Urdu Daily: Chinese Military Taking Over Gilgit Baltistan

Urdu Daily: Chinese Military Taking Over Gilgit Baltistan

11 February 2012
Middle East Media Research Institute
Tufail Ahmad

Washington DC: According to a report published by an Urdu-language newspaper, Pakistan is considering a proposal to lease the strategic region of Gilgit Baltistan to China. The Pakistani move is aimed at fortifying its strategic relations with China amid the irreparable rupture in U.S.-Pakistan relations over the past year. Gilgit Baltistan, previously known as the Northern Areas, shares the international border with China. Like Pakistani-occupied Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan – which had been part of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir during the British rule – is not formally part of Pakistan and is not under the jurisdiction of Pakistani constitution. There are no representatives from Gilgit Baltistan in the Pakistani parliament or federal government institutions. The report – titled 'Pakistan's Deteriorating Situation, Strained Relations with America: Deliberation on Leasing Gilgit Baltistan to China for 50 years' – was published in the Urdu-language daily Roznama Bang-e-Sahar, a newspaper distributed in Gilgit Baltistan on December 13, 2011, less than three weeks after the November 26, 2011 NATO raid on a Pakistani border post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. It should be noted here that the May 2, 2011 Abbottabad operation, in which the U.S. killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was seen in Pakistan as violation of its sovereignty. Following the unilateral U.S. raid, Pakistani government and military leaders are implementing a series of economic and military policies to bolster Pakistan's strategic relationship with China. Roznama Bang-e-Sahar: 'Deliberations have Begun [on a Proposal] to Hand Over Gilgit Baltistan to China on a 50-Year Lease; In the Next Stage, China … [Will] Deploy Its Troops There' The Roznama Bang-e-Sahar report stated: 'In the backdrop of the deteriorating situation in Pakistan and strained relations with America, deliberations have begun [on a proposal] to hand over Gilgit Baltistan to China on a 50-year lease. A Chinese think tank has also given the green light for this move.'[1] The report, which originated with an Islamabad dateline, surmised that international powers – i.e. the U.S. and allies – want to foment terror attacks in Gilgit Baltistan in order to watch China by sending a counter-terrorism force there. It stated: 'According to extremely reliable sources, amid the growing conflict in the Pakistani tribal areas, NATO forces' operations, and the conflict in relations with America, international powers are planning to turn Gilgit Baltistan into a base of terrorism in order to keep an eye on China [possibly by being present in Gilgit Baltistan on the pretext of carrying out anti-terror operations].'[2] The Urdu daily added: 'Smelling the [emerging] situation and in order to protect Gilgit Baltistan from international conspiracies, the think tanks of China and Pakistan have begun discussions to hand over this region to the control of China on lease. In the first stage of this plan, China will formulate a strategy for development projects and in the name of working on them will gradually take over the control of this region. In the next stage, China will take over Gilgit Baltistan under its total control for 50 years and deploy its troops there.'[3] The Roznama Bang-e-Sahar report acquires importance in view of the five-day visit of China by Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani on January 4-8, 2012. During a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Beijing, General Kayani said that development of China-Pakistan strategic partnership is the 'cornerstone of the two countries' policies.'[4] In his remarks, the Chinese premier said that 'the Chinese government and the PLA [People's Liberation Army] would continue to strengthen defense cooperation between the two countries and more frequent military to military exchanges.'[5] Kashmiri Researcher on Chinese Troops in Gilgit Baltistan: 'There is a Big Chinese Presence in Gilgit Baltistan; Apparently They are Involved in the Construction of Many Mega Projects, But the Presence of the Chinese Army and Their Designs to Take Control of This Region is Worrying' Map courtesy: drshabirchoudhry.blogspot.com The report about the move to hand over Gilgit Baltistan to China comes amid earlier reports that Chinese soldiers are already present in Gilgit Baltistan. In August 2010, a report in The New York Times revealed the presence of 'an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army' in Gilgit Baltistan.[6] Indian Army generals have also warned in recent months that the Chinese troops are present not only in Gilgit Baltistan but also inside the Pakistani-occupied Kashmir, which is known as Azad (free) Jammu & Kashmir. In April 2011, Lt.-Gen. K. T. Parnaik of Indian Army warned that the Chinese troops are not only stationed in Gilgit Baltistan but they are also present inside Pakistani Kashmir along the Line of Control (LoC) which divides Jammu & Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Speaking at a seminar, Lt.-Gen. Parnaik stated: 'We hear many people today who are concerned about the complicity of the Chinese if there were to be hostilities between India and Pakistan. Not only because they are in the neighborhood but the fact that they are actually stationed and present on the LoC.'[7] In October 2011, Indian Army Chief General V. K. Singh warned that 4,000 Chinese troops are present in Pakistani Kashmir, stating: 'There are certain construction working teams, a large number is available. Around 3,000 to 4,000 of these people are present including certain people for security purposes. There are certain engineer troops.'