Geneva: Friends of Gilgit Baltistan, an international organization set up by a few Members of the European Parliament, held a seminar last week on the sidelines of the 33rd UNHRC session in Geneva, on the exploitative nature of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan Administered Kashmir.
The speakers included Alberto Cirio, Member of the European Parliament, Paulo Casaca, Executive Director, South Asia Democratic Forum, Junaid Qureshi, prominent Kashmiri human rights leader and Mehran Marri, Baloch Representative to the UN. Paulo Casaca moderated the seminar.
During his speech, Paulo Casaca mentioned that though the CPEC has been termed by Pakistani leaders as a game changer time and again, they had glossed over and failed to acknowledge the negative impacts of the project.
He opined that though the government harped on the expected economic benefits of the CPEC, little attention was given to the fact that the CPEC would fail to provide economic benefits, including jobs, to the locals and instead only enrich a few.
The CPEC, he stated, had become more of a project championed by the Pakistani government and its military to divert attention from all the failures of the civilian government in all other areas including human rights.
Later, responding to an intervention, Casaca stated that the most worrying factors with regard to Pakistan was its support to cross border terrorism and there was an immediate need for this to stop as otherwise it would impact the security of not only South Asia but also the world.
In his speech, Alberto Cirio, MEP, highlighted the lack of economic and social benefits to the people of Gilgit Baltistan from the CPEC. Giving the example of earlier Chinese investments in the Karakoram Highway and Gwadar Port, he stated that neither of these investments had benefitted the local people and it was important that the Pakistan government realized that the local population had basic rights on the natural resources of their area.
In his presentation, Junaid Qureshi raised the issue of the illegal nature of the CPEC as it passed through disputed territory. He expressed strong reservations about the large Chinese investment in Gilgit Baltistan, which he said was a part of the undivided State of Jammu and Kashmir.
He opined that China, by investing in projects in this disputed area, was also becoming one of the players in the dispute, which was not acceptable to the people of Kashmir. He concluded that it was necessary for Kashmiris to be masters of their own land.
In response to a comment on recent human rights violations in Indian Kashmir, he said that while in India people were free to express opposition to policies, in Pakistan leaders like Arif Shahid were being shot dead by the State machinery.
Mehran Marri described the CPEC as an illegal project and expressed concern that China`s interest in pursuing the CPEC was not just economic but also to increase its military footprint in Pakistan, and especially in Gwadar Port in Balochistan.
He added that the Chinese need for security for its personnel along the CPEC had further jeopardized the Baloch rights and also facilitated the deployment of Chinese military personnel in the area. All the speakers who spoke at this event, emphasized the disputed nature of Gilgit Baltistan, through which the CPEC would be traversing.