Feb 07, 2011

Gilgit Baltistan: Expert Calls the Increased Chinese Presence ‘Alarming’

Increased Chinese presence will affect Gilgit Baltistan whether it is the intention or not, experts say on the intensified Chinese interest in the region that borders to Kashmir and which thus has a strategic importance for the Asian powers. 

Below is an article published by Zeenews.com: 

Increasing "Chinese activities" in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region is an alarming development that will affect the overall India-China relationship and broader peace in the region, experts have said. 

"This is a very alarming development in my view that is bound to affect the overall relationship between India and China and more broadly peace in Asia," said Selig Harrison, journalist and executive director of Center for International Policy, a Washington-based think tank. 

Harrison in an article in The New York Times had said last year that there were a minimum of 7,000 Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) personnel stationed in the Khunjerab Pass on border of Gilgit-Baltistan to protect the Karakoram Highway construction crews. 

He was speaking at a conference yesterday on 'The Regional Implications of China's Growing Presence in Gilgit-Baltistan' organised by the South Asia Studies Program of the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. 

In her remarks, Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation said it's too early to conclude that China wants to control Gilgit and Baltistan. 

"More likely, China seeks to expand economic linkages from China through Pakistan to increase commerce to the region and ultimately to the Middle East via the Pakistani port at Gwadar in Baluchistan Province," she said. 

"Still, New Delhi is wary about the presence of the Chinese troops in what is technically part of the sensitive disputed area of Kashmir and views the situation as potentially provocative," Curtis said. 

Harrison said one should keep in mind that Gilgit and Baltistan are economically undeveloped and socially fractured societies and thus very vulnerable. 

"Even a small Chinese presence has a disproportionate impact on such an undeveloped society. What we have is a creeping process of control, not a bald power grab," he cautioned. Syed Iqbal Hasnain of the Stimson Center Environmental Security warned that the megadams being built by China in Gilgit and Baltistan will induce seismicity and submerge hundreds of villages. 

He noted that exploitation and callous behavior of successive Pakistani governments during last 65 years have led to extinction of many rare species while others are on the verge of extinction. 

"At the same time, large military and civilian presence of Chinese personnel under the pretext of infrastructure development has raised broader security concerns for local communities as well as regional neighbours," he said. 

Stating that loose debris materials left by retreating glaciers are unstable, he said the collateral damage across the region will be devastating and demands serious attention. 

Mumtaz Khan, executive director of the International Center for Peace and Democracy said the alarming growth of China's military presence in PoK needs attention as China has literally taken over the entire disputed part of Kashmir under Pakistani control. 

"Brigadier Masood Ahmed, the chief of staff of Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) is coordinating these projects in which China has invested more than USD 6 billion in fourteen projects," he said. 

Examining China's activities, one is forced to say that there is a clear shift in China's policy on the Kashmir dispute and its attitude towards Indian government and people in Indian controlled Kashmir explains these undercurrents and motives, Khan said. 

He stressed that the current involvement of China in Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK is more than just providing military and diplomatic support to Pakistan. 

"Very soon, it will become evident that Pakistan will swap its role to take the backseat and China exerting itself as a major player in the Kashmir issue," Khan said. 

A Pakistani diplomat present at the conference refuted such allegations and said that the Chinese were in Gilgit and Baltistan at the invitation of Pakistan and was only carrying out developmental works.