Time to get Gilgit-Baltistan back into contention

Siachen is once again in the news. First ; an initiative in the name of 'Track II Diplomacy to demilitarise Siachen' was launched by Pakistan through the 'Atlantic Council of Ottawa' - a well known proxy of Pakistan’s ISI who co-opted some handpicked military veterans with little knowledge of the area or the problem and some media persons, from India along with Pakistani ex-military officers in it.

A report was internationally circulated to give an impression that the team had unanimously recommended creating a Peace Park in Siachen. Then, there was the conference held by peaceniks ostensibly trying to discover possible solutions to Siachen besides other possible confidence-building measures.
Wide media publicity accorded to these  track II confabulations and the fact that no serious attempt was made by the establishment to distance itself from these initiatives, have given rise to a strong and widely-held suspicion among the strategic community that somewhere, the government of India is collaborating with these efforts in search of creating an enabling environment for a set of agreements with Pakistan of which Siachen is a major component.

It would be pertinent to remind ourselves that Siachen is a part of the bigger issue of Northern Areas , now called Gilgit – Baltistan (GB) - geographically, politically and strategically.  The area of Shaksam valley, ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963, is also  part of Gilgit Baltistan problem. These are parts of India in wrongful possession of Pakistan and China, quite apart from the so-called Kashmir issue. It is a mystery as to why no one is talking of Gilgit – Baltistan as such.

Rich resources

Gilgit-Baltistan is an area of great strategic significance. This region lies between Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges to its north and the western Himalayas to its immediate south. With an area of 73,000 sq km and a population of one million , GB is resource-rich with substantial deposits of uranium, gold, copper and gems. The population is predominantly Shia who  consider themselves very different from any Pakistani ethnic or linguistic group. They in fact  share common historical links with Tibetans, Kashmiris, Ladakhis, Tajiks, Uyghyur’s and Mongols and are opposed to domination by Sunni majority Pakistan, even today. Its borders touch POK in the south, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan to the north and north-west, and ZinjiangUghyur Autonomous Region of China to the north-east. It gives India direct connectivity with Afghanistan and blocks China from both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The legal position of GB is very different from that of POK. While POK was a princely state with an option to join either India or Pakistan, the Gilgit Baltistan region was annexed by the Dogra ruler of Kashmir who administered it as an autonomous region and later leased it to the British under whose administration at the time of partition, it was a district of  Ladakh in British India. On independence, it automatically became a legal part of India in accordance with the partition award. Clearly, GB is not a part of the Kashmir problem. Yet, India has never attempted to regain these areas either militarily or diplomatically.

The first of the four wars India has fought and won against Pakistan gave us  perhaps the best chance to retake GB. Mysteriously, when the government of India ordered the Indian Army into Jammu and Kashmir, it was tasked to halt the ingress by Pakistan. The forces were not directed to evict Pakistani aggression from the area that Maharaja Hari Singh had ceded to India as part of the instrument of accession. 

Liberation ruse

Pakistan claims to have ‘liberated’ the area on 1 November 1947 and incorporating it in Pakistan on the flimsy and made-up  request by unnamed local residents. When Pakistani Razakars and regulars attacked the area on 26 October 1947, the state forces of Kashmir had little presence in the area except for a garrison at Skardu. In spite of severe odds, these police forces were able to defend Skardu garrison against the marauders. but the besieged garrison was left to fight to the last till surrender to the barbarians in August 1948. During the entire campaign no thought was given to recapture Skardu, Gilgit and the Northern Areas. India remained content with securing Leh against the threat of advancing Razakars. Had we gone into Kashmir with a clearly defined war objective there would perhaps be no Kashmir problem and certainly no Siachen issue and no issue of China getting a foothold in the Gigit Baltistan region today .

It is a mystery that when the entire world is talking of the Kashmir problem, the government of India is not talking of the unfinished business of partition -  of amalgamating the GB (northern areas) with India where it rightly, Legally and popularly belongs.

It is sad and unfortunate that the overly-wishful and optimistic peaceniks and other short-sighted Indians who erroneously claim to represent civil society, are talking of de-militarising Siachen. Why are they not discussing the return of GB to India?  It is doubly unfortunate that the government of India appears to be encouraging such damaging talk to dilute India’s case on Gilgit-Baltistan.

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