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Northern Areas

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Title: Northern Areas  
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Subject: Zarabod, Mir of Hunza, Shina language, Astore Wildlife Sanctuary, Naltar Wildlife Sanctuary, Hispar Glacier, Panmah Glacier, Ladyfinger Peak, Hunza Peak, South Ghujerab Mountains
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Northern Areas

گلگت بلتستان
Nanga Parbat – Shangri La Resort, SkarduDeosai Plateau

Siachen Glacier area) is shown in red. Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir are shown in white. The Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir is shown by hatching.

Coordinates: 35°21′N 75°54′E / 35.35°N 75.9°E / 35.35; 75.9Coordinates: 35°21′N 75°54′E / 35.35°N 75.9°E / 35.35; 75.9

Country  Pakistan
Established July 1, 1970
Capital Gilgit
Largest city Gilgit
 • Type Self-governing territory under Pakistani control
 • Body Legislative assembly
 • Governor Pir Karam Ali Shah[1]
 • Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah[2]
 • Total 72,496 km2 (27,991 sq mi)
Population (2008; est.)
 • Total 1,800,000
 • Density 25/km2 (64/sq mi)
Time zone PKT (UTC+5)
ISO 3166 code PK-NA
Main languages
Assembly seats 33[3]
Districts 9
Towns 9

Gilgit-Baltistan Government

Gilgit-Baltistan Council

Gilgit–Baltistan (Urdu/Shina/Burushaski: گلگت بلتستان, Balti: གིལྒིཏ་བལྟིསྟན, formerly known as the Northern Areas[4]) is the northernmost territory of Pakistan.[5] It borders the territory of Azad Kashmir to the south, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan to the north, the Xinjiang autonomous region of China to the east and northeast and the Jammu and Kashmir state of India to the southeast.

Together with Azad Kashmir, it forms part of the disputed Kashmir region, which has been the subject of conflict between India and Pakistan since the two countries' independence and partition in 1947.[5][6]

Gilgit–Baltistan is an autonomous self-governing region that was established as a single administrative unit in 1970, formed by the amalgamation of the Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan region and the former princely states of Hunza and Nagar. It covers an area of 72,971 km² (28,174 mi²) and is highly mountainous. It has an estimated population approaching 1,000,000. Its capital city is Gilgit (population 216,760).


Main article: History of Gilgit-Baltistan

Gilgit–Baltistan was part of the Delhi Sultanate until it fell to the Mughal Empire in the early half of the 16th century. The territory became predominantly Muslim during the rule of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire due to missionary Sufi saints whose dargahs dot the landscape. By 1757, suzerainty of the region was obtained from the Mughals by Ahmad Shah Durrani under an agreement[7] and became part of Afghanistan[8] (also known as the Durrani Empire)[9][10][11] until Ranjit Singh invaded and took control from the Afghans in 1819.[12] It became a princely state with the name "Jammu and Kashmir" around 1846. After Pakistan achieved independence in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir also initially remained an independent state. In the course of the first Kashmir war, Pakistani control was established on territories captured by Pakistan to the north and west of the cease-fire line. In 1970, the name "Northern Areas" (today's Gilgit–Baltistan, 72,971 km²) was applied to the areas that had previously been known as Gilgit and Baltistan. The name "Northern Areas" was actually first used by the United Nations to refer to the northern areas of Kashmir. A small part of Gilgit–Baltistan, the Shaksgam tract, was provisionally ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963.

Before the demise of Shribadat, the last Hindu king of the Trakhan dynasty in Gilgit, a group of Shin people migrated from Gilgit Dardistan and settled in the Dras and Kharmang areas. The descendants of those Dardic people can be still found today, and is believed that they have maintained their Dardic culture and Shina language up to the present time.

