`Chinese incursion in Gilgit-Baltistan alarming`

"Chinese activities" in Gilgit-Baltistan region is an alarming development that will affect the Indo-China relations, experts have said.

Updated: Feb 06, 2011, 11:47 AM IST

Washington: Increasing "Chinese activities"
in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region is an alarming
development that will affect the overall India-China
relationship and broader peace in the region, experts have

"This is a very alarming development in my view that is
bound to affect the overall relationship between India and
China and more broadly peace in Asia," said Selig Harrison,
journalist and executive director of Center for International
Policy, a Washington-based think tank.

Harrison in an article in The New York Times had said
last year that there were a minimum of 7,000 Peoples
Liberation Army (PLA) personnel stationed in the Khunjerab
Pass on border of Gilgit-Baltistan to protect the Karakoram
Highway construction crews.

He was speaking at a conference yesterday on `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.

In her remarks, Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation
said it`s too early to conclude that China wants 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 said.

"Still, New Delhi is wary about the presence of the
Chinese troops in what is technically part of the sensitive
disputed area of Kashmir and views the situation as
potentially provocative," Curtis said.

Harrison said one should keep in mind that Gilgit and
Baltistan are economically undeveloped and socially fractured
societies and thus very vulnerable.

"Even a small Chinese presence has a disproportionate
impact on such an undeveloped society. What we have is a
creeping process of control, not a bald power grab," he
cautioned. Syed Iqbal Hasnain of the Stimson Center Environmental
Security warned that the megadams being built by China in
Gilgit and Baltistan will induce seismicity and submerge
hundreds of villages.

He noted that exploitation and callous behavior of
successive Pakistani governments during last 65 years have led
to extinction of many rare species while others are on the
verge of extinction.

"At the same time, large military and civilian presence
of Chinese personnel under the pretext of infrastructure
development has raised broader security concerns for local
communities as well as regional neighbours," he said.

Stating that loose debris materials left by retreating
glaciers are unstable, he said the collateral damage across
the region will be devastating and demands serious attention.

Mumtaz Khan, executive director of the International
Center for Peace and Democracy said the alarming growth of
China`s military presence in PoK needs attention as China has
literally taken over the entire disputed part of Kashmir under
Pakistani control.

"Brigadier Masood Ahmed, the chief of staff of Earthquake
Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) is
coordinating these projects in which China has invested more
than USD 6 billion in fourteen projects," he said.

Examining China`s activities, one is forced to say that
there is a clear shift in China`s policy on the Kashmir
dispute and its attitude towards Indian government and people
in Indian controlled Kashmir explains these undercurrents and
motives, Khan said.

He stressed that the current involvement of China in
Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK is more than just providing military
and diplomatic support to Pakistan.

"Very soon, it will become evident that Pakistan will
swap its role to take the backseat and China exerting itself
as a major player in the Kashmir issue," Khan said.

A Pakistani diplomat present at the conference refuted
such allegations and said that the Chinese were in Gilgit and
Baltistan at the invitation of Pakistan and was only carrying
out developmental works.