When the British poured scorn over Gilgit, saying it was integral part of India

When the British poured scorn over Gilgit, saying it was integral part of India

When the British poured scorn over Gilgit, saying it was integral part of India

New Delhi, September 6 (IANS) Even as Pakistan tries to ratchet up the volume on Jammu and Kashmir at various international fora over the next few days, it is pertinent to note that the Janus faced rogue nation has to share the burden of truth and facts with the countries that it is lobbying currently.

India is equally adept at studying the semiotics that emanate from the toxic state. In March 2017, in a stunning reversal to its fortunes, the British Parliament passed a resolution confirming Gilgit-Baltistan as a part of J&K, India, and condemning Pakistan for making it a province and changing the demography of the region.

A motion was passed by the British parliamentarians announcing Gilgit-Baltistan as a legal and constitutional part of Jammu and Kashmir which has been illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947.

The motion was tabled in the British Parliament on March 23, 2017 by Bob Blackman of the Conservative Party. It said that Pakistan was attempting to annex an area that did not belong to it.

The British Parliament motion read: "Gilgit-Baltistan is a legal and constitutional part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India, which is illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947, and where people are denied their fundamental rights including the right of freedom of expression."

The British parliamentarians accused Pakistan of adopting a policy to change the demography of the Gilgit-Baltistan region in violation of State Subject Ordinance. They also termed the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as illegal.

"The 'forced and illegal construction' of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has interfered with the disputed territory," the motion said.

The Gilgit-Baltistan area is under Pakistan's control since it invaded Jammu and Kashmir soon after the Partition of India. It forms the northernmost administrative territory under Pakistan's control just beyond the Kashmir region -- a part of which is illegally occupied by Islamabad.

Curiously, in 1935, the administrative and defence responsibilities of this northern frontier had been transferred by the Maharaja of Kashmir to the British government of India under a 60-year lease. As the result of the civil war in China became uncertain, the Viceroy prevailed upon Maharaja Hari Singh to do so in the interests of the security of the British empire.

Gilgit was administered by the political department from Delhi in the same way as Malakand or Khyber in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), with political officers reporting to the Viceroy through Peshawar. A carefully chosen force capable of rapid movement in the mountainous territory controlled by British officers, the Gilgit Scouts, provided the muscle to the administration.

On August 1, 1947, the Gilgit lease was receded by Delhi to the Maharaja of J&K and Lt. Col. Roger Bacon, the British political agent, handed over the area to Brig. Ghansara Singh, the state's new Governor. According to V.P. Menon, secretary of state and Sardar Patel's pointsman in the integration of states, Kashmir did not have the resources, including financial, to hold Gilgit which was cut off from Srinagar during winters.

In view of the lapse of paramountcy, the retrocession was probably inevitable, but the fact remains that no sooner was Gilgit handed over to the Maharaja that it came under the mercy of Pakistan.

The British officers of Gilgit Scouts -- Major William Alexander Brown and Capt. A.S. Mathieson -- still served Hari Singh as contract officers, though they continued to receive instructions from the political agent for Khyber based in Peshawar which is now Pakistan.

Brown and Mathieson had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Maharaja on the "holy book". According to author Alistair Lamb: "In fact, they knew as the story has it that the book which they held in their hand, while swearing was actually the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, suitably wrapped in an opaque cloth."

As the new Governor occupied his official residence in the grandeur of impotence, it was Brown and Mathieson who held the keys to power in Gilgit.

Lt. Col. Bacon, on transfer from Gilgit, was given the Khyber post. This ensured perfect coordination between the Gilgit Scouts and Peshawar. According to the bulletin of the Military Historical Society of Great Britain, the broad post-Partition plan had been discussed by Brown and Bacon in June 1947. And after Mathieson arrived in Gilgit, as second in command, the two British officers refined contingency measures, should the Maharaja take his state over to India.

In such a situation, whatever the fate of the rest of J&K, delivering Gilgit to Pakistan was fairly straightforward. This was accomplished on the night of October 31, 1947. As soon as Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India, Brown got the Gilgit Scouts to surround the residency and, after a short gun battle, he imprisoned Governor Ghansara Singh.

Brown then informed Peshawar about the accession of Gilgit to Pakistan. On November 2, the major raised the Pakistani flag at his headquarters and informed the force that they now served the government in Karachi. Brown and Mathieson had surreptitiously opted for service in Pakistan in a brazen volte face when the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession in favour of India. Since Gilgit by this act had become a part of India, properly, they should have made an immediate request for release from their appointments. But they didn't.

And history records that they didn't go unrewarded for these rich exploits. The geopolitically sensitive Gilgit had been swallowed whole by two Brits acting in concert with Pakistan. India was aghast. Sir George Cunningham, the new Governor of NWFP (whose role has been disputed in the sending of the tribal raiders), on hearing of Brown's coup in Gilgit, instructed him and his colleague Mathieson to restore order, ignoring the fact that Gilgit was part of J&K, which had acceded to India.

Even the King of England didn't frown upon the coup. An entry in the 1948 London Gazette reads: "The King has been graciously pleased on the occasion of his birthday to give orders for the following appointments to the Most Exalted Order of the British Empire to Brown, Major (acting) William Alexander, Special List (ex-Indian Army)."

The actions of Brown and Mathieson were suspect politically and, while Brown describes it as a coup d'etat, Lamb writes that Brown was certainly not acting as a party to a British conspiracy. However, there existed a small number of British soldiers and officials who, in a private capacity as friends of Pakistan, encouraged Brown and Mathieson to be in Gilgit on the eve of the transfer of power.

Moreover, subsequent events came as no surprise to Col. Bacon, who certainly acted as a liaison between Major Brown and the government of Pakistan. In this respect, he may have contributed significantly to the success of Gilgit coup d'etat. Col. Bacon, however, in no way represented the policy of the British government in London.