During the century-long Dogra rule, Ladakh was administered as a wazarat (province) with a governor called wazir-e-wazarat to handle the day-to-day administration of the province which also included Gilgit and Baltistan. The three important centers for trade, commerce and government affairs were Skardu, Kargil and Ladakh. Trade being an important source of income, the Dogras kept the old merchant aristocracy intact and gave them new titles and responsibilities. Prominent among them were the Kalon family of Changspa, Srangar of Leh and the Radhu family of Leh, also known as Khwajagon. Between 1875 and 1885, the Dogras invested heavily in the development of a cantonment, administrative headquarters and trading center at Ranbirgarh. Sikhs from Punjab and Dogras from Jammu were also encouraged to migrate to Skardu in order to set up business ventures during this period. Skardu also served as the winter capital of the wazarat. In fact, commercial transactions have increased on all parameters: volume, value and range of goods. The Silk Road was flourishing, and a contemporary British chronicler called “Ladakh the Suez Canal of Central Asia and Leh the Port Said”.
After Gulab Singh’s Treaties of Amritsar and Lahore with the British in 1846, European influence began to increase. The British have now pressured him and his successor to have a British officer stationed in the border town of Leh, ostensibly to look after the interests of Central Asian traders, but in fact to monitor developments across borders in Central Asia. Two decades later, in 1867, in complete defiance of the wishes of the then ruler, Maharaja Ranbir Singh, the British Indian government took a unilateral decision to appoint Dr Cayley as an agent in Ladakh, ostensibly to “maintain the fixed tariff by the Maharaja”. of Kashmir in 1864″ but in fact to investigate “the state of trade between India and Central Asia in addition to sifting political information about events in Chinese Turkestan and Russian interests in the adjacent khanates of Kokand and East Turkestan”. In April 1870, Leh was placed under the direct supervision of the British government in India. It required the ruler of Kashmir to treat the Srinagar-Leh-Yarkand trade route as a free highway in perpetuity and at all times for all travelers and traders.Two Joint Commissioners, each representing Kashmir Durbar and the British Government, were appointed to oversee the trade route and settle disputes.Leh becoming the focal point of the caravan routes, it became the main hub of trade and commercial interactions between India and Central Asia.On the Indian side, most of the trade passed through the r outside Srinagar-Leh. East of Ladakh, a caravan trail passed through Gartok towards Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. To the north, Ladakh was connected to the Silk Road at Yarkand by a caravan route through the Karakoram Pass.
Despite its physical difficulties, the Srinagar-Leh-Yarkand road was the most important and oldest communication route between India and Central Asia. Even though the British authorities took many steps to improve the Kullu-Leh road with a view to encouraging direct trade between British India and Central Asia, traders continued to use the Srinagar-Leh road because it was “the easiest and best supplied with grass”. , provisions, etc., and fully open for two or three months longer than the road to Kullu.” It was by this route that the Kashmiri shawl industry sourced pashm wool imported into Ladakh from Tibet and Yarkand.
After consolidating their hold on Ladakh, Gilgit was next on the British horizon. Fearing a possible Russian invasion from Central Asia, the British intervened directly and created the “Gilgit Agency” to bring the region under their control. This began with the appointment of a special duty officer at Gilgit in 1877, and the position was upgraded to that of a permanent political officer in 1889. This marked the beginning of a British-dogra dual control in Gilgit. Civil administration remained in the hands of the Dogra rulers, while military and security matters were placed directly under the control of the British Indian government. The main objective of the British Indian Empire was to protect its northern border. A local paramilitary force – the Gilgit Scouts – trained, equipped and led by the British was established in 1913, on behalf of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, to guard India’s northern border.
In 1935, the British took over the administration of the Gilgit agency from the Dogra ruler under a 60-year lease. However, the Baltistan region remained under the direct rule of the Dogras. Two weeks before the independence of India and Pakistan, the British abruptly canceled the lease. On July 30, 1947, the British Commander-in-Chief of the Kashmir Army, Major Gen Scott, arrived in Gilgit. He was accompanied by Brigadier Ghansara Singh who had been sent to Gilgit by the Maharaja of Kashmir as Governor. The British offered the state of Jammu and Kashmir to take over Gilgit, as per the lease deed. On August 1, Brigadier Ghansara Singh took charge of the Gilgit agency of British political operative Colonel Roger Bacon. The Union Jack was abolished and the region came under the control of the Maharaja.
Opinions expressed are personal