Gilgit Baltistan, formerly known as the northern areas, is a region directly administered by the federal government, also called Khita-e-Be Iaen (Region without a constitution) by the local people. Due to the geo-political and geo-strategic significance and unique topography, the region was a battleground for different empires such as the Chinese Tang Dynasty, the  Tibetan Empires, the local Maqpon Dynasty, and the Rajas of Hunza till the 1840s. Subsequently, the Dogra Dynasty took control of the region from 1840 to 1947-48 in a Treaty famous as Treaty Amritsar 1846.

The primary focus here is to shed light on the Karachi Agreement, which reshaped Gilgit Baltistan’s destiny, plunging it into an unending constitutional crisis rather than delving into the historical explanation.

The agreement was signed secretly on 27th-28th April 1949 between Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani, the then Pakistan’s minister without portfolio, Chaudary Ghulam Abbas, head of All Jammu & Kashmir Muslim Conference, and Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, the then president of Azad Kashmir. The four-page agreement is divided into three sections.

The first two sections outline the administrative and financial compromises between Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, but surprisingly, the third and most important part deals with the division of power; only in a single line, the matters of GB are transferred to Pakistan along with others, including defence, negotiation with UNCIP, control over AJ&K force, etc. Section III A(VIII) of the agreement is quoted as:

“All affairs of the Gilgit and Ladakh areas under the control of the Political Agent at Gilgit.”

Martin Sokelfeld, a German scholar, has used the word “transfer” for the agreement by arguing that the government of AJK has practically never experienced any responsibility for GB, but because the government of Pakistan by default recognizes the AJK government as legitimate for the whole of J&K, so it took the legal justification for controlling GB from AJK. Moreover, he also justified by referring to Article 1 of the Treaty of Amritsar 1846, that the greater part of Gilgit Baltistan is situated on the western and northern side of the Indus River.

However, the territory specified in the treaty given to Gulab Singh mainly included eastern chunks of today’s GB. In his MPhil dissertation, Sajid Ali argues that the infamous Karachi Agreement is the first and most unfortunate attempt by the Pakistani state to associate GB with the Kashmir Issue, for which the people of Baltistan fought the war and were liberated from Dogra troops on 1 November 1947.

The people of GB celebrate the 1st of November as the Day of Independence ( Jang Azadi-e-Gilgit) every year and pay tribute to the heroes who have sacrificed their lives in this freedom struggle. The telegrams sent by Major Brown to Pakistani officials quoted in his book “The Gilgit Rebellion 1947” depict the patriotic sentiments raising the slogans “Pakistan Zindabad” curious to accede with Pakistan.

The Pakistani state has treated the region as a colony since its accession on 16th November 1947.  Major Brown further wrote in “ Gilgit Rebellion” that, despite sending several letters, the Pakistani officials did not respond immediately but sent Sardar Alam, a political agent (Tehsildar), to take power over the region. Qasim Naseem, a senior journalist and writer from GB, narrates that Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, one of the signatories, has denied his presence in the agreement. He further argues that if GB as part of Kashmir is a justifiable claim, then the UK could also claim India and Pakistan to be her territory as it was a former British colony.

Indian Politician Dr Karan Singh, son of former Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir Hari Singh, publicly apologized to the people of Gilgit Baltistan for the forcible occupation of the region by his ancestors. He also said that GB is not part of Kashmir and their reunification is not possible, which must be acknowledged by both Pakistan and India, including the Kashmiri officials. Nosheen Ali argues in her book “Delusional States” that the government of Pakistan linked GB with the Kashmir file to grab more votes in the case of the UN’s plebiscite for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

The pro-Pakistani sentiments among the people of Gilgit Baltistan, coupled with East Pakistan’s historic decision to unite with Pakistan in 1947, both underscored common aspirations for an Islamic state that could ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens.

But, instead of providing proper governance and administrative structures, the government of Pakistan imposed a draconian and colonial rule, i.e. Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). It gave a political agent. Subsequently, in 1949, without any representation and consensus of the people of Gilgit Baltistan, the secret agreement was signed with the government of Azad Kashmir that amalgamated the region with the Kasmir file, ruining the freedom struggle of our heroes.

The collective discourse among the people of Gilgit Baltistan, including nationalists, writers, poets, the youth, and various stakeholders, uniformly recognize the agreement as an unlawful act. But surprisingly, the document is still inaccessible on websites or other academic platforms. The larger section of people in Gilgit Baltistan haven’t even read the document because of its inaccessibility; a few people confuse it with the Karachi Agreement signed on 27 July 1949 between the military officials of India and Pakistan for a cease-fire. However, the agreement was revealed for the first time in 1992 by the ‘AJK’ High Court when the court ordered the AJK government to take control of GB.

The local people have grievances with the government of Pakistan, as it has always neglected the region since its inception in 1947 till now. Despite the formal accession of Gilgit and, later on, Baltistan, Pakistan has administered it as a colony by imposing FCR, not abolishing the despotic rajgiri (principality) and jagirdari (feudal) system till the 1970s, and sidelining from mainstream politics.

The people of Gilgit Baltistan cannot cast their votes in general elections nor have representation in the National Assembly. On the other hand, the disparity in governance and political affairs between GB and AJ&K can be seen in the current status of both regions. AJ&K is provided with an autonomous setup, whereas GB is running under a self-governance order with absolute federal government control.

Despite the order of the Supreme Court in 1999 emphasizing the extension of all constitutional and human rights to the people of Gilgit Baltistan, the government has failed to ensure the provision of constitutional rights.

During election years, politicians give lollipops by promising to grant constitutional status to win the election. But the times have changed, and the new generation has learned from past experiences and deprivations and is redefining politics in Gilgit Baltistan. The infamous Karachi treaty lacks credibility in history and contemporary scholarly writings. Therefore, today’s educated young and elder generations in Gilgit-Baltistan view the Agreement as fabricated, an attempt to alter actual history.

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