While the First Kashmir War led to the loss of one third of Indian territory, cunning British intervention led to the annexation of Gilgit-Baltistan, part of the greater Kashmir region, by Pakistan in November 1947.

In the 19th century, both the British and the Russian Empire sought to control and influence Afghanistan, and Central and South Asia. This created distrust among the two and the fear that the two could go to war was always a possibility. Following the formation of the USSR in 1922 and Communist China raising its head, Britain found it imperative to secure all inroads into the Indian subcontinent. In this context, it looked to Gilgit in Kashmir, its northernmost outpost, as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism.

Accordingly in 1935, the Gilgit Agency was leased by the British for 60 years from the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. Administered by the British, the region’s security was under a British military force called the Gilgit Scouts. Fast forward to 1947 and the British were making a speedy exit but with a few minor tweaks here and there. Just fifteen days before granting the subcontinent its independence, the British suddenly terminated its lease and returned Gilgit to the Maharaja. Hari Singh appointed a new governor to Gilgit and the British sent him two Gilgit Scout officers for assistance, one of them being Major William Alexander Brown.

Now, Britain always thought Kashmir would go to Pakistan as it was a Muslim-majority region. By itself, Britain also wanted Kashmir to go to Pakistan because its strategic location served as a strong buffer and base against the USSR. So when Hari Singh suddenly acceded to India, it upset British plans. It was of no surprise then, that as soon as the accession was announced on October 31, 1947, Major Brown revolted in Gilgit, imprisoned the Maharaja’s governor, raised Pakistan’s flag at his headquarters, and acceded to Pakistan on November 1. No document was signed and Pakistani forces occupied the territory on November 4. The King of England later went on to award Brown with the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1948, reflecting tacit approval. In 1993, Pakistan awarded Major Brown the ‘Star of Pakistan’ award posthumously.

An article in India Today neatly sums up Britain’s designs when it came to Gilgit. ‘The British decision was influenced by their understanding of the reactions of the Arab nations with regard to the formation of Pakistan. The British did not want to antagonise the oil-rich nations by apparently taking an anti-Muslim stand at a time when the fears of Soviet communism dominated the West’.[1]

Following the UN-imposed ceasefire in 1948, Pakistan now held two areas in PoK as its own: Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. The UN regards them as disputed territories and India continues to view the region as illegally occupied by Pakistan. In 1963, Pakistan ‘gifted’ China about 5,000 kilometres of Gilgit-Baltistan.


[1] Gilgit-Baltistan: Story of how region 6 times the size of PoK passed on to Pakistan by Prabhash K Dutta for India Today

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