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The Faultline Between Pakistan & Gilgit-Baltistan

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Research and commentary

The territory currently called “Gilgit-Baltistan” comprising an extensive area of about 72900 sqr km is encircled by four “Nuke Powers” i,e; China, India, Pakistan and Soviet Russia. It is home to about 1.5 million of people with a diverse demographic constitution to be reckoned with as 40 percent (approx) Tibetans, 40 percent Indo Arians and 20 percent consisting other different ethnic groups. The past history of the region is such that it comprised a cluster of more or less 12 independent States or dominions ruled over by a few dynasties. During 18th Century AD, Dogra Forces conquered Gilgit & Baltistan and made it a part of the Jammu & Kashmir (State). In August 1947, a close relative of the Maharaja of Kashmir, Brigadier Ghansara Singh was posted to Gilgit region as the new Governor of Gilgit whilst the British Officer Major William Brown as the Commandant of the Gilgit Scouts - an arrangement that continued untill 31st October, 1947. With the emergence of Pakistan on the world map on 14th August 1947 as the homeland for the Muslim population of the subcontinent, the whole population of Gilgit & Baltistan groaning under the oppressive suffocative rule of the Dogras, resolved to throw off yoke of subjugation foisted on them by the Dogras. Ever-since the forcible occupation of their land the latter aiming at and resolutely yearning to join Pakistan.
It is noteworthy that the 6th J&K Infantry - a part of the regular State army stood posted/garrisoned at Bonji, Astore, to provide assistance to the Dogra Governor in Gilgit in case of any eventuality. It is worth mentioning that most of the Muslim officers of the State army at Bunji and Gilgit Scouts (GS)- a small semi-military Company consisting on local youth, were in favor of freeing the region from the clutches of the Dogras in order to join Pakistan. It has to be born in mind that in order to materialize a plan like this and a consequent revolution to happen, there was dire need of building communication between the Gilgit Scouts at Gilgit consisting of 100 percent local Muslims and the Muslim officers of the 6th J&K State Infantry Regiment at Bunji without which the move to liberate Gilgit could have been a mere pipedream. Precisely, the local Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) of the Gilgit Scouts headed by a member of Nagar Royal family Sub.Major Babar Khan, planned the revolt against the Dogra State of J& Kashmir by arresting the Dogra Governor in the night of 31st October,1947 declare independence at Gilgit, followed by the invitation of the Government of Pakistan to take the charge of the region by merging it with Pakistan as its integral part obviously under a proper “memorandum of understanding.”
As the JCOs and soldiers had no faith in the British Officer Commanding Major Brown and viewed him suspiciously, they kept the whole play of liberation secret from him. They decided to take their first step of arresting the Dogra Governor in the night of 31st Oct/1st November 1947. The heroic action started with 150 soldiers having been put on the alert in the Scouts barracks at Gilgit while the team commanded by Sub. Major Babar Khan himself moved with all alacrity, to lay siege to the Governor House on the night of 31st October,1947. Sub. Major Babar Khan (singly) met Major William Brown only then to let him now of the goings-on whilst advising him to keep silence about and stand aloof during the course of the upcoming actions connected with the liberation struggle for the sake of his life which the latter promised instantly. In the wake of this, Babar Khan shifted Major Brown to a safer venue so that no harm was done to him by anyone from the public imbued with and having frenzied revolutionary feelings. At midnight on 31st Oct, Governor House was encircled by Sub. Maj. Babar Khan and his soldiers and called upon the Dogra Governor Brigadier Ghansara Singh to surrender or else the Bungalow will be set ablaze along-with its all inmates. But, instead of being compliant to this calls, he retaliated throughout the night to such an extent that his ammunition store exhausted by dawn. In the morning of 1st November (1947), (Ghansara Singh) desperately came out of his room, surrendered before Sub. Maj. Babar Khan.