[8] The report in The New York Times regarding the presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit Baltistan was also confirmed by Kashmiri researcher and author Dr. Shabir Choudhry, who led a team of researchers to Gilgit Baltistan in October 2010. Following his research in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Kashmir, Dr. Shabir Choudhry delivered a series of lectures in the UK, addressing the implications of China's increasing presence in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Kashmir, and warning of the likelihood that the region could emerge as a battleground for military confrontation between China and Pakistan on one side and India and the United States on the other. Following are excerpts from his two lectures:[9] 'Some people … claim that only Indian-administered Kashmir is disputed. In our view that is a distortion of the facts, as the Kashmir dispute is political in nature, and the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir, which includes Jammu, Valley, Laddakh, Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit Baltistan is disputed. 'Hitherto there were only three parties to the Kashmir dispute, namely the people of Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan, and India. Over the recent past some quarters are working hard to make the 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…. 'The 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 & Kashmir territory from Gilgit Baltistan to China.…' 'China wants to ensure that they have a greater say in the 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 Gwadar [the Chinese-built port on Baluchistan cost], where they have invested billions of dollars. 'There is a big Chinese presence in Gilgit Baltistan. Apparently they are involved in the construction of many mega projects, but the presence of the Chinese army and their designs to take control of this region is worrying to many. Not only are they 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 2010] 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….' Pakistani Daily: 'Pakistan Wants China to Build a Naval Base at… Gwadar in Baluchistan; Beijing is More Interested in Setting Up Military Bases Either in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] or the Northern Areas [Gilgit Baltistan]' In October 2011, renowned Pakistani journalist and author Amir Mir revealed that Pakistan wants China to build a naval base in the Pakistani coastal town of Gwadar but the Chinese are more interested in building military bases in Pakistan's northern areas, which include Gilgit Baltistan. The apparent reason for setting up Chinese military bases in Pakistan's northern areas is ostensibly meant to counter anti-China militants, but these moves are part of long-term Chinese strategic moves to undercut the U.S. and Indian influence in the region. Excerpts from Amir Mir's report, which was published in The News, a leading Pakistan newspaper, are given below:[10] 'While Pakistan wants China to build a naval base at its southwestern seaport of Gwadar in Baluchistan, Beijing is more interested in setting up military bases either in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] or the Northern Areas [Gilgit Baltistan], which are closer to the troubled Chinese province of Xinjiang. 'According to well-informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, the Chinese desire is meant to contain the growing terrorist activities of the Chinese rebels belonging to the Al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The Chinese Muslim rebels want the creation of an independent Islamic state and are allegedly being trained in the tribal areas of Pakistan. 'Beijing's wish for a military presence in Pakistan was discussed at length by the political and military leadership of both the countries in recent months, as China has become ever more concerned about the Pakistani tribal areas as a haven for radicals. 'Beijing believes that similar to the American military presence in Pakistan, a Chinese presence would enable its military to effectively counter the Muslim separatists who have been operating from the tribal areas of Pakistan for almost a decade and carrying out cross-border terrorist activities in the trouble-stricken Xinjiang Province….' China, Pakistan to Unveil Plan for Joint Military Management of Gilgit Baltistan in June 2012 The Pakistani and Chinese militaries are moving in the direction of a joint military management of Gilgit Baltistan. The two militaries will cooperate under a specific plan designated by Pakistan as the Pak-China Strategic Program for Gilgit Baltistan. As part of this plan, officials from Pakistan's Northern Light Infantry (NLI) and People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China would 'undergo joint trainings and exchange of expertise.'[11] According to a Pakistani newspaper, the Pak-China Strategic Program for Gilgit Baltistan will come into force in June 2012.[12] The decision to launch the Pak-China Strategic Program for Gilgit Baltistan was probably taken during Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani's visit to China in January 2012. After his return from China, General Kayani chaired a meeting of Corps Commanders' Conference and Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) of the military at the General Headquarters (GHQ) of Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi on January 12, 2012. The officers discussed various issues, including the fears of military coup in Pakistan as expressed by the Pakistani civilian leaders. However, according to a report in The Nation daily, 'The military brass was purportedly unanimous in deciding not to restart military cooperation with the U.S. unless new terms of engagement came into force and to 'strongly' recommending to the government not to resume NATO … supplies [through Pakistan]. In this context, General Kayani purportedly briefed the Corp Commanders and PSOs about his recent visit to China. The army chief was said to have discussed new proposed defense pacts on border liaison and surveillance with China….'