October 1, 2008
Status: Disputed territory currently occupied by Pakistan
Population: 1.8 million
Area: 72,496 km²
Language: Urdu, Shina, Burushaski, Balti, Tibetan, Wakhi, Khowar
UNPO REPRESENTATION: Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance
Gilgit-Baltistan is representated at the UNPO by the Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance (GBDA) an umbrella organization which also represents groups such as the Balawaristan National Front, Karakoram National Movement, Gilgit Baltistan United Movement, the Bolor Research Forum and the Gilgit Baltistan Laddakh Democratic Movement. These groups remain committed to non-violent methods, despite a deteriorating situation.
Gilgit Baltistan is located in northern Pakistan and is internationally contested by Pakistan, India and the native inhabitants of Gilgit Baltistan. Gilgit-Baltistan borders Afghanistan to the north, China to the northeast, the Pakistani administrated state of Azad, Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) to the south, and the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir to the southeast. The territory of Gilgit-Baltistan consists of two Baltistan districts and the five Gilgit districts and the main political centres are the towns of Gilgit and Skardu. Gilgit-Baltistan covers a territory of 72,496 km² and has an estimated population of 1.8 million.
According to Pakistan's constitution, the Northern Areas is not a fully integral part of Pakistan, and its inhabitants have never had any representation in Pakistan's parliament despite demands by the people living in the area. Like the Northern Areas, AJK, the other part of the former princely state under Pakistan’s control, is considered disputed territory. Yet, Islamabad has granted AJK nominal autonomy, including its own constitution. In stark contrast, it administers the Northern Areas under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) of 1994, an administrative instrument used to strengthen its hold over the region while denying its residents basic political and civil rights. Many locals believe sectarian bias explains the widely different political arrangements in the Northern Areas and AJK: while AJK and Pakistan have an overwhelming Sunni majority, the Northern Areas are the only Shia-majority region under Pakistani control.
In 1999, the Pakistan Supreme Court issued a landmark verdict, which directed Islamabad to extend fundamental freedoms to the Northern Areas, allowing its people to be governed by their elected representatives within six months. In violation of this, the region is still ruled by executive group from Islamabad through the federal ministry for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA), whose minister is its unelected chief executive. The Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC), the region’s elected legislature, is powerless, and civil and military bureaucrats run affairs. By depriving elected institutions of any authority, Islamabad has created a moral and legal vacuum, which runs the risk of marginalizing moderate political forces.
The isolation associated with the Karakoram mountains ensured that Gilgit-Baltistan, traditionally known as Bolor, developed and preserved its unique history, cultural values and traditional political identity. Over the centuries, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan came under the control of the Durrani Empire of Afghanistan and experienced four centuries of Muslim rule under the Mughals (until 1751) and the Afghan Durranis, who ruled until 1820. Between 1832 and 1860, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan was conquered by the Sikhs and the Dogras who administered the region as part of the ‘Princely State of Kashmir and Jammu’ under the tutelage of the British Crown. Between 1935 and 1947 the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan was given to the British on lease in order to enable them to keep watch on the developments in Xinjiang and Afghanistan.
When then English returned the Gilgit warrant, the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan became the third “Northern Area” province of Kashmir and Jammu. On 1st November 1947, the local population of Gilgit Baltistan and Laddakh overthrew the Dogra rulers and declared an independent Republic in Gilgit. This Gilgit government, along with similar governments in Muzaffarabad and Sringar, formed the three UN-recognized interim governments in the disputed former state of three provinces. However, following the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, Pakistan occupied the territories to the north and west of the cease-fire line and divided the territory into the Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan) and Azad, Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) in the south.