Governor Ghansara Singh was then treated cordially and sent him to the Gilgit Scouts Lines as a “Prisoner of War” in conformity with the dispensations extendable under the International Laws on PoWs. At late hours of 31st Oct; Capt. Hassan Khan of J&K Infantry, left Bonji for Gilgit and arrived at Parri-Bangla - nearly 20 miles from Gilgit Town, at night and because of dangerous mountain track towards Gilgit, he had to stay there till next morning. He left Pari-Bangla in the morning of 1st Nov 1947 and arrived at the Officers Mess in Gilgit town at about 10 am at time when the action of arresting the Dogra Governor was already accomplished. During these dramatic events associated with the arrest of Ghansara Singh, not a single officer of J&K Infantry was present in Gilgit town nor had Capt.Hassan Khan arrived in Gilgit then. It gets concluded quite incontrovertibly that it was the fruitful outcome of the heroic teamwork done with consummated skill under the command of Sub Major Raja Muhammad Babar Khan no matter who actually planned it. Close on the heels of Capt. Mirza Hassan Khan, a few other officers of J&K Infantry arrived in Gilgit.

Capt Hassan Khan ordered arrest of Maj. Brown and the latter to be into the Quarter-Guard because he wanted to keep Maj. Brown total away from the business they were going to accomplish. But, nevertheless, after an hour or so, he (Maj Brown) was released from the Quarter Guard by Sub. Major Babar Khan who was now completely heading the Scouts. Unluckily, Capt Hassan Khan deprecated this act of Babar Khan and took it as a challenge to his authorities by someone so much junior to him in rank and in terms of resultant protocol. Be it as it may, this was ensued with a meeting of all leaders of the revolution - the JCOs of Gilgit Scouts, the Muslim Officers of J&K Infantry and a few civil elites to mull future course of action. During the course, unanimously decided to join Pakistan as soon as possible before the Dogras could send their Forces to re-capture Gilgit. A governing cabinet was formed temporarily in Gilgit for two purpose i.e.
  1. To contact Pakistan and negotiate the "Terms of Annexation ". 
  2. To take care of the political and social affairs of Gilgit and maintain peace till the annexation process of Gilgit to Pakistan was finalized and Pakistan took full responsibility of the area.
Letter and telegrams were sent to Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah immediately asking him to send his representative to discuss the modalities of annexation and settlement of the terms connected therewith. The Cabinet had no faith in Maj. Brown and significantly, Capt. Hassan Khan disliked him so vehemently and openly so he (Major Brown) was not assigned any portfolio in the cabinet and instead, he was designated as an advisor to the interim cabinet. Pakistan took two weeks to send in a representative to Gilgit. During these two weeks, Maj. Brown started to play his own game on the basis of the imminent personality clashes between him and Capt. Hassan Khan with the latter now the In-charge of Military affairs in Gilgit Cabinet.

Taking the advantage of his position of being a British and Commanding Officer of Gilgit Scouts, Major Brown embarked on machinations to take the administration of the Gilgit in his own hands besides seeking the credit of liberating Gilgit from Dogras onto his accounts - something absolutely not acceptable to the “liberators” and the (interim) cabinet. This became the cause of engendering a tug of what may be called ‘a cold war’ between Major Brown and the local military and civil elites. In the given situation that persisted in Gilgit then and the later conspiratorial role of Major Brown in misguiding the first Pakistan representative Sardar Aalam Khan, the presumptions and distrust by Captain Hassan Khan were all proved to have veracity in toto. It happened that there were vituperative personality clashes between Capt. Hassan Khan and Maj. Brown as well as with Sub. Major Babar Khan on the ascendancy which in the course, fomented dissent and disunity among the members of the interim cabinet thereby providing a basis for Maj Brown to insidiously work for himself to bring his person into the limelight before Government of Pakistan by way of his ceaseless contacts in league with Col Cob and Bacon in Peshawar.

On 16th November, the representative of Pakistan, Sardar Alam Khan, a Revenue Officer from Peshawar arrived Gilgit in an airplane. The Cabinet members and public including Maj. Brown welcomed him with great enthusiasm and took him to the Governor House. As soon as Sardar Alam Khan entered in Governor House, he asked all local dignitaries to disperse as he had to conduct a very important meeting with Maj. Brown. (Brown-Page: 222, line: 23). The meeting as it seems, provided Maj. Brown the opportunity of poisoning the ears of the representative of the Pakistan Government Sardar Alam Khan, against the civil and military leadership of Gilgit-Baltistan and the general population of Gilgit as well. Maj. Brown also assured Sardar Alam Khan that it was he as the Commanding Officer of Gilgit Scouts and loyal to Pakistan, who made the Gilgit Scouts troops and the civil society move against the Dogras in order to ensure merger of Gilgit into Pakistan. Simultaneously, Maj. Brown also succeeded in creating a communication gap between Sardar Aalam Khan and the local leadership.

