Historical Perspective of Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan
The Gilgit Baltistan is one of the most spectacular regions of Pakistan. Here the world’s three mightiest mountain ranges – the Karakorum, the Hindukush and the Himalayas – meets. The entire Gilgit-Baltistan is like a paradise for mountaineers, climbers, trekkers, hikers and anglers. The region has a rich cultural heritage and variety of rare flora and fauna.
Historically, the area has remained a flash point of political and military rivalries amongst the Russian, British and Chinese empires. Immediately after the end of British rule in the sub-continent in 1947, the people of this region decided to join Pakistan through a popular local revolt against the government of Maharaja of Kashmir.
The Gilgit Baltistan have always been at the crossroads of conquerors, raiders and travelers. Therefore, its history has been deeply influenced by the various incidences of history. The Gilgit-Baltistan have a very rich history which can be understood through periodizations made by historians. It is said that small chieftains ruled Gilgit and Baltistan, until the beginning of the 19th century. They had to grapple with trivial issues amongst each other taking advantage of their weaknesses and mutual rivalries, the Dogra regime of Kashmir annexed these territories around the middle of the 19th century even though they found the control of the area difficult. Baltistan was administered directly by the Kashmir Government as a part of District Laddakh with Headquarters at Leh. The British Indian Government got attraction in the region following the political developments in Russian and Chinese Turkistan during the late 19th century.
The history of Gilgit-Baltistan can be divided into the following periods:
The earliest inhabitants of the Gilgit-Baltistan can be traced back to 5th millennium BC. They were known as Rock Art People as they started the tradition of rock carving which was continued by their successors. They were hunters and lived in rocks. There is a general perception that they had religion having faith in mountains.
These people came from Chitral and Swat and had the tradition of building large megaliths. They used to have a ceremonial carved stone in the middle which was worshiped. They used metals like copper, bronze, iron, gold and silver. They developed irrigated fields and also depended on livestock like goat, sheep and other cattle. They lived in mud houses as temporary settlement.
According to some historians, the Dardics lived in the present Gilgit Baltistan during the Achaemenian Empire (4th century BC). Their economic activities included mining and trading gold. This led to the establishment of a trade route with Central Asia and China.
Various rock inscriptions around Chilas suggest that the Scythians from Central Asia had established their rule in this area around the first century BC. The rule of Scythians resulted in the introduction of Kharoshti script and Taxila style stupas and establishment of close trade relations with Taxila. The Scythian rule lasted only two generations between 1 BC and 1 AD. This was followed by the Gondophares branch of Parthians. The influence of the Parthians on local culture is evident from the rock carvings of this era which depict some new themes other than those of the earliest inhabitants.
The Khushans moved to Northern Areas between 1 BC and 1 AD who had already established their rule in Central Asia and China. They used gold for trade purposes and a route passed through Northern Area which was perhaps the Silk Route on which the current Karakorum Highway has been constructed.
The Post Kushans
After the Khushans, the Sassanis from Persia controlled the area in the beginning of 3rd century AD. During that period, Buddhism continued to flourish and this area remained a famous crossing point for travel to and from India, China and Central Asia.
These were tribes from Central Asia who were warriors. They ruled through several Shina and Brushaski kings called ‘Rajas’. By that time, Budhism was still on its way of spreading.
Medieval to Modern Time
With the decline of Huns, the Rajas became independent. From 612 to 750 AD, the areas were ruled by Patoal Shahi Dynasty who were Buddhists and had close ties with Chinese empire. Between 7th Century and early 19th century, parts of the Gilgit-Baltistan were ruled by succession of various dynasties including: Tarkhans of Gilgit, the Maghlots of Nagar, the Ayasho of Hunza, the Burshai of Punyal, the Maqpoons of Skardu, the Anchans of Shigar and the Yabgos of Khaplu. In the beginning of 8th century AD the Tarkhan rulers embraced Islam. In the medieval times, Gilgit-Baltistan remained outside Mughal control although Akber conquered Kashmir and parts of Baltistan while Gilgit retained its independent status until the Gilgit-Baltistan came under the control of Dogra rulers of Kashmir in the middle of 18th century.
By the end of 19th century, the British Government created the Gilgit agency and appointed a political agent, under a lease agreement with Maharaja Hari Sing of Kashmir. In 1947, the people of Gilgit Baltistan fought against the Maharaja and got independence.