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28 February 2020

Making a Nation in the High Mountains: Balawars and Balawaristan

The words Balawaristan and Balawar are derived from a Persian word bala meaning high; thus Balawar is someone who lives high up in the mountains, and Balawaristan is a place of heights (Sökefeld 1999: 354). These words have been coined to create a nation of the inhabitants of Gilgit Baltistan (GB), and to unite a diverse population on the basis of a shared geography, history and culture. These words do not have any historical background, though Balawaristan sounds familiar with Boloristan1, the historic name of areas around Gilgit. 

Balawaristan is a classic example of what Benedict Anderson has termed ‘Imagined Communities’ (Anderson 2006: 6). The name was formulated by Nawaz Khan Naji in 1988 and published for the first time in a pamphlet titled Balawaristan. Since then, the number of people who agree with the nationalist discourse of Balawaristan has steadily risen. The Balawaristan discourse about GB contradicts the Pakistani state’s historical stance over GB. In the name of Balawaristan, activists challenge the Pakistan government’s

By Sohaib Bodla studied Anthropology at Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad. He wrote his MPhil thesis about nationalism in Ghizer District of Gilgit-Baltistan. Currently he works with an NGO on disaster issues in Rawalpindi.



control over their lives and geography. Officially, Pakistan considers these areas as parts of the larger territory of Jammu and Kashmir and links their fate with the resolution of the Kashmir dispute with India. The Balawaristan National Front (BNF), the party established by Nawaz Khan Naji in the name of Balawaristan, on the other hand, considers GB as a separate territory that accommodates a separate nation. According to the BNF, these areas were not a legitimate part of Jammu and Kashmir; rather, Kashmir was controlling them by military power in collaboration with the British Crown. Read More..