As Alam Khan was totally ignorant of the area and the true sentiments of the people of entire Gilgit besides being equally ignorant of the facts associated with the surrender of Dogra Governor and who did what at Gilgit, he tended to believe as true whatever Maj. Brown fed him with. Given this, he kept blindly acting upon advice of Major Brown and treated the Cabinet Members of Gilgit and the Liberation leaders unjustly always speaking of them in a very negative tone. Whenever it came to holding a consultative meeting and a table talk with the local leadership for taking them in to confidence, he would always pose dictatorially himself acting like a Military Governor of an occupied territory. He declared himself as the Political Agent appointed by Pakistan Government and imposed Frontier Crime Rules (FCR) in Gilgit. He is referred to as having threatened the local people that if they did not abide his orders, he would go back with Maj Brown, leaving them at the mercy of the Dogra Forces to retake them. (Brown page: 226)

During a meeting, Sardar Aalam Khan, the self-made Political Agent, scolded and humiliated Sub. Major Babar Khan the key-person and the leading hero of the successful revolt against Dogra. The humiliation it is said, was resorted to in presence of other princely figures of Gilgit, who were all very closely related to him. Sardar Aalam Khan warned Babar Khan to confine himself only to his duties in military barracks. (Brown page: 287).

In such a way, Sardar Aalam Khan reduced and humiliated each and every local elite. Despite obtaining further advice from Quaid e Azam, he threw Gilgit into slavery to suffer an uncertain future indefinitely. A people who were imbued with limitless fervor and fidelity for Pakistan and had a deep yearning to become peaceful Pakistani citizens were subjected to the worst, the ugliest, most un-democratic, un-ethical and unjustified dispensation. Later, it was discovered that Sardar Aalam Khan was a follower of Baacha-Khan the famous pro-Indian Congress-man and a personal friend of Jawahir Lal Nehru. Sardar Alam Khan never attempted to have a friendly and decisive talk with the local leadership to take them onboard for settling crucial matters and help inking a “Treaty” or Memorandum of Understanding/Annexation between the leadership of Gilgit and himself as the “representative” of Pakistan. He kept this matter of primary and foremost significance shelved and the “decisions” hidden in an intriguing and diabolical manner in collusion with and with the help of Maj.Brown who had the backing of Col. Cob and General Gracie, the Commander in Chief of Pakistan Army. Thus, he very cleverly kept the doors open for the Dogras of J&K/India to re-occupy Gilgit.

As Pakistan then was itself in an agonizing state being faced with innumerable problems like flooding refugees compounded by depressing economic state, the capital of the new-found land lay in the far southern end Karachi whereas Gilgit-Baltitan constituted the northern-most periphery of the country. This naturally rendered communication very difficult. Moreover, there was no one in Pakistan then to ascertain and check the true position to get to know why Sardar Aalam Khan had declared Gilgit as a Political District and a nation who had already opted for Pakistan as their homeland were kept deprived of their genuine and inviolable demand. Perhaps the leaders in Karachi were very happy that Pakistan obtained such a strategically important area so easily without spending a penny which resulted in expansion of Pakistan’s boundaries up to the People’s Republic of China. The tricky decision of the Pakistani representative Sardar Aalam Khan as explained above, as to be seen, resulted into and became the prime reason to create a “Fault-line” between Gilgit Baltistan & Pakistan and always stood as a Fault-Line. Though invisible, it may become reactive at any time and for any reason as the fault lines often do to drift apart the plates from each other causing fatalities.

