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Episode 1: A Window to Gilgit-Baltistan

A window to Northern Areas-I, The Muslim dated July 4, 1997.
By Syed Shamsuddin 

Most of our people even today seem quite oblivious of the geo-political position of Northern Areas while the exact historical background concerning Gilgit-Baltistan and where these must stand politically remains yet another subject of discussion. Not to speak of a layman, a person of the stature of Chief Executive of the country, once inquired whether the Northern Areas an integral part of the north west frontier province (NWFP). This happened when he rule the country in the aftermath of martial law. Yet another minister on Kashmir and Northern Areas, during the democratic government that followed, was pleased to tell a member of the northern areas council that he owed his minisitership not to them (Northern Areas people) but to the turbaned man of his constituency, standing at the door of his official chambers.

There is infact, dearth of substantial historical evidence as to when exactly man first crossed into the gigantic mountain ranges of the northern areas. However some scientists and historians after hectic efforts, now firmly believe that the people habiting, what was once called Biloristan, constituting almost the present Northern Areas, are of Aryan origin. But nevertheless, some hold that they are of Mongolian race and to some, they are Tatars, so on and so forth. Whatever be their racial and ethnic identity, it cannot be said that these people, all along history , always formed an indivisible administrative unit with socio-political and cultural homogeneity. From the inception and quite possibly before that as ancient traces corroborate this view.

History seems to have witnessed several convulsive ups and downs in the past rocking the very socio-political fabric of each principality of Gilgit and Baltistan which manly stemmed from the hegemonisitic designs of the neighboring powers, eased by the brewing domestic strifes and factional bickerings.

Ladakh was invaded in 1834 which was followed by the occupation of Baltistan (1840) though vainly, for the first time, as the occupation lasted only a while. The Saga of occupation of one after another, thus started unfolding a series of tug of war and long drawn out battles after this period, form the east side which on the west, the afghan tribal chiefs incursions into Chitral. On the south, the Pathans of tribal area used to intrude into sheenaki Kohistan for its subjucation. The aftermath of this hodgepodge of events, the local rulers of each principality unabatedly displayed chivalry with a tenacity of purpose and strived hard to hit back in order to regain their fiefdom. In the 6th century AD the territory of the North Areas almost oconstituted a compact administrative unit Biloristan. This also included Chitral in its fold while Dardistan on the Southern periphery, consisted of Darel, Tanghir, and Sheenaki Kohistan. Strictly speaking, Biloristan came into existance as a result of the tempestuous thrust of the Bhuddists from the East who succeeded in bringing all the territory from Ladakh to Chitral under their dominion in 4th century AD which continued till 9th century AD – a period of 300 hundred years. The ancient Stupa – rock carvings of Buddha, everywhere in the region is a pointer to the firm hold of the Buddhist rules for such a long time.

The entire area except the Baltistan are chiefly inhabited by Sheens and Yashkuns. The latter being in overwhelming majority. To some, each of the above tribes belong to different descent while some have reached the firm conclusion that both the tribes are basically from the same origin but halved merely for reasons of occupation. In another version. It is said that the area in the south comprising Sheenaki Kohistan, Darel and Tangir constituted Dardistan being wholly inhabited by a people called Dards. They made sporadic incursions northwards, to push the other tribe Brushoes further north, inside the valleys.

Leaving the above discussion aside, let us again revert to the 6th century ad to cast a cursory glance over events that shook that present Northern Areas and other apart contiguous to it, then extending from Ladakh in the east to Chitral in the west and with Baltistan as its capital. This vast compact until then had in its fold, the territories of Gilgit, Chitral, Diamir, Sheenaki Kohistan while on the eastern side it annexed Ladakh and the adjoining areas. This vast administrative unit lasted until 8th century AD.

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