Self-governing status and present-day Gilgit-Baltistan

The territory of present-day Gilgit–Baltistan became a separate administrative unit in 1970 under the name "Northern Areas." It was formed by the amalgamation of the former Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh Wazarat, and the hill states of Hunza and Nagar. It presently consists of nine districts, has a population approaching one million, an area of approximately 28,000 square miles (73,000 km2), and shares borders with Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, and India. In 1993, an attempt was made by the High Court of Azad Jammu and Kashmir to annex Gilgit–Baltistan but was quashed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan after protests by the predominantly Shia population of Gilgit–Baltistan, who feared domination by the Sunni Kashmiris.[13]

While administratively controlled by Pakistan since the first Kashmir war, Gilgit–Baltistan has never been formally integrated into the Pakistani state and does not participate in Pakistan's constitutional political affairs.[14][15] On August 29, 2009, the Gilgit–Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, was passed by the Pakistani cabinet and later signed by the President of Pakistan. The order granted self-rule to the people of Gilgit–Baltistan, by creating, among other things, an elected Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and Gilgit-Baltistan Council. Gilgit–Baltistan thus gained de facto province-like status without constitutionally becoming part of Pakistan.[14][16] Officially, Pakistan has rejected Gilgit–Baltistani calls for integration with Pakistan on the grounds that it would prejudice its international obligations with regard to the Kashmir dispute.[13] Some militant Kashmiri nationalist groups, such as the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, claim Gilgit–Baltistan as part of a future independent state to match what existed in 1947.[13] India, on the other hand, maintains that Gilgit–Baltistan is a part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.[17] Because of human rights violations[18] in the region, political parties in India have sought government intervention there.[19]

On September 29, 2009, the Pakistani prime minister, while addressing a huge gathering in Gilgit–Baltistan, announced a multi-billion-rupee development package aimed at the socio-economic uplifting of the people of the area. Development projects are slated to include the areas of education, health, agriculture, tourism, and the basic needs of life.[20][21]

Administrative divisions

Gilgit–Baltistan is administratively divided into two divisions which, in turn, are divided into nine districts,[22] consisting of the four Baltistan districts of Skardu, Shigar, Kharmang, and Ghanche, and the five Gilgit districts of Gilgit, Ghizer, Diamer, Astore, and Hunza-Nagar. The principal administrative centers are the towns of Gilgit and Skardu.

Division District Area (km²) Population (1998) Capital Divisional Capital
Baltistan Ghanche 9,400 165,366 Khaplu Skardu
Skardu 8,000 214,848 Skardu
Shigar 8,500 109,000 Shigar
Kharmang 5,500 188,000 Tolti
Gilgit Gilgit 16,300 283,324 Gilgit Gilgit
Diamer 10,936 131,925 Chilas
Ghizer 9,635 170,218 Gahkuch
Astore 8,657 121,666 Eidghah
Hunza-Nagar 20,057 112,450 Aliabad

Geography and climate

Main article: Geography of Gilgit-Baltistan

Gilgit–Baltistan borders Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province to the west, a small portion of the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan to the north, China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the northeast, the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir to the southeast, and the Pakistani-administered state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir to the south.[23]

Gilgit–Baltistan is home to five of the "eight-thousanders" and to more than fifty peaks above 7,000 meters. Gilgit and Skardu are the two main hubs for expeditions to those mountains. The region is home to some of the world's highest mountain ranges. The main ranges are the Karakoram and the western Himalayas. The Pamir mountains are to the north, and the Hindu Kush lies to the west.[24] Amongst the highest mountains are K2 (Mount Godwin-Austen) and Nanga Parbat, the latter being one of the most feared mountains in the world.

Three of the world's longest glaciers outside the polar regions are found in Gilgit–Baltistan: the Biafo Glacier, the Baltoro Glacier, and the Batura Glacier. There are, in addition, several high-altitude lakes in Gilgit–Baltistan:

The Deosai Plains, are located above the tree line and constitute the second-highest plateau in the world at 4,115 meters (14,500 feet)after Tibet. The plateau lies east of Astore, south of Skardu and west of Ladakh. The area was declared as a national park in 1993. The Deosai Plains cover an area of almost 5,000 square kilometres. For over half the year (between September and May), Deosai is snow-bound and cut off from rest of Astore and Baltistan in winters. The village of Deosai lies close to Chilum chokki and is connected with the Kargil district of Ladakh through an all-weather road.

