At a time when the distance between American and Pakistani priorities in the post-Osama period continues to grow, China is passionately vouching for Pakistan's entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is seen as the upcoming Asian NATO . For some time now, China and Pakistan have aspired to create a regional alliance comprising the Arab countries, Central Asian Republics, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey, and SCO could most likely help that dream come true.
But there is more to it than meets the eye. The lynchpin connecting these countries will be Gilgit Baltistan, a disputed region rivaling Serbia in area. Although constitutionally a part of India and bordering China's Xinjiang province, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Gilgit Baltistan remains in Pakistani control since 1947.
The political uncertainty owing to India's claim to the region is especially worrisome for China, which currently depends on her southern neighbour for two reasons. Firstly, China uses transit routes of Gilgit Baltistan to reach Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the ports along the coastline of Arabian Sea; and secondly, Chinese mining companies control the region's much valued mineral deposits of uranium, gold, copper, marble and precious stones.
However the locals continue to resist China's ambitions. In 2008, for instance, a local person was killed when the residents of uranium-rich Gindai valley in Ghizer district clashed with Chinese miners. A Pakistani company called Mohmand Minerals met the same fate in 2010 in Nasirabad valley of Hunza district where the infamous Babajan Hunzai of Progressive Youth Front spearheads the resistance against Pakistani and Chinese expansionism. Today, more than a 100 local right defenders are locked up in Pakistani jails and face sedition charges for denying space to the Chinese and Pakistani mining companies in their valleys.
But the person, making the headlines in local newspapers for criticizing foreign miners, is Advocate Shahbaz Khan, the chairperson of Metals, Minerals and Gems Association of Gilgit Baltistan , who has recently accused some individuals of acquiring 35 tonnes of certain mineral deposits from uranium-rich Karkalti village of Ghizer district, and smuggling to China.
Shahbaz is also critical of a uranium exploration company called Mohsin Industries, which has sought partnership with the locals as well as Chinese and Korean miners. Last year, Mohsin Industries was banned for attempting to smuggle uranium outside Pakistan. However, the company has recently been awarded exploration licenses in the uranium-rich areas of Sakwar, Minawar, Pari Bangla and Bonji, as well as parts of Shigar district and Skardo.
Locals accuse Mohsin Industries of bypassing standard procedures to obtain licenses. Mirza Hussain, a member of the Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) from Nagar, believes that the owner of the Mohsin Industries receives special treatment due to his close links with the director general of the Federal Mineral Development Agency and Syed Mehdi Shah, who is currently the chief minister of Gilgit Baltistan. Hussain also suspects that its owner has established links with members of pro-Taliban groups such as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
Today, Chinese miners and their affiliates are everywhere in Gilgit Baltistan especially in the Hunza-Nagar district, which is rich in uranium and certain minerals used in space technology. Some areas in upper Hunza, for instance, like the Chapursan valley have become no-go areas, where the Chinese continue their work on tunnel building and mineral exploration.