[13] Mindful of the Disputed Nature of Gilgit Baltistan, China Asks Pakistani Officials to Clarify the International Political Status of Gilgit Baltistan A copy of the November 18, 2011 report in Roznama Bang-e-Sahar China is aware that Gilgit Baltistan is disputed politically and diplomatically and Pakistan's sovereignty does not extend to this region. The Pakistani constitution and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, or other federal government institutions, do not have jurisdiction in Gilgit Baltistan, a strategic region through which China intends to establish trading routes to Iran and the Middle Eastern countries. Gilgit Baltistan was an ethnically different part of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, which was ruled by a Hindu king during the British colonial era. However, after the British left India in 1947, Jammu & Kashmir has been divided by a Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan. India claims the entire Jammu & Kashmir state, including Gilgit Baltistan, as its integral part but has avoided a serious claim to the control of the region. This is mainly because India has been confronted by Pakistan-sponsored militancy in its part of Kashmir. Aware of the fact that China's growing military presence in Gilgit Baltistan will trigger international concern in coming months, the Chinese government has asked the government of Pakistan it clarify the Pakistani position on Gilgit Baltistan at international forums, according to a report in the Roznama Bang-e-Sahar. In a report dated November 18, 2011, the Urdu daily observed: 'It has been learnt through various political circles in Gilgit Baltistan that the neighboring nation People's Republic of China has started taking deep interest in the current political situation in Gilgit. The Chinese officials have asked the senior officials [of Pakistan] that they clarify the political situation [i.e. diplomatic international status] of Gilgit Baltistan. 'Under the current status, China faces serious difficulties in working on different development projects in various areas of Gilgit Baltistan. China has been already working on an expansion plan of the Karakorum Highway. In addition, a contract has been awarded to China to restore the Karakorum Highway…. China already had reservations about the unclear political situation of Gilgit Baltistan…'[14] In December 2011, the editors of Roznama Bang-e-Sahar wrote an editorial, expressing concern over the Pakistani plan to hand over Gilgit Baltistan to China. The editorial, titled 'The Plan to Hand Over Gilgit Baltistan to China,' observed:[15] 'In order to stop the increasing lawlessness in the [Pakistani] tribal region [along the border with Afghanistan] and [to stop] the aggressive and expansionist objectives of the United States and NATO from materializing under the cover of the international forces, the government of China and the Pakistani government have decided to accept… the proposal jointly sent from their think tanks [to lease Gilgit Baltistan to China for 50 years]. Initially, China will cement its footprint in the region through its civil workers and engineers under the cover of various development projects. And it will create the justification for its presence under the name of reconstruction and development and restoration of basic infrastructure. 'And by gradually increasing its strategic supplies, Chinese troops will be sent to the region to protect their engineers and installations under constructions. And ultimately, as per the plan, the Chinese troops will have the reason for their presence in the region for a long period.... The basic objective behind deploying the Chinese troops is to stop, repel, and fight any kind of strategic aggression by India at the behest and instigation of the United States and NATO….' 'If the report [regarding leasing Gilgit Baltistan to China] is true…, then it will not be wrong to think that the people of Gilgit Baltistan will probably not get geographical and political independence for next several hundred years; and their freedom and political rights will remain limited to dreams….' * Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI's South Asia Studies Project (www.memri.org-sasp) Endnotes: [1] Roznama Bang-e-Sahar (Pakistan), December 13, 2011. [2] Roznama Bang-e-Sahar (Pakistan), December 13, 2011. [3] Roznama Bang-e-Sahar (Pakistan), December 13, 2011. [4] www.dawn.com (Pakistan), January 6, 2012. All reports quoted in this dispatch were lightly edited for clarity. [5] www.dawn.com (Pakistan), January 6, 2012. [6] www.nytimes.com (U.S.), August 26, 2010. [7] www.timesofindia.com (India), April 6, 2011. [8] www.timesofindia.com (India), October 5, 2011. [9] See MEMRI Special Dispatch Series Report No. 3772, 'Kashmiri Writer Examines the Strategic Implications of China's Military Presence in Kashmir Region', April 19, 2011. http:-www.memri.org-report-en-0-0-0-0-0-0-5212.htm [10] The News (Pakistan), October 26, 2011. [11] The Nation (Pakistan), January 13, 2012. [12] The Nation (Pakistan), January 13, 2012. [13] The Nation (Pakistan), January 13, 2012. [14] Roznama Bang-e-Sahar (Pakistan), November 18, 2011. [15] Roznama Bang-e-Sahar (Pakistan), December 14, 2011.