Rock art and petroglyphs

There are more than 50,000 pieces of rock art (petroglyphs) and inscriptions all along the Karakoram Highway in Gilgit–Baltistan, concentrated at ten major sites between Hunza and Shatial. The carvings were left by various invaders, traders, and pilgrims who passed along the trade route, as well as by locals. The earliest date back to between 5000 and 1000 BCE, showing single animals, triangular men and hunting scenes in which the animals are larger than the hunters. These carvings were pecked into the rock with stone tools and are covered with a thick patina that proves their age. The ethnologist Karl Jettmar has pieced together the history of the area from various inscriptions and recorded his findings in Rock Carvings and Inscriptions in the Northern Areas of Pakistan[25] and the later released Between Gandhara and the Silk Roads – Rock Carvings Along the Karakoram Highway.[26] Many of these carvings and inscriptions will be inundated and/or destroyed when the planned Basha-Diamir dam is built and the Karakoram Highway is widened.


The climate of Gilgit–Baltistan varies from region to region, surrounding mountain ranges creates sharp variations in weather. The eastern part has the moist zone of the western Himalayas, but going toward Karakoram and Hindu Kush, the climate dries considerably.[27]

There are towns like Gilgit and Chilas that are very hot during the day in summer yet cold at night and valleys like Astore, Khaplu, Yasin, Hunza, and Nagar, where the temperatures are cold even in summer.

Economy and resources

The economy of the region is primarily based on a traditional route of trade through the historic "Silk Road." The China Trade Organization was the leading economic forum through which most of barter trade activity made a phenomenal change in the general economic outlook of the area, which, being the remotest region under Pakistani control, was neglected for over a quarter of a century. That forum led the people of the area to actively invest and learn modern trade know-how from its Chinese neighbor Xinjiang. The participation of all ethnic groups and the active force behind this activity, the legendary economist of the area Ashraf Khan, brought a great change in the region. Later, the establishment of a chamber of commerce and the Sost dry port(in Gojal Hunza) are milestones. The rest of the economy is shouldered by mainly agriculture and tourism. Agricultural products are wheat, corn (maize), barley, and fruits. Tourism is mostly in trekking and mountaineering, and this industry is growing in importance.[28][29]

In early September 2009, Pakistan signed an agreement with the People's Republic of China for a major energy project in Gilgit–Baltistan which includes the construction of a 7,000-megawatt dam at Bunji in the Astore District.[30] Exiled activists of the region, Mumtaz Khan and Senge Hasnan Sering have since asked India to take a more proactive stance and save the region from exploitation.[31]


Polo is the favorite game of the people of Gilgit, Skardu, Ghanche, Chilas, Astore, Hunza, Nagar, and the surrounding areas. Every year, many tourists visit to enjoy polo in Gilgit–Baltistan. "Polo" is actually a Balti Word which means "ball." Other games such as cricket, tuksori of Nagar, gulli danda, kabbadi, and volleyball are also played.[32]


Prior to 1978, Gilgit–Baltistan was cut off from Pakistan and from the rest of the world due to the harsh terrain and the lack of accessible roads. All of the roads to the south opened toward the Pakistani-administered state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and to the southeast towards the present-day Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. During the summer, people could walk across the mountain passes to travel to Rawalpindi. The fastest way to travel, however, was by air, but air travel was accessible only to a few privileged local people and to Pakistani military and civilian officials. Then, with the assistance of the Chinese government, Pakistan began construction of the Karakoram Highway (KKH), which was completed in 1978. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) connects Islamabad to Gilgit and Skardu, which are the two major hubs for mountaineering expeditions in Gilgit–Baltistan. The journey from Rawalpindi/Islamabad to Gilgit takes approximately 20 to 24 hours. Landslides on the Karakoram Highway are very common. The KKH connects Gilgit to Taxkorgan, Kaxgar in China via Sost (the customs and health-inspection post on the Gilgit–Baltistan side) and the Khunjerab Pass, the highest paved international border crossing in the world at 4,693 metres (15,397 feet).

Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO) offers bus and jeep transport service to the two hubs and several other popular destinations, lakes, and glaciers in the area.

In March 2006, the respective governments announced that, commencing on June 1, 2006, a thrice-weekly bus service would begin across the boundary from Gilgit to Kaxgar, China, and road-widening work would begin on 600 kilometres of the Karakoram Highway. There would also be one daily bus in each direction between the Sost and Taxkorgan border areas of the two political entities.[33]

Pakistan International Airlines used to fly a Fokker F27 aircraft daily between Gilgit Airport and Islamabad International Airport. The flying time was approximately 50 minutes, and the flight was one of the most scenic in the world, as its route passed over Nanga Parbat, the mountain whose peak is higher than the aircraft's cruising altitude. However, the Fokker F27 aircraft was retired after a crash at Multan in 2006. Currently, flights are being operated by PIA to Gilgit on the brand-new ATR42-500 aircraft, which was purchased in 2006. With the new plane, the cancellation of flights is much less frequent. PIA also offers regular flights of a Boeing 737 between Skardu and Islamabad. All flights, however, are subject to weather clearance, and, in winter, flights are often delayed by several days.

A railway through the region has been proposed, see Khunjerab Railway for details.


At the last census (1998), the population of Gilgit–Baltistan was 870,347.[34] Approximately 14% of the population was urban.[35] The estimated population Gilgit–Baltistan in 2013 is over 2 million. The population of Gilgit–Baltistan consists of many diverse linguistic, ethnic, and religious sects, due in part to the many isolated valleys separated by some of the world's highest mountains. The ethnic groups include Shins, Yashkuns, Kashmiris, Kashgaris, Pathans, and Kohistanis. The population of Gilgit–Baltistan is Muslim. The majority of population is Shia Imamia followed by Shia Ismaili fiqh.[36] A significant number of people from Gilgit–Baltistan are resident in other parts of Pakistan. They number around one million, of which at least 400,000 are resident in Karachi. The litearcy rate of Gilgit–Baltistan is approximately 72%.


Urdu is the lingua franca of the region, understood by most inhabitants. The Shina language (with several dialects such as Asturjaa, Kharuchaa, and Chilasi) is the majority language of the population, spoken mainly in Gilgit, Astore, throughout Diamir, and in some parts of Ghizer and in the Baltistan region.[37] The Balti dialect, a sub-dialect of Ladakhi and part of the Tibetan language group, is spoken by the entire population of Baltistan. Minor languages spoken in the region include Wakhi, spoken in upper Hunza, and in some villages in Ghizer, while Khowar is the principal language of Ghizer. Burushaski is an isolated language spoken in Hunza, Nagar, Yasin (where Khowar is also spoken), in some parts of Gilgit, and in some villages of Punial. Another interesting language is Domaaki, spoken by musician clans in the region. A small minority of people also speak Pashto.

Gilgit–Baltistan has very few speakers of Kashmiri. However, speakers of other Dardic languages such as Shina and Khowar are present in the region.


The population of Gilgit–Baltistan are Muslims. The majority (75%) of the people are Shia with a significant Sunni minority.[38] The Ismailis and Sufia Nurbakhshia are also present in Gilgit–Baltistan. The Gilgit Division has about 60% of Shia and 40% of Sunni whereas in the Baltistan Division, Shia number over 90% of the population.[39]

See also

Geography portal
Asia portal
South Asia portal
Pakistan portal


Further reading

  • Pakistan Trekking Guide, by Isobel and Ben Shaw, 1993.
  • expand by hand

External links

  • Official Website of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council
  • Official Website of the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan
  • DMOZ

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