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Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the few places in the region that presents itself as a non-quintessential South Asian locality. This can be attributed to its Karakoram Mountain Range, glaciers, and breath-taking valleys which are a rarity in this part of the world. What further sets this region apart is its people, their language and customs. The region boasts of tourism and people always wonder who these people are, and how they came about. In this blog, we will cover in detail the history of Gilgit-Baltistan to familiarize ourselves with this region.
Early History Of Gilgit-Baltistan
Baltistan was an independent nation until the middle 1846, when it became a part of Sikh Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir. However, unlike the rest of South Asia, this region was never colonized under the British Rule. This is primarily because the East India Company sold present-day Jammu and Kashmir to Gulab Singh after he sided with the British during the first Anglo-Sikh war (1845-1846). Thereafter, Gulab Singh became the first Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in 1846.
With the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir established, it was divided into four units for administrative purposes. This included the province of Jammu, the province of Kashmir, the district of Gilgit and the district of Ladakh. In Ladakh’s tehsil of Skardu, Baltistan had been made a part earlier on in 1840, and so this administrative arrangement was carried forward from 1846 onwards as well. By 1860, the states of Hunza and Nagar accepted the suzerainty of Jammu and Kashmir, but did not formally accede to it.
Later Years: History Of Gilgit-Baltistan
While Gilgit became a part of Dogra Kingdom, relatively peacefully, it didn’t take the British long enough to realize that they needed to bring it back under their own rule. This was mainly due to fears of a possible Russian invasion. Therefore, some time in 1889, the British created Gilgit Agency, which brought the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir directly under dual control of British and Sikhs.
However, this arrangement persisted and Hunza and Nagar soon acceded to the greater Gilgit Agency. Gilgit city became the stationing point for Jammu and Kashmir forces to maintain order. Gradually princely states of Punial, Yasin, Kuh-Ghizar, Ishkoman and Chitral also joined the Gilgit Agency.
Under this system, the Gilgit Agency prospered and established a local paramilitary force — trained, equipped and led by the British, called the Gilgit Scouts. All of the princely states had governors who oversaw all operations. However, in 1935, the British took control of the Gilgit Agency from the Dogras, on a 60-year lease, leaving them with control over the Baltistan region.
Present Status Of Gilgit
Just two weeks before the Partition, Lord Mountbatten cancelled the lease and offered the State of Jammu and Kashmir to take over Gilgit, as per the lease deed. Thereafter on August 1st, Brigadier Ghansara Singh took charge of the Gilgit Agency from the British Political Agent and brought it under its own control. The Gilgit Scouts were replaced by the Kashmir Army, a move that angered them greatly.
The ousted Gigit Scouts started a movement against the Maharaja, who officially announced accession to India on Oct. 27, 1947. However, the Gilgit Scouts formalized themselves as the Revolutionary Council and persisted their resistance. Maharaja stationed his troops in Bunji, but the Muslim soldiers defacted under Mirza Hasan Khan and attached the Sikh soldiers. Governor Ghansara Singh surrendered to Sub Maj Babar after some resistance, and therefore, areas surrounding Gilgit were liberated from Dogra rule. On November 1st, 1947 the Islamic Republic of Gilgit was officially formed, and this date is still celebrated as the day of independence for people in Gilgit.
The Islamic Republic of Gilgit designated Raja Shah Raees Khan of Gilgit as president, and Col Mirza Hasan Khan as the chief of the armed forces. The republic officially acceded to Pakistan after two weeks, on Nov. 16, 1947. A representative from the Government of Pakistan, Sardar Mohammad Alam Khan, was appointed as the Political Agent. However, rather than mainstreaming Gilgit as the fifth province, Pakistan imposed the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in the area. Under this law, the Political Agent was given supreme authority, whereas the rights of people were not properly outlined.
With recent expansion in tourism initiatives, a large number of people have been visiting the famous Gilgit Valley and taking part in various tourism festivals, such as Shandur Polo Festival and Chelum Joshi. A large number of organic food products from Hunza have also found their way to grocery shops all around Pakistan.
Pakistanis believe that the eclectic culture of Hunza, their unique language, customs and traditions are an integral part of Pakistan’s rich and vibrant cultures. Hunza has its own educational system and almost 100% literacy rate. Among various dialects of Balti language, the people are fluent in English, and Burushaski, a language that has some similarity to the French language. While connecting the dots with language and facial features of locals, many ethnographers have concluded that perhaps this region was conquered by Alexander The Great or various other European nations, while no official accounts can be found.
To this day Gilgit and Hunza remain two of the most treasured and mysterious regions of Pakistan that are gaining a lot of attraction for explorers. An extensive development package has been approved for Gilgit by the government of Pakistan. This will surely further improve tourism in Gilgit. If you are planning on visiting the area, check out these hotels.