1. Gilgit-Baltistan is located
South of Pamir Knot which is a
confluence/origin of many an
important mountain ranges i.e.
Himalayan Range,Karakoram
Range, Hindu Kush Range,
Kunlun Range, and Tian Shan
Range. This region is enclosed
by the Korakoram Range in the
North-North East which
extends well beyond the entire
length of Tibet, Himalayas in
the East which extends till
South Eastern end of Tibet and
Hindu Kush Ranges in the West
which extend till South West of
Afghanistan. The physical
boundary of Gilgit-Baltistan is
bounded by Kheber-Pakhtunwa
in the East, Wakhan corridor
(Afghanistan) in the North,
Ladakh in the West and
Pakistan in the South. Thus this
region becomes a dead end if
one wants to launch a military
campaign from Indian Ocean
and South Asia towards China,
Central Asia, Russia, Eurasia or
the Caucasian region to enter
Europe. There are a No of difficult passes that allow entry
directly in this region. These
passes have been traditionally
used by the conquerors, travellers and businessmen for centuries to travel both ways. This
makes this region an entry/exit
point with tremendous strategic
significance from military
point of view.
2. As soon as the control of
India was taken by the British
from East India Company, they
realized the geostrategic potential of this region. This location
close to Russian border (albeit
on the other side of Karakorum
Range) and Russia a likely
enemy, British started strategizing to take control of this region.
British realized that this region
and the parts of Ladakh were
very important if they were to
go to war with Russia or China.
This would also promote their
efforts to get control of Central
Asian republics and wrest control of mineral rich Caucasian
region. As such we find a record
No of British expeditions coming to this far-flung treacherous
terrain for hiking and mountain
climbing. These were nothing
but the reconnaissance missions
launched by the British to learn
about the topography, communication routes, internal political
setup and the study of the
demography to be able to
acquire comprehensive control
of this area at an appropriate
3.Gilgit-Baltistan had been
added to the erstwhile State of
Jammu and Kashmir by
Maharaja Gulab Singh. After
British wrested the control of
entire Punjab and they had a
common border with this
region, they started their quest
to get Gilgit-Baltistan under
the British control. They tried
to persuade the Maharaja of
Jammu and Kashmir and
finally they succeeded in
getting the region on lease
from Maharaja Pratap
Singh in 1877. This lasted till
1881 and it was taken on BRITISH…
lease again in 1887. However, Maharaja kept resisting and
British kept their efforts on to convince/threaten the Maharaja
for the control over Gilgit-Baltistan. In 1905, British had a
plan for the final annexation of this region but the plan got
exposed and they had to abandon the operation. In another
bizarre effort to wrest this region they tried to use ‘The
Doctrine of Lapse” to get control of entire Jammu and
Kashmir including Gilgit-Baltistan. They decided to wait till
the death of Maharaja Pratap Singh who did not have a legal
heir apparent for Jammu and Kashmir State. However, this
was stumped by the announcement by Maharaja Pratap Singh
and he declared Hari Singh, son of his brother Raja Amar
Singh as heir apparent to Jammu and Kashmir State.
4. British had a plan for this as well. They forced the
Maharaja to send Prince Hari Singh to Mayo College for
schooling and finally to London for higher studies. The
grooming of the heir apparent was pre planned, monitored and
guided so that the prince once takes the reins of Jammu And
Kashmir State, toes the British line and becomes part of
British diplomacy and their grand designs in this part of Asia.
They even made him serve as ‘Page of Honour’ to Lord
Curzon in 1903. However, British were not to succeed here as
well. Early influences on young lad’s mind, when he interacted with other princes from states of rest of India at Mayo
College, had an opposite effect. His leanings manifested as
patriotic towards a united India and anti British rather than the
other way around. In 1925, Maharaja Hari Singh acceded the
throne in Jammu and Kashmir. British confident of Maharaja
Hari Singh being on their side, made him Chancellor Princes’
Chamber and invited him to ‘Round Table Conference’ in
London in 1930. Contrary to their expectations, Maharaja
Hari Singh articulated in favour of united independent India.
This dashed all the hopes of getting full control of GilgitBaltistan that British had nurtured all along.
5. British then tried to engineer the dissidence against
Maharaja Hari Singh with famous case of riots in Srinagar in
1931. The local British resident fabricated an incident of
apparent desecration which led to massive riots, looting and
arson. It tried to turn the Muslim population of Kashmir
against the Maharaja. British were still hopeful of their plans
as Maharaja Hari Singh did not have a son- the heir apparentdespite having married thrice.
6. The ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ was a ray of hope in British
minds once again to take full control of Gilgit-Baltistan. Till
now, though the region was on lease with British but
Maharaja’s administration was still at work in Gilgit-Baltistan.
However, with birth of Yuvraj Karan Singh from his fourth
wife, British were unnerved.
7. With the rise of Hitler in Europe and increasing influence of Russians, British could appreciate the likelihood of a
major war and they grew restless. Ultimately. WWII did happen but the Russians turned ally rather than enemy due to economic, ideological and strategic reasons. But as of now the
British had coercing Maharaja Hari Singh at multiple levels.
Finally in 1935, Maharaja, in utter disgust, withdrew its
administrative elements unilaterally conceding the control of
Gilgit-Baltistan to British. As per the agreement the new lease
was to last for 60 years and flag of Jammu and Kashmir was
to fly in Gilgit-Baltistan alongside British Union Jack. Finally,
when India was to get independence on 15 Aug 1947, British
decided to relinquish the control of Gilgit-Baltistan back to
Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu And Kashmir. On 1st Aug
Major General Scott, Chief of Jammu and Kashmir State
Forces flew in Gilgit, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, with
Brigadier Ghansara Singh of Jammu and Kashmir State
Forces and handed over the reins of this region to him.
Brigadier Ghansara Singh was now the new Governor
appointed by Maharaja Hari Singh.
8. The Gilgit Agency was protected by Maharaja’s force
called ‘Imperial Service Troops’. In 1913, Gilgit Scouts a Para
Military force comprising of local Muslims, officered and
funded by British was raised. This unit under command of an
acting Commandant (sent by British to execute “Op DATTA
KHEL”) was to play a major role in imprisoning Brigadier
Ghansara Singh, Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan, killing Hindu
troops of Jammu and Kashmir Infantry and handing over the
rule to Pakistan. “Op DATTA KHEL” was the operation
undertaken to take control of Gilgit-Baltistan.
[Brigadier Dr Vijay Sagar Dheman is leading Defence
and Strategic Expert, prolific writer, National TV News
Commentator and Internationally Accredited Life Coach.]