Karachi Pact and Gilgit and Baltistan
Dr Shabir Choudhry 28 April 2006
Fifty seven years ago an agreement with the name of Karachi Pact was signed which established Pakistani hegemony over the vast areas of Gilgit and Baltistan. It is claimed that this pact which paved way for Pakistani imperialism in these areas was signed between rulers of Pakistan and leaders of Muslim Conference.
Facts, however, do not support this contention. According to this claim the document was signed by Nawab Mushtaq Gurmani, a Pakistani Minister without Portfolio, and President of ‘Azad Kashmir’ Sardar Ibrahim Khan and Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas, who were leaders of Muslim Conference which was widely seen as mouth piece of Pakistan.
This political party, ever since its revival in 1940, has very sincerely looked after the interest of Muslim League and Pakistan. History of this party and history of Jammu and Kashmir clearly tells us that when it is confronted with a choice between looking after the interest of the Kashmiri people and the interest of Pakistan, it has always taken a decision in favor of the later.
Even before India was partitioned, to become sovereign states of Pakistan and India, they started struggle to get Jammu and Kashmir; and in view of some, started a ‘fight’ to defeat each other. That fight despite fall of Dhaka and despite wars and truces, still continues. And, that in view of some analysts is the root cause of tension between Pakistan and India, and Jammu and Kashmir dispute is a manifestation of that ‘struggle’ or that ‘fight’.
The result of that fight was a cease- fire- line which came in to being on 1st January 1949 and de-facto division of the State between the both countries. It must be noted that areas of Gilgit and Baltistan were only returned to the Maharaja government two weeks before the partition of India, and the Maharaja government was not able to fully establish its decree because of the somewhat mysterious role of the Gilgit Scouts.
Everyone acknowledge the great strategic importance of these areas and that is why they were leased by the British from the Maharaja government. In principle they were returned to the Maharaja, and Brigadier Gansara Singh was sent as a Governor to take control of these areas, but he was unable to assert his authority because of the influence of the Gilgit Scouts and presence of the British officers who advised him to be cautious as situation was uncertain.
Brigadier Gansara was there as a Governor of the Maharaja government, which showed that these areas were part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistani view is that once these areas were ‘liberated’ they acceded to Pakistan, but do not offer any evidence in support of this. And moreover respective governments of Pakistan agree at the international level that these areas are part of Jammu and Kashmir (for example in UN resolutions).
If as Pakistan now claims that accession took place soon after the ‘liberation’ of these areas, then technically they had become a part of Pakistan; then question arises why make them part of the Kashmir dispute and plebiscite which could have gone against Pakistan. The fact is that no accession took place. One may ask who signed on behalf of the people of Gilgit and Baltistan, and who signed on behalf of Pakistan and where is the document- instrument of accession?
All facts of this tragic story could not be presented in one article, however it is important to say that those ‘powers’ who were behind the partition of India were also behind the crises in Gilgit and Balatistan. And story in summary is as follows.
The British Raj in India ended on 15th August 1947, and Brigadier Gansara Singh reached Gilgit to take control of these areas on 1st of August. The power at that time was with the British and Gilgit Scouts who were established and controlled by them. Brigadier Gansara Singh was accepted as a Governor but was not allowed to assert his control; rather he was advised to be cautious and wait until situation is stable.
So between 15th August 1947 and until the ‘liberation’ (in 1st week of November) a status quo was maintained, and one wonders why? Brigadier Gansara Singh with two companies of the Maharaja army stayed there until that time, and did not make any attempt to takeover or assert his authority even after the end of the British Raj.
In other words during all this period there were two centers of power: Brigadier Gansara Singh and the Gilgit Scouts who, even at that time were commanded by the British. It is they who advised him to wait until situation is stable.
The fact, however, is that their concern was not the ‘stability’, but future of these areas. They wanted to see which way the Maharaja goes- was he going to opt for India, Pakistan or was he going to become independent. As future of these areas were crucial to the British and the American interest, because of the Soviet Union and Communist China being neighbours, they wanted to ensure that these areas don’t get in to ‘wrong hands’.
