Gilgit-Baltistan:China’s Developmental Role in GB

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Pakistani’s beleaguered president Asif Ali Zardari visited India as Islamabad was desperately trying to locate and rescue its 138 soldiers buried under an avalanche at Siachin glacier. Kashmir Life’s Delhi bureau reports on Zardari’s agenda and apparent motivation.

The President of Asif Ali Zardari left his hosts stunned at the Prime Minister’s Manmohan Singh’s official residence in New Delhi, when he enquired how India was conducting business with China despite serious political differences. Perhaps, the insiders said, he was referring to India-China model, where border disputes are not allowed to cast a shadow on growing business ties. The latest figures suggest trade surpassing $1.7 billion, more than the target, mainly on strength of Indian imports. Indian exports, driven by cotton and iron ore to China amounted to $20.8 billion while Chinese exports to India total $40.8 billion.

During his visit to Pakistan in December, 1996, Jiang Zemin, the then Chinese President, had highlighted five points which, according to him, governed China’s foreign policy towards the South Asian countries. “We should look at the differences or disputes from a long perspective, seeking a just and reasonable settlement through consultations and negotiations while bearing in mind the larger picture. If certain issues cannot be resolved for the time being, they may be shelved temporarily so that they will not affect the normal state-to-state relations,” Zemin had said.

Even though he did not make any specific reference to India or Pakistan, Zemin’s highlighting this point was widely interpreted in Pakistan as a hint to it that Islamabad should emulate China, which has not allowed its long-standing border dispute with India to come in the way of the development of economic and other relations with India.

It was seen as an advice to Pakistan that while negotiating with India on the Kashmir issue, it should not allow it to come in the way of normal economic and other relations between the neighbours.

But Pakistan at that time had rejected any parallels between the two disputes. The then foreign minister Gauhar Ayub Khan had said there was no border or territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. “We are contesting the right to self-determination and future of over 10 million souls living in Jammu and Kashmir,” unlike India-China border regions which are sparsely populated.

At a time when Zardari was enjoying his lunch at the PM’s residence, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was telling a group of reporters in Lahore that in fact China had advised his government to make peace with India. It appears that trouble in Gilgit-Baltistan, under curfew for over past one week due to clashes, and troubles in Baluchistan province (Pakistan believes Indian hand in the troubles), have sent Chinese plans of investments in these strategic places haywire.

Besides rebuilding Karakoram highway in Gilgit, China also plans to take a railway line right from Kashgar city of Xingjian province to Baluchistan port city of Gwadar, to access warm waters. Beijing wants Pakistan to make peace with India to isolate insurgent groups in these provinces.

Indian Naval Chief, Admiral Suresh Mehta said in February 2008 that the Gwadar port has “serious strategic implications for India.”

“Being only 180 nautical miles from the exit of the Straits of Hormuz, Gwadar, being built in Baluchistan coast, would enable Pakistan take control over the world energy jugular and interdiction of Indian tankers,” he said.

The Indians and USA are alarmed by the new Chinese plans as Indians feel they are encircled by China from three sides – Myanmar, Tibet and Pakistan. To counter that India has brought Afghanistan and Iran into an ‘unholy’ alliance.

There are reports that Indians have used this route for military transport into Afghanistan.
Insiders say Manmohan Singh asked Zardari to ensure a strong commitment and promise action against terrorism and an assurance on conclusion of judicial trail against perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai attacks including Hafiz Sayeed, before both countries could make “substantive progress” on political issues be that Siachen, Sir Creek or Jammu and Kashmir.

India’s road map to peace now primarily says that steps would be taken only after Pakistan stamps out terrorism. The second step, it says would be India’s forward movement towards resolving outstanding bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. In the third leg, India offers to build up “a lasting relationship with Pakistan that involves creation of stakes in each other’s welfare.

Former Foreign Secretary and one of the architects of this formulation Shyam Saran’s paper on “Indian approach to resolve issue of Jammu and Kashmir” also mentions these things. It actually contained India’s offers in the non-paper and in detail discusses India’s policy on Jammu and Kashmir.

“Our J&K policy must coordinate between what we pursue as domestic policy with respect to J&K as Central Government, policies which mainstream political parties and the J&K State Government pursue in dealing with political, social and economic situation in the State itself — on the one hand and the treatment of J&K as an issue in India-Pakistan relations and in India’s foreign policy in general. A coherent and effective policy on J&K must bring all these components together in an internally consistent manner.”

He says, India’s response to Pakistan’s self-governance and joint control or joint management is that let Pakistan promote concept of self-governance, not only in PoK, but also in Gilgit and Baltistan, so that we can begin to create crosss-LoC consultative (but not joint Counter Management) mechanism between truly representative and self-governing institutions, to address shared challenges.

IDSA director general Dr Arvind Gupta says the approach signals to the neighbours that there are benefits to be had from partnering with India and shedding negative attitudes. “There is growing realization that human security concerns are as important as traditional, hard core security concerns. Focusing on the people helps to mitigate security issues and also brings prosperity to the people. That is why our approach now focuses on terrorism on the one hand and regional cooperation capacity building, trade & investment and human security concerns on the other.”



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