related to our political future, we should rather try to turn those options in our favour and try to come up with some solution - in our best interest.

While selecting any of the options, social features like culture, language, historical background, religion, trade, economic security should be addressed as well. Each factor should be analyzed before deciding the possible options.

If today, Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control (LOC) desire reunification, it is basic right of the people of Baltistan and Ladakh to look for the possibilities of their reunification as well. Although we should hope for the "BEST" but we must be prepared for the "WORST" conditions. I strongly believe that if unification of both parts of Ladakh Wazarat is made possible; then surviving under the "WORST" circumstances might not be difficult. We have to assess how we can strengthen our links with Ladakh and why this link seems "INEVITABLE".

In future, if Ladakh Wazarat accepts the status of a province, then the necessity to unify both parts of the Wazarat intensifies. The unified Ladakh would be stronger and subsequently would be able to demand enhanced cultural, social, political and economic status. In this way, we can talk of more autonomy, free legislation, and protection and ownership of local natural resources. In total, we will achieve more "CIVIC SECURITY". In order to ensure freedom of expression and religion, it would be necessary to maintain the secular face of the State. The unification of Ladakh Wazarat would also help in maintaining the secularity of the Jammu & Kashmir State. This way, we would be able to improve relations with our neighbours.

The unification factor will increase the population of Ladakh and subsequently strengthen our status as compared to the other ethnic groups within the state. The area of Ladakh Wazarat is massive, i.e. approx 118,000 sq km. This will also give it an edge over the other provinces. The border of our province would touch the countries of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, P R China, India and Pakistan, turning this region into a principal trade and transit route and a tourist spot. Moreover, heavy economic investments by different development agencies are expected in this area in the future. With the advent of an economic boom, it is expected that our culture, traditions, sports, heritage perseverance, language etc. will receive prime attention reviving the centuries old civilization.

God has given us the opportunity to find optimum solution for this region. This way, we can ensure a prosperous future for the coming generations. We must not let others make decisions for us. If we fail to respond to this prevailing situation, then we might face another crisis similar to the one that happened in 1948, when the local population were forced to accept something they did not agree with.

We should extend our full co-operation to initiate dialogues with other interested parties of the Jammu & Kashmir State so that our demands could be heard. We should also request that the Indian government allow Ladakhis on both sides of the LOC to talk to each other. The people of Baltistan should condemn the Kashmiri government of Srinigar for showing discrimination by holding prejudices against the Ladakhis in India and trying to divide them on the basis of religion while denying them their socio-economic and political rights.

The people of Ladakh and Baltistan have tolerated the separation of the Wazarat for the last five decades. In 1948, Ladakh and Baltistan were separated through a conspiracy and we have to face its consequences. Now it is becoming a reality and a concern of the community that if a solution for the Jammu & Kashmir State is proposed which ends in a division of Wazarat Ladakh, then it will be a threat to regional security and to the local people as well. A divided Ladakh and Baltistan under any of the options might never be able to achieve that which this region and the people desire for themselves. The division of Ladakh and Baltistan amongst two or three countries would go against the interests of the region and the people, and this unnatural division should be dealt with strong opposition from both sides of the LOC.