Selig S. Harrison’s article “China’s discreet hold on Pakistan’s Northern Borderlands” (Views, Aug. 27) has no basis in fact.
The facts are: The Karakoram Highway, which connects China’s Xinjiang region with Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, was constructed by Chinese and Pakistani engineers over a long period of time and completed in 1986. This is a historical fact. Parts of the highway, the highest paved international road, were destroyed, as was most of Pakistan’s infrastructure, by the recent deadly floods. Landslides at Attabad in the Hunza Valley cut off all links to Gilgit-Baltistan, making it difficult for the government to ensure timely provision of the people’s needs.
Pakistan therefore sought urgent help from friendly countries, including China, whose engineers have the necessary experience, to repair the damage on this critically important highway. But Mr. Harrison chose to describe Chinese engineers as army troops. Why he has tried to mislead your readers, is something he must explain.
Mian Jahangir Iqbal,New York Press Counselor Permanent mission of Pakistan to the United Nations
Selig S. Harrison responds
Western and regional intelligence sources say that there has been an influx of construction, engineering and communication units of the People’s Liberation Army into Gilgit-Baltistan, under the command of the Xinjiang military district, totaling at least 7,000 military personnel. This is confirmed by local political groups opposed to both Pakistani military rule and to the Chinese influx whose credibility is verified by Pakistani journalists, such as the Balawaristan National Front, the Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance, the All-Party National Alliance and the Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum.
In addition, several thousand P.L.A. troops are said to be stationed in the Khunjerab Pass on the Xinjiang border to protect Karakoram Highway construction crews, with ready access to Gilgit-Baltistan.
True, the Chinese in Gilgit-Baltistan are not combat soldiers, and their work on flood relief and economic development has positive benefits. But the impact of such a large foreign presence in a thinly populated, undeveloped region has been profound. With large amounts of money to dispense for subcontracts and support services, P.L.A. officers have become powerful, striking alliances with Pakistan-sponsored local functionaries, Pakistani bureaucrats and Pakistani businessmen who are profiting from more than 200 mining and other Chinese-run projects.
To local political activists, this adds up to a creeping process of de facto Chinese control over a region where Islamabad claims nominal authority but lacks the infrastructure to exercise it.