The Case of Gilgit Baltistan (Part-I)

The Case of Gilgit Baltistan (Part-I)

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Advocate Ashfaq Ahmed

The ancient history of Gilgit Baltistan Image @zaabbas

A study of the books available on the ancient history of Gilgit-Baltistan shows that before 1842, Gilgit-Baltistan also had small, independent states like the ancient Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta, which maintained robust diplomatic and trade relations with powerful neighboring countries.

Karl Jetmar, head of the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the South Asia Institute at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, writes on page 5 of his book, “Bolor and Dardistan“, that the ancient state of Bolor in Gilgit-Baltistan consisting of two parts, the eastern half being called Great Bolor and the western half being called Little Bolor, Great Bolor used to send his diplomats to the Chinese royal court in the eighth century. The state of Bolor was under threat of foreign aggression. On page 18, he writes that Turkish mercenaries held high positions in the Bolor Royal Army and were converted to Buddhism. But the names of the Buddhist rulers of Gilgit-Baltistan are still engraved and relegated from contemporary history books.

An ancient name is inscribed on a mountain rock near Mouza Haton Government School in Tehsil Pooniyal, District Ghizer. The inscription gives a brief description of the Patola royal family who was the rulers of Bolor state. Most of the documents discovered from this region give the account of this royal family as Patola Shahi, also known as Plowala or Bolor kings. Similarly, in the Tang Chu, the names of the rulers of the Little Bolor are briefly mentioned in sequence. nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that the rulers of the little Bolor faced several interventions from China compared to Great Bolor.

In the 6th century AD and 7th century AD, the rulers of Bilour State lived in Skardu, the capital of Great Bolor according to Karl Jetmar. This name is also mentioned in ancient Tibetan books. Burushal is considered to be the homeland of the Burushuski speaking people. According to Hoffman, this country is already mentioned in the 7th century, when king Manslon-man-Brstan married a princess of Bru-za. In various historical accounts, the Tibetans came to Gilgit Valley but did not meet the Shina Speaking people, however, during their incursion they came in contact with Burusho people Jetmar mentions.

Between the 7th and 9th centuries AD, the Gilgit Valley was in the hands of the Brusho people. The great historian and voyager Marco Polo writes about the Bolor state that “it is the land of wild atheists who wear animal skins.” Baluristan (Balawaristan) is one of the ancient states of Gilgit-Baltistan. Perhaps,  the name of Bolor State has been present in history archives for a thousand years.

Most of the contemporary historians held that it was after 1840, under the Sikh Dynasty of Lahore the regular military operations to occupy Gilgit-Baltistan was started. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was purchased by Maharaja Gulab Singh from the British Crown under the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846 for 7.5 million Nanakshahis.

According to Ehsan Mehmood Khan during the Medieval Era, (between the fifth to fifteenth centuries), there were sovereign states in this region. In his renowned Ph.D. thesis titled “The role of Geography In Human Security:

A case study of Gilgit-Baltistan (page 83) writes between the seventh and nineteenth centuries AD, there were seventeen autonomous states in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan, which includes the states of Gilgit, Hunza Nagar, Ponial, Yasin, Ashkuman, Koh-i-Ghazar. Chilas, Daryl-Tangier, Astor, Skardu, Kharmang, Tolti, Shigar, Rondo, Keris, and Khaplo, ruled by various local rulers from the 7th century to the 19th centuries. However, during this particular era, the region also faced external aggression from time to time.

Most of the contemporary historians held that it was after 1840, under the Sikh Dynasty of Lahore the regular military operations to occupy Gilgit-Baltistan began. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was purchased by Maharaja Gulab Singh from the British Crown under the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846 for 7.5 million Nanakshahis. According to article 3 of the Amritsar treaty, “ In consideration of the transfer made to him and his heirs by the provisions of the foregoing Articles, Maharajah Gulab Singh will pay to the British Government the sum of seventy-five lakhs of Rupees (Nanuk-shah) , fifty lakhs to be paid on ratification of this Treaty, and twenty-five lakhs on or before the first October of the current year

In the year 1842, when Gilgit was ruled by Iskandar Shah, the ruler of Nagar, Gohar Aman, the ruler of Yasin, attacked Gilgit and killed Iskandar Shah, and certainly became the ruler of Gilgit. Luckily, Sikandar Shah’s brother Karim Khan escaped and took refuge in the Lahore Darbar and sought help from the Sikhs.

However, the point should be kept in mind that under Article 10 of the treaty, Maharaja Gulab Singh also recognized the sovereignty of the British Crown and was obliged to pay an annual tribute to the British government, while Article 9 of the treaty protected his state’s borders in the event of external aggression. He also promised help from the British Crown.

The Sikhs, meanwhile, took full advantage of the internal strife and enmity of the local rulers of Gilgit-Baltistan. According to Ehsan Mehmood Khan, Muhammad Shah, son of Raja Skardu Ahmad Shah, rebelled against his father and sought help from the Dogra rulers of Srinagar against his father and invited him to attack Gilgit. Dogra accepted the invitation and Dogra Commander, Minister Zorawar Singh attacked and captured Skardu replaced Raja Skardu Ahmad Shah with Muhammad Shah as the Raja of Skardu. Unfortunately, Ahmad Shah remained in the captivity of Dogras till his death in 1845.

