December 2, 2020

Gilgit-Baltistan: A view from the other side of Partition

The division of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir left lasting wounds on the splintered people of Greater Ladakh
Keywords: Gilgit-Baltistan | Ladakh | Shia-Sunni conflict | Pakistan | Ethnic cleansing | Cultural Identity | Indo-Pakistan war
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There is no reason to celebrate. We Shias are going to face endemic sectarian carnage and suffering in this new country.’ These were the words of Raja of Khapulo, Chorgyal Yabgo Nasir Ali Khan when his staff congratulated him upon the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Khapulo was one of the main towns of Ladakh Wazarat which got divided during the first Indo-Pakistan war on Kashmir. Khapulo today, is a part of the Ghanche District of Gilgit-Baltistan, occupied by Pakistan. In retrospect, one could credit Chorgyal Yabgo for his accurate prediction in those early years. The region’s distinct religious fabric has played a vital role in prompting the state of Pakistan to deprive and persecute the people of Gilgit Baltistan.

The elders of the region, born before partition still reminisce about the Hindu Dogra rulers of Jammu and Kashmir who treated their Shia subjects with justice and equality. Maharaja Hari Singh was patron to many Shia observances including the processions on the tenth (Ashura) of the Holy month of Muharram. On this day, it was customary for his soldiers to present a guard of honor to the standard of Imam Hussain (Alam), which is a symbol of devotion for Shias and Nurbakhshis. Many Hindu officials in Baltistan were known to start their workday by paying respect to the Alam. They would take off shoes before proceeding towards the Alam to touch it in reverence.

The illusion that merging with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan would glorify the religious lives of the people faded like fog within the first few days of the partition when people of Gilgit were asked to welcome and obey a repressive ruler. Pakistani occupiers brazenly used sectarianism to gain favour among the local Sunni minority, thus crushing the high hopes for equality and freedom. 

To begin with, it did not sit well for a predominantly Sunni Pakistan to have a Shia-majority territory adjacent to China. The need to subjugate local Shias grew at par with the strengthening of strategic relations with China. As a result, the Pakistani state maintained the policy to attack and displace Shias living along the Karakoram Highway and repopulate those settlements with Sunnis. In 1988, military-sponsored terrorists burnt a dozen Shia villages to change the religious fabric of the Gilgit region. To date, terrorists attack and kill Shias traveling on the Karakoram Highway. Oftentimes, Pakistan’s military uses various excuses to seize thousands of acres of Shia-owned lands in strategic locations. The Asian Human Rights Commission’s 2019 report on Gilgit-Baltistan states that such practices of land grabbing have resulted in state-sanctioned demographic change. The report further claims that the proportion of the non-local population in Gilgit-Baltistan has increased significantly in recent years since the Pakistani government continuously violates a local law called the State Subject Rule to open floodgates to Sunnis of Pakistan. While the cacophony on Kashmir continues, this grave issue, however, is inadequately voiced in international and even regional media.  

Pakistan unabashedly uses blasphemy laws to target Shias and curb religious freedom. To whitewash local identity, the government has imposed a permanent ban on teaching the Shia curriculum in academic institutions. The policy of repression and extirpation of Shi’ism has reduced them to less than 42% of the local population today. Like Shias, the Kalasha non-Muslims of Chitral, which is a traditional part of Jammu and Kashmir, face extinction with less than 2,000 practitioners surviving. 

Social stagnation in Gilgit Baltistan is appalling as the territory remains far behind even the abysmal standards of Pakistan. The society as a whole suffers willful neglect with every passing regime. Pakistani rulers do not consider locals as citizens and deny basic rights such as suffrage and access to the judicial system. Most of the families languish under rampant unemployment and financial distress. Today, beggars swarm the streets and drug use is rampant among the youth in Skardo, a city in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. 

As of now, hundreds of local right-activists face sedition and terrorism charges under Pakistani rule. These brave whistleblowers take on the risk of living with a tarnished future, yet refuse to be terrorized into silence or accept permanent insignificance as fate. They face jail and torture for demanding constitutional rights and movement across the Line of Control.