They managed to keep the ‘status quo’ in these areas by cautioning the legally appointed governor to wait and not to assert his authority; and once they realised that the Maharaja because of tribal invasion had no choice but to acceded with India, they made a move and Gilgit Scouts came in to action. Gilgit Scouts was the British creation, and they had complete control over them. As noted above, even at that time Scouts were commanded by the British Officers, and there was no question of them ‘rebelling’ against orders of their commanders and seize control of the administration by arresting the Governor.
One wonders why this ‘liberation’ was manoeuvred. Maharaja, forced by circumstances, ‘acceded’ to India on 26th October 1947 and Indian forces landed at the Srinagar airport the next morning. The accession was provisional, but it was for whole of the State of Jammu and Kashmir; and as Gilgit and Baltistan was also part of the State, hence it should have gone under control of India.
Those who were calling shots at that time in South Asia looked at the developments anxiously. They had to see how their interests could be best safeguarded. If these areas go under the control of ‘socialist’ Nehru, who had clear left tendencies, would he allow them to use these areas against Soviet Union and China?
Answer was no. A democratic and visionary leader like Nehru would not have allowed this interference; but it was possible in ‘Islamic, feudal and undemocratic’ Pakistan, which they knew Pakistan would become, as they had their ‘own men’ in corridors of power.
They could not afford to remain as spectators, so after a few days of observation they realised that India had stabilised its position in the capital, Srinagar, and was repulsing the raiders back where they came from. They wanted to have access to these areas to keep ‘an eye’ on the activities of communist menace, and for that wanted to ensure that these areas were in ‘safe hands’.
The mission was accomplished without much problem. The Maharaja’s army in Gilgit and Baltistan consisted of two armed companies-one was Muslim and the other Sikh. Apart from the Gilgit Scouts this Muslim company also changed side and took active part in the ‘liberation’. And after this ‘liberation’ these areas were handed over to Pakistan; and to date they are in ‘safe hands’- under direct occupation of Pakistan, where people of the area do not enjoy basic human rights.
To strengthen Pakistani hold over these areas, and make them more ‘safe’ Muslim Conference leaders were used, hence the Karachi Pact came in to being in April 1949. This Pact, in view of many nationalist Kashmiris, is like Treaty of Amritsar- a black document which has legalized subjugation and oppression of the innocent people.
Pakistani governments make two contradictory claims about these areas:
A/ These areas acceded to Pakistan soon after the ‘liberation’. If that is true then why it was part of the UN resolutions which were passed after this ‘liberation’?
B/ Pakistan took over control of these areas as a result of the Karachi Pact, again this was ‘signed’ after the ‘liberation’.
Both of these claims contradict each other. But there is another twist in the story. Sardar Ibrahim Khan, on more than one occasion claimed that he did not sign this document, if that is true, and we have no reason to doubt his statement, especially made towards the end of his political and natural life. So the question is who signed it if he didn’t?
There is another very important question. Even if he did sign it, one may question what right did he have to sign it? He was appointed a ‘President’ of Azad Kashmir by Pakistani authorities, not by people; and areas of Gilgit and Baltistan were separated from this administrative set up.
Muslim Conference in its entire history, even when Jammu and Kashmir was united, never had any branch or any member in these areas. They had no following of any kind in these areas, and then question is how on earth they can sign away rights and future of people spread over in more than 28 thousand sq miles? How can you give or ‘gift’ something which you don’t own? How can you delegate a right or power which you don’t have?
Answer is simple. A conspiracy was hatched by those who wanted to ensure that these areas stay in ‘safe hands’; and it is because of this policy that despite all the upheavals and turns and twists they are still occupied, oppressed, and to large extent, ignored by the world because they are in ‘safe hands’, and it serves their purpose.
Writer is a Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org