This is the case of Gilgit Baltistan and its lost history…

In the year 1842, when Gilgit was ruled by Iskandar Shah, the ruler of Nagar, Gohar Aman, the ruler of Yasin, attacked Gilgit and killed Iskandar Shah, and certainly became the ruler of Gilgit. Luckily, Sikandar Shah’s brother Karim Khan escaped and took refuge in the Lahore Darbar and sought help from the Sikhs. The Lahore court ordered the governor of Kashmir to help Karim Shah retook his throne back. Here the point should be kept in mind that the Governor of Kashmir used to an appointee from the royal court of Lahore.

Hence as per royal court decree, the governor of Kashmir sent a powerful army led by Commander Nathu Shah to attack Gilgit. Colonel Nathu Shah attacked Gilgit with a powerful army. According to Dr. Amar Singh Chauhan, Nathu Shah clashed with Gohar Aman’s army at Basin but suffered huge backlashes. In the same year, the second Dogra commander, Marhra Das, entered Gilgit, replacing Nathu Shah to carry out the successful ambush against Gohar Aman.

But Raja Gohar Aman, the most famous ruler of Gilgit-Baltistan, attacked Matra Das’s army at Shirot and Gulapur inflicting the worst defeat on him. According to Dr. Amar Singh soon after losing the war, Matra Das fled straight to Kashmir. Raja Gohar Aman’s great-grandson Zia-ur-Rehman Advocate, while mentioning this war, said that the Dogra forces were defeated by Gohar Aman’s forces near Harpon Das Basin, Henzel Gilgit.

according to the terms of the agreement, British India sold parts of Kashmir which they had acquired from the Sikh rulers of Punjab to Gulab Singh, the Dogra ruler of Kashmir, for 75 lakh Nanak-Shahi (Sikh currency). Moreover, the areas sold by the British Crown to Gulab Singh under the Treaty of Amritsar included some of the areas of Gilgit-Baltistan which had been occupied by the Sikhs of Punjab since 1842.

Raja Gohar Aman was commanding this battle himself, this battle is also mentioned in the songs of the local Khuwar language and according to the tradition one thousand Dogra soldiers were killed in this battle and their blood reached the ankles of horses but Nathu Shah did not concede defeat and did not give up and attacked Gilgit again. Raja Gohar Aman preferred negotiations over war and as a result, Colonel Nathu Shah installed Karim Khan on the throne of Gilgit.

But in view of the threat posed by Gohar Aman and a possible attack, they unanimously agreed to set up a joint administration on Gilgit. Under the joint administration, Some Sikh soldiers were deployed in Gilgit under a police officer. Thus Gilgit came under the direct influence of the Sikh Empire of Punjab. In 1845, the Anglo-Sikh War broke out between the British East India Company and the Sikh Empire of Punjab. The Sikhs were defeated in the war and the Treaty of Lahore was signed on 9 March 1846 between the East India Company and the defeated Sikh Empire. As a result, the Sikhs lost a large part of their empire, including Gilgit.

Consequently, One week after the Lahore Agreement, the British Indian Government signed the Treaty of Amritsar with the Gulab Singh of Kashmir State on 16 March 1848. Hence, according to the terms of the agreement, British India sold parts of Kashmir which they had acquired from the Sikh rulers of Punjab to Gulab Singh, the Dogra ruler of Kashmir, for 75 lakh Nanak-Shahi (Sikh currency). Moreover, the areas sold by the British Crown to Gulab Singh under the Treaty of Amritsar included some of the areas of Gilgit-Baltistan which had been occupied by the Sikhs of Punjab since 1842. It is a different matter that later on the whole of Gilgit-Baltistan was occupied by the Dogra forces along with the British Crown.

On this Pandit Prem Nath famously said that two million people of Kashmir were sold like sheep and goats. Likewise, on this agreement famous poet of the East, Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who was also of Kashmiri descent, said:

Peasants, cultivators, gamblers, and street vendors (دہقان و کِشت و جُو و خیاباں فروختند)

The nation sold cheaply (قومے فروختند وچہ ارزاں فروختند)

This means “how cheaply the whole nation, including Kashmir’s farmers, meadows, rivers and beautiful fields and gardens, were sold for nothing“.

Thus, after Kashmir and Gilgit were sold to the Dogras in 1846, Colonel Nathu Shah, along with his 100 Sikh soldiers stationed at Gilgit, changed his allegiance and service to the Sikh government and joined the Dogra government. And the Sikh army stationed in Astor was replaced by Dogra forces and flags and then a new dark chapter in the history of Gilgit began.

Notes:

Jettmar, K., & Jettmar, K. (1980). Bolor & Dardistan.

Advocate Ashfaq Ahmed is a legal practitioner based in Gilgit Baltistan with keen interest in the politics and history of the region.

Translated by Shahzada Rahim

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The Radical Outlook

The Radical Outlook is an online news web Portal designed for in-depth news analysis from the Eurasian region and beyond. It is Founded by a geopolitical analyst Shahzada Rahim.
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