Gilgit-Baltistan polls and Chinese games. By Farooq Ganderbali


What is the connection between the fraudulent elections held by Pakistan in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region and China? There is a very deep connection which the international community is ignoring, deliberately or otherwise. This callous indifference, and colossal ignorance, is going to make Gilgit-Baltistan into another Tibet in the near future.
It is a well-known fact that the Chinese have been present and active in Gilgit-Baltistan and other disputed areas for some time. Most of these activities have been in the guise of helping Pakistan with its infrastructure development, be it hydroelectric projects or the construction and maintenance of Karakoram Highway. The Chinese also have several mining rights in the area and have invested heavily in telecommunication and other infrastructure over the years.
All these are likely to increase manifold with China now investing $45 billion in Pakistan’s infrastructure development. Much of it will be done in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan, two areas in Pakistan where indigenous communities have a serious problem with the political leadership in Islamabad and military leaders of Rawalpindi. Both the regions are resource rich where the indigenous people have been denied their fundamental rights, treated as second class citizens, if not enemies, and subjugated through various means by the state.
Both these troubled regions are therefore facing increased military and political repression, Balochistan more than Gilgit-Baltistan, at least for the moment. The biggest carrot dangling over these two areas is the China’s promised el Dorado, a colossal network of road and railways, interspersed with industrial corridors and airports, linking Kashgar with Gwadar, touching two other important ports of Pakistan, Karachi and Omra. This will give the Chinese a clear and influential access to the warm waters of Arabian Sea and onwards to the strategically critical Indian Ocean. The road and rail link will also give China a shorter access to the rich energy fields of the Middle East, and vast markets of Europe.
Pakistan in turn will benefit immensely. Many in Pakistan call it the new Suez Canal. It is estimated that Pakistan will earn close to $70 billion every year as transit fees alone once the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor is completed. Pakistani leaders are looking at new jobs, new cities, and tonnes of money into the state exchequer as well as their own personal accounts. And of course massive real estate deals in the bargain. There is too much at stake for the political leadership in Islamabad. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan and their concerns don’t matter at all.
Both these areas and the people are already or about to face the brunt of the project. In Balochistan, the game has been afoot for decades now. It has now intensified. Pakistan security forces are leading a massive security operation in the province for months now, all very quiet and disastrous for the indigenous Baloch people. Men and women have disappeared overnight, only to be discovered disfigured and dead. This has been going on for decades now, with the tally now running into several thousands. No one has kept a tab on the number of men and women, and children, abducted and killed by the security forces or killed in ruthless military operations which every new Chief of Army Staff carries out to prove his manhood. Killing as many Baloch has been the first test of every new General.
The principle motive behind killing own people, at least that is what Pakistanis believe, is to clear Balochistan of its indigenous people and take control of the resources. The Baloch demand their share in the natural wealth which Islamabad-Rawalpindi leaders are not willing to give and hence the ceaseless bloodshed. This bloodshed has increased manifold once the Chinese have shown interest in investing in the province for exploration and mining besides setting up Gwadar. Gwadar is not merely a port but a hub of civil-military transport, energy and communication corridor, linking China with the Middle East, Europe, Russia and beyond. Gwadar is a game changer in all senses and therefore the Baloch people, who are demanding their share of the pie, need to be silenced and shunted out.
Similar repression is likely to begin in the Gilgit-Baltistan area. The stakes are even higher here—the Chinese desperately want this corridor to be built at the earliest and so does the Pakistanis. It is the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, more than a million in number, who have a problem with such massive projects coming their way. They don’t have a positive view of the Chinese intentions and actions.
The Chinese infrastructure companies are the worst polluters. They have no concern whatsoever for local customs and traditions. Nor does the Chinese have any regard for local environment. Acres and acres of forests have been denuded in the name of dams. Hundreds of families have been forcibly uprooted from their traditional homes and sent packing to small towns and far-flung valleys with little compensation and even lesser rehabilitation packages, if any at all. There have been skirmishes between the local people and the Chinese workers. The local authorities have accused the Chinese companies of fighting with the local communities and cheating on local commissions and payments. This has already created a bad blood among the community towards Chinese companies. Such skirmishes are likely to spike in the near future.
It is clear that the Pakistan military will step into make it easy for the Chinese companies to operate—plunder and pollute in the name of development. There are already signs of it happening in the area.
The recent fraudulent elections, rigged by all means, has given the army an excuse to increase its presence in the area. The elections were also a ruse to put a stamp on their illegal claims over the area. The UN must voice a strong protest at this gross violation of international norms and conventions.
In any case, the army is likely to remain in the area, shutting down voices of protest and avoid skirmishes with the Chinese workers and companies. This is likely to bring the local communities into conflict with the security forces, creating a highly volatile situation in the area. Since the Army is known to use non-state actors like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba to repress local resentment. Since the local communities are Shias, these Sunni groups will go on a rampage, terrorising the local people with killings and abductions en masse.
It will be more like how the Chinese launched their repressive campaign in Tibet before they annexed the autonomous region, forcing the local communities to flee their homeland. A large section of the Tibetans are today homeless and have sought asylum in alien countries, with no hope of returning to their home. Will this be the fate of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan?

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