Evidently, the plot of Maj. Brown became successful. The personality clashes between the Muslim Officers of J&K Infantry led by Capt. Mirza Hassan with the JCOs of Gilgit Scouts harmed the unity among the revolutionary commanders with eventual shattering of the real locus of power and power-sharing on that score. Capt. Hassan Khan in his memoirs “شمشیر سے زنجیر تک” has mentioned these unfortunate events in sarcastic words. No doubt, some accounts of this situation given by Maj. Brown in his book can be taken true. This ironic situation that developed during the early half month of Nov.1947 (1st to 15ht Nov) provided Maj Brown with the opportunity to embark on and further his own revengeful game-plan. What was fundamentally perplexing and highly agonizing for him was the taking of the very revolutionary step without letting him know about the plan by those under his command in Gilgit Scouts and then the ignominy of being put into the Quarter Guard by Capt. Hassan Khan he faced. Here, we see that Maj.Brown had his own agenda to disgrace the elites and people of Gilgit while the Pakistani representative had his own agenda to keep Gilgit legally open for Dogras. In this way, Capt. Hassan Khan had his own. It however, becomes evident that Major Brown kept Col. Cob in Peshawar well informed about the situation in Gilgit. In turn, Col. Cob through his daily wireless message, would brief Sardar Aalam that in Gilgit, only Maj. Brown was the key-person to be trusted and all other officers of J&K Infantry, Gilgit Scouts and the civilian elites were all untrustworthy. 

Sardar Alam Khan declared Gilgit as a Political Agency and imposed Frontier Crime Rules (FCR), all the liberators and the general public who were enthusiastically expecting a positive response from the Centre, in the matter of their being declared Pakistan Citizens became extremely disappointed and heart broken. When Sardar Aalam took over the administration of Gilgit, Maj Brown, with the help of Col. Cob, got posted himself out of Gilgit and back to his Regiment. To replace him, Captain Aslam Khan (the elder brother of late Air Marshal Asghar Khan) who was indeed a true soldier and faithful to Pakistan, was sent to Gilgit as the Military Commandant. With his gallant and charismatic planning and leadership, the whole area of Gilgit Baltistan became safe from any danger from Dogras whilst an extensive area of 12,000 kms (approx) area as far as Kargil and Ladakh, was also freed from the Dogra Forces. 

With the supports of British Officers working in Pakistan and specially General Douglas Gracey, the British Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army, Maj. Brown succeeded in convincing the Government of Pakistan that he was the leading and the key person to make the people of Gilgit rise against Dogra State Government and got liberated Gilgit to hand it over to Pakistan. In in an attempt to lend credence to his diabolical versions and with a view to beguile the Pakistani authorities in the context of having declared as the so-called hero of Gilgit Liberation, he wrote a book “The Gilgit Rebellion”. Pakistan decorated him with the highly prestigious award of Sitara-e-Imtiyaz. On reading between the lines, the fakeness and high concoctedness of the stories contained in the book regarding his endeavors may become readily ascertainable. The milestone became ascribable to those who didn’t partake of the journey!
منزل انہیں ملی جو شریک سفر نہ تھے 

Frankly speaking, it pains one to see that since last 71 years, not even a single political leadership or a premier of Pakistan has ever been cognizant of and sensed the intrigues of Sardar Aalam Khan and Major Brown for throwing away quite imprudently such an important region of the world which is so geographically and strategically significant into the jaws and claws of the Dogra State again regardless of its getting total independence. It is ironical that such a dithering is tantamount to a naked attempt made so nonchalantly as opposed to the stark reality associated with the matter that led to the genesis of what may be appropriately called a “Fault-Line” between the two entities. This “Fault-Line” is primarily in the sense that it may become turbulent at any stage to assume a cataclysmic situation in the face of the present day cyclonic and precarious world politics. And God forbid, lest things should get of control any moment to cause irreparable setback to Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir besides being equally detrimental to the Kashmir Dispute itself while being akin to trample underfoot the people of Gilgit Baltistan. Though GB stands declared a part of the disputed J&K territory in terms of the UN Resolutions until a Plebiscite for solution of Kashmir Dispute with Pakistan having agreed to it, but nonetheless, this writer still sees light at the end of the tunnel in that there is a legal “avenue” to solve this problem and bring an end to this “Fault-Line” permanently provided there be the will and the resolve on the part of those who matter. It is yet believed sanguinely that sense prevails and those at the helm of affairs take cognizance of the crux of the matter with all seriousness it demands. Let it be hoped that the Federal Government heeds to the proposition this writer proffers and the efficacious remedy or the solution attached with it to bring an end to this long and unpropitiously drawn-out unnecessary imbroglio. Only seriousness and sincerity of purpose is needed to away with the figment of imahination which do not in away may be substituted for reality given the correct perspective to the Gilgit-Baltistan narrative. Concluded. The writer is a Baltistan-based author, researcher with a deep insight into the regional history and current affairs. He can be reached at Email: s.abbaskazmi1947@gmail.com

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