In August last year, when India announced the abolition of Article 370, which changed the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was more than worried. The Modi government aims to integrate erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir into India including Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (POK). Pakistan has been trying to lure China into their fold under the guise of showing J&K as their territorial part. PM Khan went ahead to grant provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan.
Pakistan has no adjacency with China. The only way Pakistan can link with China is through the Occupied Kashmir and Northern Areas, in particular, the Gilgit-Baltistan territory.
Chinese have shown interest in the area before and Pakistan was more than happy to satisfy their wishes. Back in 1963, the Chinese had shown interest in the area limited to Shakshgam Valley. This was for them to connect continuously through the area to their Xinjiang region. Pakistan complied with the Chinese and handed over 5180 sq km of their territory, which is now known as Trans-Karakoram Tract.
This was the first time Pakistan showed their real interests underneath their facade of ‘love and affection’ for the people of Jammu and Kashmir that they have continued to promote.
Pakistan also got China to construct Karakoram Highway as a backup plan for the region. The construction led to several landslides that led to the death of more than 6,000 people. China also called this highway, the ‘Friendship Highway’.
Chinese realize the potential of Gilgit-Baltistan
China also realized the potential of the route. It provided them with alternate access to the Arabian Sea and the Middle East and other countries. Thus, the Chinese sold Pakistan with the idea of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan, on the other hand, did not have any alternate development plan to show the people. And they decided to agree to the offer. Pakistan assured China that there won’t be any issues regarding the legality of the region through which the corridor will pass.
China has many other interests in the region too. Chinese projects in Gilgit-Baltistan include Sust Dry Port, up-gradation of Karakoram Highway (KKH), 820 km OFC project connecting Khunjerab to Rawalpindi and Jaglot-Skardu road.
Chinese goods filled the Pakistani markets and pork-sellers have become mainstream in the majority of Pakistani towns to cater to the Chinese demands. The people are also protesting Islamabad’s decision to lease pasture land in Gilgit-Baltistan to Chinese companies for mining.
It is evident that these projects mostly cater to the interests of China. This was finally being clear to an average Pakistani.. The Chinese banks have funded these projects and the Chinese companies have undertaken them. They have also brought in Chinese machinery and employed Chinese engineers, and even labour.
Abolition of Article 370
The night India decided to abrogate Article 370, the Chinese saw a threat looming over their strategic and investment plan and put considerable pressure on Pakistan. Khan visited the region on November 1, the so-called Independence day of the region, and announced provincial status for the state. Many including the ‘PM of Azad Kashmir’, Farooq Haider opposed the decision. He fears the decision may let China take over the region.
Pakistan has always presented the Gilgit-Baltistan territory in a different light to the world. In reality, they abolished many of the privileges associated with the former state of J&K in the region. These included the abolition of state subject law in 1974, and creating homes of Shias in a Sunni majority area. People of Gilgit-Baltistan still can’t practice the most basic human rights and privileges. They are also unable to elect their leaders as they choose. Screening of the leaders if first done. After that, the leaders have to swear their allegiance to Pakistan in order to take part in the elections.
With no opposition and political representation, Pakistan is free to whatever it wants with Gilgit-Baltistan. This lets Pakistan act as a client state to the Chinese, a job it was always willing to undertake.