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The Myth of Northern Areas' linkage with J&K-I"

Gilgit-Baltistan (including Raksham and Shagsham) and Jammu & Kashmir

By Shah Waisey

Professor Khan Zaman Mirza in his article in The Muslim of July 20, 1991 has tried to portray the Northern Areas as an integral part of the erstwhile Dogra State of Jammu & Kashmir. It is imperative to analyze his arguments in the historical perspective so that the nature of relationship between the two would be clearly understood.

Prior to the penetration into the Northern Areas by the Dogras, Sikhs and the British, the region was apportioned into a dozen small principalities which were ruled by despotic, independent rulers. These rulers, due to their territorial ambitions and family feuds were perpetually engaged in internecine warfare.
Taking advantage of these local rivalries and factional bickering, the Dogras of Jammu and the Governor of Sikh Darbar of Srinagar started intruding into the area. The Dogras of Jammu occupied Ladakh in 1834. The Governor of Sikh Darbar of Kashmir attacked Baltistan in 1835 but was ignominiously defeated by Raja Ahmed Shah of Skardu. Meanwhile, a family dispute cropped up between Raja Ahmed Shah and one of his sons, which finally led to occupation of Baltistan by the Dogras in 1840. In 1842, there was a general uprising in the whole of baltistan against the Dogras which was ruthlessly quelled.

The saga of occupation of Gilgit and its adjoining principalities unfolds a series of tug of war and long drawn battles between the invaders and the inhabitants of these areas. In 1842, the Governor of Sikh Darbar of Srinagar dispatched a huge army towards Gilgit ostensibly for helping Raja Karim Khan of Gilgit and Raja Issa Bahadur of Punial to regain their freedom from Raja Gauhar Aman of Yasin who had occupied Gilgit.

After a severe battle, the Sikh Army captured Gilgit Sub Division, while Gauhar Aman tactically retreated to village Sharote in Gilgit. Meanwhile, the treaty of Amritsar between the British and the Sikhs (1846) created the Dogra State of Jammu and Kashmir under Muharaja Ghulab Singh.

In 1851, Raja Gauhar Aman again attacked Gilgit and ransacked the Dogra garrisons. The Dogra forces ran helter-skelter to Bunji on the left side of the Indus. The redoubtable Gauhar Aman heroically resisted and repulsed many Dogra attacks. In 1852, he inflicted a humiliating defeat upon the Dogras by annihilating entirely a huge army under Bhoop Singh. After this defeat the Dogra forces never dared to attack Gilgit as long as Gauhar Aman lived.

After Gauhar Aman’s natural death in 1860, the Dogra forces again occupied Gilgit and also captured Yasin in 1861. But soon the Dogras were driven out of Yasin by Gauhar Aman’s son. Though the Muharaja had a foothold in Gilgit Sub Division, his position was very precarious. The adventure turned out to be a quagmire for his forces. There were hostilities from all sides. Hunza and Nagar forces were a constant source of harassment for them. Raja Gauhar Aman’s sons continued with their struggle to dislodge the Dogras from Gilgit through a series of abortive attacks in 1867, 1868 and 1880.

The British had created the Hindu State of Jammu and Kashmir to provide a buffer zone on the Muslim frontier and also to use it as an instrument to further British interest and sphere of influence among the minor powers on the frontiers. Seeing it bogged down in Gilgit the British Indian Government started taking direct control of Gilgit affairs by setting up a British Agency in 1877.

The Agency was withdrawn in 1880 due to being risky and costly. However, in view of impending Russian encroachments in Pamir, the British Agency was reopened in 1889. The British Indian Government then moved swiftly to bring the hostile tribes under its control and to lure through friendship and allowances some of the amenable ones.

With this aim in view, they captures Chilas and Gahkuch in 1891. The combined forces of British India and the Dogra State under the command of Col Algernon Durand defeated Hunza nd Nagar forces for the first time at Nilt in 1891-92. These two tiny independent States were brought under the control of the British Agent at Gilgit.

After relieving the mini-siege of Chitral that State was brought under the direct control of the British Indian Government in 1895. The areas of Gupis, Yasin and Ishkoman were detached from Chitral and merged into Gilgit Agency. With the capitulation of Chitral, the long drawn struggle of subjugation of the principalities of Gilgit region, which was started by the Sikhs in 1842 continued by Dogras at the behest of the British in 1860, was finally accomplished by the British themselves in 1895. It took 35 years and the combined forces of British India and the Dogra State to completely subdue all the tribes of Gilgit and its adjoining areas.

The civil affairs of Gilgit Wazarat i.e. Gilgit Sub Division, Astore and Bunji only were in the hands of Kashmir officials known as Wazir Wazarat. Military and foreign affairs of the whole Agency including Gilgit Wazarat and civil affairs of political areas were in the hands of the British Agent who was responsible to the British Resident in Kashmir. In other words, Gilgit Agency was directly administered by the Federal Government of British India.

To end this diarchy, only Gilgit Wazarat and not the whole of Gilgit Agency was taken on lease for 60 years in 1935. After the lease, the whole of Gilgit Agency was made a compact administrative unit under the British Agent and run directly by the Central Government through British Resident in Kashmir. In 1947, the lease was terminated and the whole of Gilgit Agency was surreptitiously handed over to the representative of the Maharaja of Kashmir who took over as Governor on August 1, 1947. The lease was only for Gilgit Wazarat which constituted a small portion of the whole Agency.

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