What defines territorial dispute at Shandur?

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A.M. Khan

As international conflict in the Pamir borderland among empire builders for expanding their influence continued in 19th century, the ongoing spectrum of boundary-making marks a continuous process in the region initially triggered by transnational encounters.  It is generally understood not well in time and context locally how the unresolved territorial claims govern the social relationships across borderland and political agenda at large in other areas i.e., Shandur pass. Internal conflicts evolved there after colonial encounters, of varied nature and interests, deepened in border societies quite late after the creation of Pakistan.

The boundaries were drawn in late19th century in Hindukush, Karakoram and Himalayan ranges, the sphere of influence of Soviet Union and British, and other competing powers in the region, ended up with a boundary agreement in which the region settled as ‘buffer zone’.

Historically, the borderline mark across Shandur pass, either between Gilgit and Chitral or Laspur and Ghizer, is a case that came to light quite late and is defined largely by its natural topography established in carrying network across borders, communication, and mobility differently in changing times.  Thus, the question of boundary fluidity here is quite complex in understanding the division initially between Ghizer and Laspur area, and between Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral subsequently.

The district Chitral, bifurcated into two districts in 2018, is a settled district in KP province and Gilgit’s status yet to be decided in proposed 26th amendment in the constitution 1973 by amending article-1. ‘In the former princely state of Chitral, which had been separated from Gilgit in 1896 during the colonial period and incorporated into the newly created North-West Frontier Province in 1901’. (Hermann Kreutzalmann) Its sphere of influence extended in Yasin and Ishkoman once, and shrank again back to the status quo of the time is also taken a point of reference in territorial extension by one side deems unjustified by other in the public discourse which has recently emerged in the region.  

Understanding the outline of borderline demarcation between Gilgit and Chitral is identifiable of conflict constellation than between Ghizer and Laspur.  The status of Gilgit once under Dogra rule, merged with Kashmir by the government of Pakistan, and later as Northern Areas treated in Pakistan presently forms an undefined entity.  

Once a loosely defined pasturage, Shandur area turned out to be the transhumance of the mountainous community in the area. With the beginning of temporary settlement arrangements in the area set de facto control mechanisms over the land. For now, there are localized claims and counterclaims unfolding in different form on landholding and control to claim ownership.

Fetching wood for fuel and construction from specified areas, and post office administration for communication as taken as evidence is all about the administration may not of demarcation of the area. The forest cover, it doesn’t exist today, on which the people on both sides of Shandur pass may also not prove their claims over land.

The case of watershed rule is also sought to be considered in demarcation of this territorial dispute but how topography defined communication, mobility, and security paradigm at Shandur pass is also important in finding the actual and spatial positioning of them and being carried out in the past.  

The locals on both side of the Shandur continue to localize the dispute at Pamir since its transnational history where once it became the countering point between Russia and British Empire, Sino-Russian encounter, and between Pakistan and Afghanistan after partition of India does not provide substance for its resolution. This confusion of transnational encounter at Pamir with territorial dispute (at Shandur) inside Pakistan’s controlled and administered, even settled, area is one of the muddles of dispute.

 The borderline demarcation between Gilgit and Chitral district is a territorial dispute which falls wholly in Pakistan’s controlled and administered area at Shandur. Saying that it was how British government was keenly interested in the division of borderline in Shandur is undefendable, but it is technically right to argue that there was an arrangement in place to see how the security situation unfolds on both sides of this pass.  This is how the colonial power to defend her interests, largely security of the area under their control, continued to set security, communication and mobility points which are generally considered as borderlines between either Gilgit and Chitral or Ghizer and Laspur.

Referring to the obscure marking on so-called security paradigm of the foreign power could not change the natural topography, geography, human settlements, appurtenance of landform—as pastures, transhumance and playing ground, which initially people of the area lived on it and used. This is how the securitization of a pass continued to give it a status of check point, in turn, as a pass to mark divisions within the borderland society. It continued with British involvement in the region, and government of Pakistan’s concern of internal territorial dispute to be addressed and maintaining security at Shandur plateau.

In Chitral, the myopic have forgotten still their claim on unsettled landform (in which pasturage at Shandur also falls) under review in the court of law. The government as its settlement department is how it bounds to comply with the notification of 1975 declaring out of the settled land in the settlement register as the property of the provincial government of KP. A petition seeks review of the definition of the terms such as waste lands, rivers, riverbeds, and mountains praying that the Provincial Government has ‘accorded an egregious, oppressive, diabolical and prejudicial interpretation’ to them. Another petition is yet to be filed as a party in the court ‘representing the majority’ with reservations on village common property (shamilat) and seeking implementation of notification of 1975 in Chitral.

The larger common property interests of the people of Chitral are uncertain and unsettled as it appears that standing with majority begs more in commons than claiming less is already at stake.

There is much to help resolve the territorial dispute between Gilgit and Chitral based on the classified and other documents, judgments, and evidentiary proofs available on both sides in different form with their claims and counterclaims on Shandur plateau to be administered in the court of law particularly after constitutional amendment in Pakistan which defines and settles the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan. On this dispute, however, primarily the larger national interests of Pakistan define this case in point.  

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