Balwaristan - Fourth Party Of Kashmir Dispute!

Balwaristan - Fourth Party Of Kashmir Dispute!

11 June 2011
Greater Kashmir
Dr. Javid Iqbal

Srinagar: Balwaristan! Ever heard of it before? While Baltistan is a known geographical identity, Balwaristan is hardly heard of-an addition to erstwhile J&K state’s political nomenclature. That such an entity is talked of has a news source-Tanveer Ahmad-a well known broadcaster, columnist and a social activist from ‘Pakistan Administered Kashmir’ [PaK]. Tanveer’s story makes out that a person named Nawaz Khan Naji, the founder and supreme head of his faction of the Balwaristan National Front, won a by-election in his home constituency of Ghizer (L-A 19) and thereby became a member of the Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly. As Tanveer notes in one of his columns, Naji won, despite a political agenda that directly questions Pakistan's occupation of the territory, and being head of a party that espouses the total independence of Gilgit, Baltistan and Ladakh. He aspires for their re-emergence into a re-union of 'Highland People' named Balwaristan. The geographic demarcation of Balwaristan would include all areas referred to as the 'Northern Territories' during Dogra Rule and include Shenaki Kohistan and Chitral at the very least (which are currently considered to be constitutionally a part of Pakistan and thus included as part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province). Chitral was once a part of erstwhile J&K State, touching NWFP-the Pakhtun areas, the British wrung it out of state control. As Tanveer puts it “Many people in these territories certainly describe themselves as part of the 'Kashmir Issue' but the vast majority of those that this writer has interacted with, do not consider themselves as a part of the erstwhile Dogra State, not on their volition at any rate”. We may first study the topography and recent political history of the region on our own before getting back to analyzing Naji’s story, recounted by Tanveer. The area in focus virtually covers 52,000 sq. miles of 87, 000 sq. miles of erstwhile J&K state-Ladakh and Baltistan [which includes Gilgit]. Gilgit is also called Dardistan, hence the habitants-Dardeez. Historical survey reveals its ancient name to be Sar-gen, later Gileet. Some ancient Sanskrit books call it Galatah, however it has not been substantiated that Galatah and Gileet are synonymous. During Sikh-Dogra rule Gileet turned into Gilgit for ease of pronunciation. It is located to the northwest of river Sind, as it follows its downward course and is a combination of localities. Gilgit-the premier principality forms center of Baltistan, the Balti territory is towards its east too. In the west lies Chitral, in north Hunza, Nagar and Pameer range of mountains, in south-Chilas, further south-Astoor providing its division with vale of Kashmir. The other principalities of Gilgit are Yaseen, Ponyal, and Darail. While Leh and Kargil form a part of ‘Indian administered Kashmir’ highly strategic area-Gilgit forms a part of mainland-a Pakistani province. Direct assumption of control over ‘Northern Territories’ had Gilgit nationalists coming under the umbrella of ‘Balwaristan National Front’ with Naji in 1989 producing a manifesto and calling it “Kashmir ka Chowtha Farik (Fourth party of Kashmir dispute) the title of second of his three books, as Tanveer informs us in his column. ‘Chowtha Farik’ refers to an addition to three propagated parties-Indian State, the Pakistani State and the people Kashmir. Gilgit, to precisely summarize its recent political history was taken over by Dogras from ‘Khalsa Durbar’ in 1846-fallout of Amritsar treaty. Col Nathay Singh commanding Sikh forces switched sides. In 1847 Lt. Young and Lt. Angove-two British surveyors sanctified Gulab Singh’s hold over Gilgit. Subsequently, the British sensing the strategic importance of the region establish ‘Gilgit Agency’ to oversee the territory, where three Empires meet-British India, China and Russia! 1935 treaty had the British wresting control from Hari Singh-a lease for 60 years, while confirming 1847 sovereignty of ‘Maharaja of Kashmir’. In 1941 however it was negated. In order to confirm British take, these areas were not looped with Jammu and Kashmir State in 1941 census. Gopalaswami Ayengar-Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir rebutted British assertion in a detailed note. It was rejected, instead it was stated that assertion ‘unpalatable’ to Maharaja was withheld earlier, so as not to hinder war effort. In 1947, with Lord Louis Mountbatten announcing the revised partition plan, Gilgit agency was reverted to Maharaja Hari Singh’s control. VP Menon noted ‘the retrocession of Gilgit was accepted by Maharaja with jubilation’ [Menon-Integration of Indian States-page: 393 quoted by Victoria Schofield-Kashmir in Crossfire-pub: I.B.Tauris, London-New York 1996-page: 154]. Brigadier Ghansara Singh sent by Maharaja Hari Singh to take control had to depend on security, maintaining law and order and carrying the writ of the state on Gilgit Scouts commanded by Major William Brown, a young officer in mid-twenties. It was Brown who delivered Gilgit to Pakistan. It could be said without fear of contradiction that importance of Kashmir in geopolitical parlance is not valley centric, but in its upper reaches, beyond the vale. And those upper reaches in its most vital sectors fell in Pakistani control, depriving India of direct access to Afghanistan and greater strategic weightage viz a viz China. The division of labour on the vital northern frontier enhanced the geopolitical weightage of a much smaller Pakistan viz a viz its giant neighbour India. That constitutes the geopolitical truth of Gilgit tale! Getting back to Tanveer’s story, Nawaz Khan Naji’s agenda is interesting. He is reported to be a leading authority on the geography of the region and considers the above geo-political re-configuration to be his first choice, the secondary choice, as Tanveer put it is “involves a settlement close to the vision espoused by Kashmiri nationalists of returning to the configuration under Dogra Rule”. This in effect means restoring the state to its pre-1947 status-a high political dream! Naji is reported to be hailing from humble origins – his father was a lower middle-class farmer in his home village of Sher Qilah in District Ghizer–and he still lives in the modest 'desi' home built by his father. His commitment to his cause has kept him unmarried, he is now 50. As Tanveer relates, his creative political ideas meant a life in jail on a couple of occasions, usually under the colonial remnant of section 124(a). This electoral win was his third attempt at testing the prevailing power structure since 2004. The impressive win polling 8399 against PPP’s Eng. Jawahir Ali Khan [4,400] and PML (Nawaz)’s Col. Karim [5200] was recorded in spite of being jailed along with party cadre on the March 22, freed eventually after intense public pressure. Kashmir watchers would watch Naji’s victory with an additional interest-forerunner of 21st century trend in the political landscape of erstwhile pre-47 J&K state. [Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]


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