Gilgit Baltistan was prosperous before the partition as locals could trade across the expanse of the Pamirs and the Himalayas. Open borders and prevalent peace enabled locals to move freely between Skardo, Leh, Srinagar, and Shimla. The friendly environment benefited everyone. Back then, farmers from Kargil could come to Baltistan to sell fruits, yak-butter, and barter dzos and dzomos (cattle). The wandering Changpas would arrive in Khapulo with salt and tea bricks. Travelers from Leh and Zangskar (in Ladakh) would spend the night in Balti villages along the Indus and Suru rivers on their way to Shigar (in Baltistan) and Gilgit. In those times, Shigar was called the breadbasket of Ladakh. It was a tradition for travelers to join local competitions of archery and polo and share exotic gifts from places as far as Lhasa, Badakhshan, Nepal, and Kashgar. With no travel restrictions, the local Shias and Nurbakhshis would travel to Lucknow to study in religious schools which at that time rivaled Iraq’s Najaf in academic standards. 

In 1947, Pakistan did not just attack and divide our land. It also attacked and weakened our shared cultural identity. Today, it enforces a ban on teaching the native languages and culture in local schools whereas the same thrive today in the Union Territory of Ladakh. The juxtaposition of the terminal damage Pakistan has inflicted on our land and people with the constitutional rights and the many freedoms of the people of Ladakh reveals the miserable consequences of an unwanted partition.

(This article is Part I of a two part series on Gilgit-Baltistan)

22 comments

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  • I am form Gilgit baltistan and I am Shia Muslim . I am happy as citizen of Pakistan and Pakistan does not change us into sunni Muslim, so plz do not separate false statements. We all citizens of Gilgit baltistan are happy with Pakistan and we gave our life to Pakistan. Pakistan zindabad🇵🇰🇵🇰🇵🇰

  • Facts speak louder than lies. How many Pakistani soldiers are stationed in Baltistan and Pakistani Kashmir? How many Indian soldiers are stationed in Indian occupied Kashmir? Does your fascist government dare to hold a plebiscite in the entire region as Pakistan has been demanding since partition? Speaking of ethnic displacement do u know what the indian government has been doing in Kashmir? Of course u know very well. The merciful and humane dogra raja whose memory the people of baltistan and Kashmir hate and revile by the way, carried out a huge genocide of muslims in jammu and kashmir thereby changing the ethnic mix forever. Writing lies does not change the facts on the ground. Tell your soldiers to go home and then we shall see whose flags dot the land. Why has your napunsakh government banned green cloth in Kashmir? As for Shia populations in Pakistan unlike state sponsored riots in india there are no shia sunni riots in Pakistan. Many leaders of Pakistan have been shia as well including the Bhutto family, Iskander Mirza and others. The Qaid himself was from the Bohra community. We are all Muslim alhamdolillah and perfectly content together unlike your artificially created hotchpotch of a country that was never historically one nation. How can it be with the radical hinduvta ideology clashing with just about every other faith? Trying to put a people down forever is like putting a hand on the sun. Try it if u must. Eventually our muslim brothers and sisters will join us and your patchwork quilt of a country will go back to its constituent parts. Already the seven sisters in the north east have declared their independence from you. Kashmir is burning and the sikhs in punjab and haryana have also had enough of your hegemony.

    • Lol. This is what happens when one can’t accept the wrong but the whole world seems to be wrong..

      Talking about the plebiscite.. the whole of Pakistan wants plebiscite but knows nothing of the terms of plebiscite mentioned in UNSC.. lmao..

      And Muslims & content together is like a joke on the name of Muslim Ummah.. delusional world and reality are as different as North pole and south pole. A country made on Religious hatrate, lies and above all, on a stubborn arrogance on Jinnah for his selfish reasons n self image n toxicity can never prosper & will never prosper, as evident since its creation n debt drowned forever..

      As pure Pak- istan sounds, it’s completely impure like NaPak-istan in reality. From a Failed Military governed state to using religion as bait everytime in grave waters & claiming Muslim Ummah is sheer hypocrisy.

      Now even the most of the Muslim world is cutting ties because of this Na-Pak doings n those sticking around are the same rogue states like yourself..

      Sadly because of this failed state Radical Islam & terrorism gained new heights across west Asia, India & misused such a peaceful religion for its own selfish motives n the world is evident & been a victim to all of it.

      Speak like your Puppet PM & you’ll be safe but Dare you speak the actual truth you’ll be encountered like lakhs of others or forced to leave the country like Malala or thousands of others ..

