China-Pak Dispute Across J&K LoC
3 October 2004
The Daily Excelsior
B L Kak
Jammu: Things have begun to hot up across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. Harsh noise is the outcome of China's repeated protest against what Beijing calls 'provocative' actions of Pakistan. Precisely, it is a quarrel between the two traditional friends over a portion of the Jammu and Kashmir territory which Pakistan gave to China in 1963. Officials in Islamabad and Beijing highlight the fact of 'cordial and cooperative' relationship between Pakistan and China. The relations between the two countries have, however, refused to be very best, with the dispute between them over Islamabad's 'provocative' actions close to the area Pakistan ceded to China in 1963. The dispute became real than apparent after Pakistan, in the absence of consultations with China, offered K2 mountain to foreign climbers at half charges. Following the 1963 China- Pakistan agreement, Beijing made no secret of its control over K2. This peak is located in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). New Delhi's standpoint: Beijing and Islamabad are disputing over a peak that belongs to India. It is a different matter that Indian authorities chose not to raise the matter, even as Chinese claim was made public a few months ago. There are sufficient indications, clearly suggesting China's unwillingness to quit the area which Pakistan gave to it in 1963. In fact, under the boundary agreement of 1963, Pakistan ceded 5,180 sq km of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. And the location of K2 is of tremendous strategic importance. The peak is on the line that divides PoK from the ceded territory. The Karakoram Pass, which marks the nearer and of the territory ceded by Pakistan to China, remains common to both India and China. This, again, has tremendous significance. In plain language, the dispute over the peak has the potential to disrupt any future attempt at hammering out a durable settlement of the Kashmir issue. Following the warm flirtations between Islamabad and Washington, and following Pakistan's willingness to grant complete freedom to the Americans on the Pakistani soil, particularly along the country's border with China, Beijing has deemed it necessary to adopt the 'Big Brother' attitude towards Islamabad. In this connection, the Pakistan Government's move to encourage foreign climbers to K2 peak has served as the stick for Beijing to best Islamabad with. No wonder, Beijing has charged Islamabad with ignoring the necessary formality of seeking China's consent before granting permission to foreign climbers. What has irritated the Chinese Government is Pakistan's recent move to allow an American geological team to reconnoitre the K2 peak and the surrounding areas. This development was allowed at a time when Beijing had been found opposed to the strikingly pro-US performance and role of Gen Parvez Musharraf. The Chinese leaders have found it difficult to reconcile to the choice of operations employed by Gen Musharraf vis-a-vis the Americans. In other words, Beijing has not liked a free run the US forces have through Pakistani territories. The Chinese were forced to put in place a technological mechanism to find out what the members of the American team were up to. The finding was quite unexpected for Beijing: Pakistan had started diverting, without Beijing's consent, the course of three glacial rivers, which were flowing into Chinese-held territory, to its territory. Beijing vehemently protested. Islamabad, on the other hand, took Beijing by surprise when it chose to hit back by asserting that Pakistan 'is entitled to a fair share' of the waters. This technological mechanism. It dash off a message to Islamabad to tell Pakistani leaders that as the mountain peak fell within the territory it got, under the border agreement, in 1963, Pakistan had no right to use the peak without prior permission from Beijing. The Chinese have already made many improvements of the 1,280-km-long Karakoram highway linking Kashghar in Xinjiang (Sinkiang) in Central Asia with Islamabad in Pakistan through the 16,000-foot - high Khunjerab pass along the old silk route. Apart from the straightening or strengthening the alignments at several places, reinforcing the bridges and providing asphalt cover to the rugged road surface along the 480-km stretch on the Chinese side, the link road that has been built connecting the Aksai Chin highway through Xaidullah and Mazar has also been improved to provide quicker access for Chinese forces to enter Pakistan from both Xinjiang and Tibet. What is significant is that the Chinese improved the high altitude road system at enormous expenditure because of its high strategic importance. They have already built a new 80-km branch road from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang along the Karakoram highway towards the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan where there is concentration of American forces. In this rooftop of the world, where as many as 33 peaks rise 24,000 feet, the borders of five countries lie in close proximity-Pakistan, China, India, Russia and Afghanistan. The Indian defence experts are, no doubt, concerned about this vast logistical network developed by China impinging on the country's security in the western sector through Aksai Chin and PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir). But they are not taking too gloomy a view of this development in India's security environment, because a good bit of the Karakoram highway passing through glaciers and river valleys can be blocked in times of war by interdictory bombing attacks at some selected points. New Delhi is conscious of the fact that the borders of Kirghiz, which are even closer from Taxkorgan, are also linked by feeder roads to facilitate quicker movement of Chinese troops from Xinjiang side. It is the easier accessibility to the Wakhan corridor and the Kirghiz area, coupled with the link up with Pakistan through the Khunjerab mountain pass and the alternate link road across the15,000 ft high Mintaka pass, that have given the Karakoram highway great strategic importance. As there is no comparable road network anywhere else in the world with such a high degree of military importance, it is not surprising that thousands of Chinese and Pakistani troops are engaged more or less permanently on either side of the Karakoram to maintain it. China is in control of a portion of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir. Will Beijing seek to restrain any alteration in the territorial status quo which would call into question the area of Aksai Chin and the portion ceded by Pakistan in 1963? A precise answer at this stage will not be available, as the Chinese are known for their reluctance to be seen, a shyness approaching secrecy.