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Open Space

From LFO to new LFO: Uncertainty bugs Kashmir

Showkat Ali

The government of Pakistan has announced a package of political and administrative reform for the Northern Areas. The Northern Areas council has been upgraded to a legislative assembly with powers to debate and pass its own budget.

The northern areas were until now governed by Pakistan through the ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas under the Northern Areas Legal Areas Order 1994, introduced by Benazir Bhutto government.

The deputy chief executive would now be called chief executive with full administrative and financial authority, who would be elected by the new assembly.

The constitutional changes have been made by incorporating 52 amendments, proposed by locals, into the LFO.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf unveiled the package in Gilgit on Tuesday. He also announced that a commission will be set up to resolve the boundary dispute between Nortth Western Frontier Province and Northern Areas.

Before the 1994 LFO the region was ruled through the colonial instrument Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR). Z A Bhutto abolished the FCR in Norhtern Areas in 1970 however, the federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan such as North and South Waziristan are still governed by FCR.

The beautiful region of Northern Areas is a vast stretch of mountains and lakes spread over an area of 73000 sq km with a population of 1.2 million. The region attracts large number of tourists as there are 18 of the world’s highest 50 peaks, including second highest K2. The region is divided into three administrative provinces and six districts

The very status of the region is disputed besides the borfder dispute with Pakistan province of NWFP, which is a main hurdle in the construction of Diamer Basha Dam. The question about its political status is whether it is part of pre 47 princely State of Jammu and Kashmir.

In 1947, the people of the area revolted against the Dogra rule and declared independence and formed “Islamic Republic of Gilgit”. They local Rajas and Mirs signed an instrument of accession countersigned by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah with Pakistan.

Some local commentators argue, very forcefully too, that historically Northern Area are not and cannot be construed as part of Jammu and Kashmir. Those who oppose the idea of the region being part of Jammu and Kashmir are mostly “integrationists”, to who the “accession” of the region to Pakistan in 1947 is final.

Analyst M. Ismail Khan, a local, writes in his recent column:

“Northern Areas was indeed part of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) but just as India and Pakistan was part of the British Raj for a certain period of time. It was result of an occupation. Kashmiris have never ruled Northern Areas; it was the Dogra Raja of Jammu who brought parts of the region under his sway that too well before the treaty of Amritsar was signed through which the Dogras purchased Kashmir valley from the British. And it is also true that it was the local people who fought their way out of the occupation in 1947 and decided to join Pakistan on their own sweet will, thereby, severing whatever symbolic relations they had with the princely state.

But it was the then bureaucrats based in Karachi and some self-serving Kashmiri leaders who conspired to keep Northern Areas entangled with the Kashmir issue. They not only ignored the aspiration of the people of the region as manifested in the instrument of accession signed by local Rajas and Mirs and countersigned by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself but went on to stage manage a controversial agreement (the Karachi agreement of 1949) between the leader of the Muslim Conference of Jammu and Kashmir and a minister without portfolio in the cabinet securing administrative rights in the Northern Areas which Pakistan already had, given by the local people.”

However, the Amritsars Treaty executed in 1846 between Maharaja Gulab Singh and the British authorities, as provided in the treaty, the - British Government transferred and made over for ever in independent possession to Maharaja Gulab Singh and the heirs of his body all the hilly or mountainous country with its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus and the westward of the River Ravi including Chamba and excluding Lahul, being part of the territories ceded to under the provisions of the Article IV of the Treaty of Lahore, dated 9th March, 1846”.

The transfer was made “upon a consideration of 75,00,000 Nanak Shahies rupees”. In other words, the valley of Kashmir along with all hilly, mountainous territories was sold to the Maharaja and the British also surrendered their rights from the Northern Areas in favour of him.

The flag of the Maharaja was kept raised throughout the lease period at Gilgit agency (being a leased area). Even birthdays of the Maharaja were officially celebrated throughout the Northern Areas including Gilgit agency.

The local Rajas, Mirs, chieftains were in fact local jagirdars and were subjects of the Maharaja of Kashmir and they were never given the status of princely states. They use to give gold, horses and money as khiraj and used to appear in the official functions as “darbaries” before the Maharaja at Srinagar and were granted sanads. Poonch and other Jagirs were situated within the territory of princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The citizens of Northern Areas were prosecuted and tried under the Ranbir Panel Code (R.P.C) which was promulgated by Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Jammu and Kashmir State.

Under Article 6 of the ‘Sinkiang Agreement’ dated March 2, 1963 executed between China and Pakistan, the Northern Areas are a disputed territory and this agreement is subject to a solution of the dispute of Kashmir.

According to Historical Atlas of World, 1965 (USA), and the Encyclopaedia Britannica as well as in the official maps of World Bank, UNO, the area of Gilgit and Baltistan has been part of the Jammu and Kashmir state during the Mughal, Afghans, Sikhs, Dogra regimes.

In 1934, the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly (Parjha Sabha) as constituted by Maharaja Hari Singh included representation of the Northern Areas. In 1935, Gilgit and Baltistan were given by Maharaja of Kashmir to the British on lease for 12 years and on its expiry these areas were returned to the Maharaja.

According to the judgments, delivered by Superior Courts of the Azad Kashmir, it was held that “the Northern Areas are part and parcel of the Jammu and Kashmir.” Hence, these areas are legally and historically a part of the Jammu and Kashmir State and fall within the “disputed territory” like other parts of the state.

Apart from all the political skulduggery the fact is that it is a less fortunate part of the world caught in a web of intrigue and big power machinations. The Diamer Basha Dam is a small example of uncertainties surrounding the region. The northern are is a strategic region geopolitically, surrounded by India China and Afghanistan. The Karokoram Highway connecting Pakistan and China runs through the region. Besides number of lakes and glaciers, the sparsely populated region can earn a lot of revenue through tourism. Its strategic location and water resources make it - to borrow a phrase - a place to fight for.

The present package can get some noses out of the local governing business and cut some more to size. But its final status has to be intrinsically bound to that of Kashmir. Until then people of the region deserve a better self managed governance and access to an independent judiciary and other modern modern civil institutions. May all of Jammu and Kashmir see real freedom and may allits people thrive. For the time being – all the best to Northern Areas.

(Showkat Ali is a Srinagar based political analyst. He can be mailed at ali@kashmirnewz.org)

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