Tuesday, February 15, 2011

‘China out to grab Gilgit-Baltistan’

China’s strong military presence in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region and it investment of more than US$ 6 billion in fourteen projects there explain why there is a clear shift in its policy on the Kashmir issue and its attitude towards Indian government and people in the Indian part of Kashmir, according to a report.

The PTI report presented in a conference entitled '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 on Feb 5.

The increased Chinese civilian and military activities in the region is an alarming development that will affect the overall India-China relationship and broader peace in the region, experts who spoke at the conference were cited as saying. Among the speakers was reported to be Selig Harrison, journalist and executive director of Center for International Policy, a Washington-based think tank. He had said in an article in The New York Times last year that there were a minimum of 7,000 Chinese People’s Liberation Army personnel stationed in the Khunjerab Pass on the border of Gilgit-Baltistan to protect the Karakoram Highway construction crews.

According to him, “What we have is a creeping process of control, not a bald power grab." He has noted that being economically undeveloped and having socially fractured societies make the region very vulnerable for such takeover.

Mumtaz Khan, executive director of the International Center for Peace and Democracy, has been reported as saying the alarming growth of China's military presence in PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) needed attention because China had literally taken over the entire disputed part of Kashmir under Pakistani control. He has stressed that the current involvement of China in Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK is more than just providing military and diplomatic support to Pakistan.

Khan believed that very soon Pakistan will take the backseat as China exerts itself as a major player in the Kashmir issue.

Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation has said it was too early to conclude that China wanted 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 was quoted as saying.

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