Gilgit Baltistan, The Emergence Of China

Gilgit Baltistan, The Emergence Of China

13 February 2011
Counter-Currents
Dr Shabir Choudhry

New Delhi: Presentation of Dr Shabir Choudhry in House of Lords on 11 Feb 2011 Madam Chair, Baroness Emma Nicholson, friends and colleagues aslamo alaykam and good afternoon. First of all I want to thank Baroness Emma Nicholson and her staff for sincerely and actively working to promote the cause of people of Jammu and Kashmir; and for making arrangements for this seminar. Also I want to thank my colleagues Abbas Butt, Mohammed Asim, Mohammed Shoaib and Imitiaz Ul Maqsood who, as a part of the delegation visited Gilgit and Pakistani Administered Kashmir. The journey was extremely difficult and hazardous. Madam Chair Parties to the Kashmir dispute and China Former State of Jammu and Kashmir has great strategic importance; but if areas of Gilgit Baltistan are annexed by another country then that will significantly reduce its strategic importance. Some people with vested interest promote Kashmir dispute as a religious dispute, and claim that only Indian Administered Kashmir is disputed. In our view that is distortion of facts, as Kashmir dispute is political in nature; and the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir which includes Jammu, Valley, Ladakh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan is disputed. Hitherto there were only three parties to the Kashmir dispute, namely people of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan and India. Over the recent past some quarters are working hard to make Republic of China a party to the dispute. To me this is a very dangerous move which will complicate the dispute further; and could prove to be disastrous for the region, especially for areas of Gilgit Baltistan and northern parts of Pakistan. Apart from that, parties to the Kashmir dispute are countries of South Asia. China is not in South Asia, but has great economic, political and strategic interests in the region going beyond the coast of Gawadar Sea Port. Those who want to cut out an active role for China in the Kashmir dispute need to understand that China is a great economic and military power, and they will protect and safeguard their own interest; and that could well be against desires and interests of those who are promoting a Chinese role in this region. Role of China Some commentators point out that China already has a role in the Kashmir dispute, as they have supported rights of the Kashmiris on different platforms. In that sense many other countries also have a role in the Kashmir dispute, as they have supported different UN Resolutions and other initiatives to peacefully resolve the Kashmir dispute. This kind of support expresses concern of other countries about the on going trouble in Kashmir, and instability it can have for the region; however, this kind of support DOES NOT make them a party to the Kashmir dispute, as India and Pakistan are. We can appreciate desire of other countries to facilitate the dialogue process to resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with will of the people; but we must refrain from making other countries a party to the Kashmir dispute, as it will be counter productive. China’s role on Kashmir has been inconsistent, as it vacillated with time from being neutral to pro Kashmir, pro Pakistan and back to neutrality; even during the Kargil crises, by and large China remained neutral. But since 2008, China has been more assertive and pro active in matters related to Jammu and Kashmir and on borders of India with China. Sino India war of 1962 resulted in Chinese occupation of Kashmiri territory of Aksai Chin. This war brought Pakistan and China closer to each other; and to strengthen that friendship, Pakistan gave away around 2200 sq miles of Jammu and Kashmir territory from Gilgit Baltistan to China. But despite that, China at that time, had no plans to play an active or assertive role in this region, as is evident from the agreement between the both countries. In article 6 of this agreement China acknowledged that the sovereignty of Gilgit Baltistan did not rest with Pakistan. The agreement reads and I quote: ‘The two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the boundary as described in Article Two of the present agreement, so as to sign a formal boundary treaty to replace the present agreement, provided that in the event of the sovereign authority being Pakistan, the provisions of the present agreement and of the aforesaid protocol shall be maintained in the formal boundary treaty to be signed between the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan.’ Unquote Competing interests in Gilgit Baltistan The above policy of China has changed, because China has emerged as a formidable economic and military power; and needs to find new markets, new sources of energy and new assertive role. In that context China wants to ensure that they have a greater say in matters of Gilgit Baltistan; and even in matters of Pakistan. They want to ensure that they not only have access but control of the route to Gawadar where they have invested billions of dollars. There is a big Chinese presence in Gilgit Baltistan. Apparently they are involved in construction of many mega projects, but presence of Chinese army and their designs to take control of this region is worrying to many. Not only they are opening Chinese banks there and building infrastructure by investing billions of dollars, they are secretly and assertively taking control of the region. When we visited the region in October last year, we saw many Chinese there which included army men. In the past they used to come for development work, and lived in temporary shelters; and went back after completing their tasks, but now they are here to stay and have built concrete accommodations. During our visit, we managed to take some photos with Chinese; and what also surprised us were sign boards in Chinese. All this is worrying to people of Gilgit Baltisatn. It is also worrying to India and America, as they would not like Chinese influence and control in this region; especially Chinese desire to reach and control port of Gawadar. It is not likely that India and America would remain silent spectators and give China a free hand, as they also have keen interest in the region. One Indian defence analyst, Bharat Verma recently said, and I quote: ‘The self-destructive path that Islamabad chose will either splinter the state into many parts or it will wither away - a case of natural progression to its logical conclusion. In either case Baluchistan will achieve independence. For New Delhi this opens a window of opportunity to ensure that the Gwadar port does not fall into the hands of the Chinese. In this, there is synergy between the political objectives of the Americans and the Indians. Our existing goodwill in Baluchistan requires intelligent leveraging.’ Unquote I don’t subscribe to the views expressed above, however, what my worry is that our region could be a battleground for competing interests; and that could prove disastrous. However, some analysts believe, as Pakistan is becoming ungovernable and is fast losing its writ over certain areas, they have allowed China to fill in vacuum if Pakistan is faced with a serious civil war or a war with India or some other power. What surprises some analysts is that on one hand there is growing bilateral trade ties between India and China; and on the other hand increased tension and rivalry over areas of Jammu and Kashmir and other border and water disputes. One wonders if this increased tension and claims and counter claims will jeopardize growing trades and understanding between the both countries. On one hand there is a strategic partnership between India and America, and on the other hand there is a strategic partnership and a common agenda of China and Pakistan. However, Pakistan is also an important partner of America in war against terrorism. But it must be noted that those forces which promote and export Jihad, on one hand they seek American help and support in Kashmir; and on the other hand they train, arm and help those groups that seek to attack American targets. Similarly there are clear contradictions in relations to China, which was promoted as ‘all weather’ friend, but at the same time they trained and armed Muslim rebels in China. Survey In the recent past some important surveys have been conducted with some astonishing results. All surveys had one finding in common that the people of Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side of the LOC did not want to join Pakistan. We wanted to ascertain views of the people in Azad Kashmir and in Gilgit Baltistan. It was a sample survey of 150 people from both regions. You can understand the situation prevailing there by this example. We were sitting in a hotel with a group of local people and we were discussing various issues. In reply to one question one man very forcefully expressed his resentment against Pakistani rule. He said, ‘Like Nawaz Naji Sahib, his first option is an independent Gilgit Baltistan, second option is united and independent Jammu and Kashmir; but if we had only two options, he will vote for India and not Pakistan. We have seen true face of Pakistan in the last 63 years, we know what the Pakistani rule is like; it will be good idea to see what Indian rule is like’. That was an interesting and courageous statement. I asked him are sure you would vote for India, if there were only two options. He said, ‘Yes’, and then immediately changed his tone and statement. He said: ‘India is a Hindu country. Pakistan with all its faults is a Muslim country. They are our brothers; and if we have only two options we will vote for Pakistan. But our first option is an independent Gilgit Baltistan.’ After the meeting when we were walking towards our room that man got hold of my hand and said: ‘Choudhry Sahib sorry for that change of tone and change of statement. You could not see, but I saw ISI man coming to the restaurant. I had to change my statement; otherwise I could have been in trouble. There is no need to annoy them unnecessarily and get myself and my family in to trouble. We know what to do when it comes to the voting time.’ That statement spoke volumes about the situation here and sense of fear and oppression. Despite this man’s change of statement and despite presence of the ISI man, who was not visible to me, at least, three students said they will vote for India if there were only two options available to them. Q8.Who would you vote for, if there was an internationally arranged referendum with no threat of intimidation or coercion, and you were given only two options either to join India or Pakistan? A. 45% said they will vote for Pakistan B. 30% said they will boycott it C. 15% said they will decide on the day D. 10% said they will vote for India as they have seen what Pakistan is like Q9. And if a Third Option of an independent Jammu and Kashmir is also included then who would you vote? A. 60% said they will vote for the Third option of independence B. 30% said they will vote for Pakistan C. 10% said they will vote for India Conclusion There could be people who might disagree with outcome of our survey; and I don’t claim that this reflects the true aspirations of the people of these two regions. Some Pakistani and Azad Kashmiri officials acknowledged privately that majority of people of Azad Kashmir will not vote for them in totally impartial plebiscite, especially if held under some international supervision. The best way to ascertain views of people of Azad Kashmir and people of Gilgit Baltistan is to arrange an impartial plebiscite under reputable international organisation, like the UN. Outcome of that plebiscite will not only show what people of these regions want, it will also strengthen Pakistani position. Are they willing to take this challenge? As today is 11 February, a day when Kashmiri pay tribute to Martyrdom of great Kashmiri leader MAQBOOL BUTT, it is only appropriate that I end with a quote of Maqbool Butt. In a Statement before a special court in Pakistan Maqbool Butt said, and I quote: ‘No one can stop men from claiming that every ruling power in Pakistan has exploited the Kashmir issue for last 25 years for its lust for power and abused this issue to mislead the people of Pakistan who have and still do support the freedom of Kashmir. When power came into the hands of military dictatorship this conspiracy has become even more dreadful. Division of Pakistan is only a logical result of this conspiracy.’ Madam Chair, I thank you for your patience. Writer is Head Diplomatic Committee of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.Email:drshabirchoudhry@gmail.com


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