      People living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others, though in this case a tweaked phrase..

      ” People living in grass huts shouldn’t show matchsticks at others ” 😂😂😂

  • Also just so people dont get confused, why dont you tell them where you are based? You are an indian masquerading as a Pakistani. Let there be no doubt on this. Come to giglio baltistan if you dare. The locals will tear you to pieces for writing this drivel in their name. I am not speaking with you but to your handlers.

  • It is time the entire world community particularly like minded nations of Muslim world and India extend support to oppressed people of Gilgit Baltistan. In the long run this will also have contagious impact and awaken the uighers of China. We need to make our voice heard as we are the Second nation in the world with highest Muslim population and are a democratic nation. I believe we can do it; can’t we!

  • I have travelled in GB 1994 till last year, made friends with Shia residents, and exchanged gifts.
    I have seen Muharram procession in Skardu, where no untoward incident occurred. There is limited economic activity. Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Health & Education Services are helping empower local women and promote entrepreneurship.
    GB fell into PK lap in 1947 when a British soldier raised the PK flag. Wars occurred later.
    I have been a regular visitor to GB, and have been welcomed in Khaplu, Shigar, Hushe and have fond memories of my interaction with people in GB.
    Let the locals speak for themselves.

  • The differences among sects of Muslims are often glossed over by our liberal media who unabashedly analyse the caste structure of our martyred soldiers. The objective is to divide the Hindus but don’t utter a word about anything Islam even though something may be terribly wrong as for example Nikah Halala in Triple Talaq or polygamy etc.

  • Shia and Norbukhshi Muslims are enjoying their rights in Gilgit-Baltistan from 1948. Some externally triggered skirmishes doesn’t exhibit here we are divided. People are living in peace and harmony in Gilgit-Baltistan Pakistan. India first stop violance against minorities living in Occupied Kashmir , Asam and Punjab then start its false propaganda in Gilgit-Baltistan.

  • Gilgit baltistan is a separate state which was divided by india Pakistan and china
    Ladakh, Baltistan kargil are all balti speakers and we are people of baltiyul
    I request tohl these countries to please make a sperate land consisting Baltistan ladakh kargil etc so we balti once again come together our relatives are in india so we can meet them easily
    We can see their houses every day but we cant meet them 2 3 generations passed away so now this generation also going without meeting their relatives
    The people of india Pakistan cant understand the feelings of those people who never meet their family members across the unaccepted border

  • I am an active citizen of Gilgit Baltistan and specifically I am from Khapulo and this all are not true and nonsense, and false agenda raised by your government. We are enjoying our equal rights in respect of Pakistani Government. Don’t be so silly that we are your part. If you will start seeing your evil eyes to this region PAK ARMY will be…. I think you understood well.

  • I feel the whole of j&k should finally come to India as we are the fourth largest economy in the world and it does not justify to be a part of a failed state like Pakistan. They are reduced to begging around the world and are dogs to their masters China. There is no sovereignty left and self respect for this nonsense country better known as the cradle of terrorism. Chances of its annihilation is greater in the hands of India and finally they will have to eat grass

  • Chitral was never a part of your fantasy of ‘akhand bharat’ and never will it be. If push comes to shove everyone in chitral (Sunni and ismaili and kalash) will fight India, in the same way we fought in 47.

  • If Islam is a religion of peace then why 57 countries are burning? If Mahamad is supreme then why a terrorist organization is named after JaiS E Mahamad. Whole world is suffering from Islamic terrorism. There is no good university no good research scholars no space research no Nobel laureate. Only killing rape and destruction. 4 Lakhs Kashmir Hindus are killed and removed. Change yourself.

  • One day Pakistan loose Kashmir as well as RESPECT of other countries……wich affect Pakistani economy and Pakistan is not able to recover from any war……if they start with India…..they loose everything same like Germany and Armenia……Pakistan government using Chinese and Turkey propaganda for India……india is ready to takkke with these countries…….stand for peace …..🇮🇳🙏🏻🇮🇳

Senge Sering

Senge Sering

Senge Hasna Sering is the Founder of the Institute for Gilgit-Baltistan Studies. He was born in district Shigar, Gilgit-Baltistan. He is one of the most well-known scholars from the region.

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