China has been deploying troops in the area of Gilgit-Baltistan for quite some time. In October 2011, the Indian Army Chief General V K Singh had mentioned the unease created by the presence of thousands of Chinese soldiers in the area. Some 4,000 Chinese were known to be in Gilgit-Baltistan – this number included the troops of People’s Liberation Army of China.
Indian Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne had also raised the same issue in an interview saying that China’s increasing presence in Pakistan Administered Kashmir warrants India’s attention. New Delhi has been voicing concerns over China’s presence and activities in Gilgit-Baltistan, quite frequently. Especially, since last year, when about 11,000 Chinese troops were reported to be in the Azad Kashmir region.
China’s deployment of troops in a highly contentious region of Pakistan and India is a worrisome factor not only for India but for the world at large. Gilgit-Baltistan region is festering with revolt against the Pakistani rule and the direct involvement of Beijing in this issue makes any hopes for future negotiations or understanding between India and Pakistan, all the more tenuous. It can only contribute to creating more distrust and unease between the two nations, which have historically been suspicious of each other’s moves.
China’s cooperation with Pakistan is nothing new, Pakistan literally handed over slice of Jammu and Kashmir to China on a silver platter and China had supported the 1970s Pakistani attempts to acquire the nuclear capabilities. There have been numerous other exchanges and reciprocal moves by both China and Pakistan, but, the presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit-Baltistan should indicate a worrying alliance. It is an alliance that has the potential of threatening the stability of the region.
In the words of the Director for the International Center of Peace and Democracy, Mr. Mumtaz Khan in Toronto, “The current involvement of China in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir consists of more than just providing military and diplomatic support to Pakistan. Soon, Pakistan will swap its role to take the backseat as China exerts itself as a major player in the Kashmir issue"
China’s intentions are not hard to fathom. In the opinion of New York Times "China wants a grip on the strategic area to assure unfettered road and rail access to the Gulf through Pakistan," Beijing wants a corridor from Chinese province of Xinjiang to the Indian Ocean. It has already cast the corner stone by constructing the Gwadar Port, which is a deep sea, warm-water port in Balochistan province of Pakistan at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and at the height of the Arabian Sea. It is close to the shipping routes that are used by the mainline vessels and enjoys high strategic and commercial significance.
The Chinese soldiers are apparently working on the infrastructure of the region and there are reports that China is plotting the construction of a high speed rail system, bridges and roads, as well as, near about twenty four tunnels. Gilgit-Baltistan area is closed to foreign observers and news cannot be obtained freely. It can only be gathered through intelligence information or satellite imagery, which shows construction activities taking place throughout the region.
The presence of Chinese soldiers is also supposed to have a deterring effect on possible disturbances to Pakistani rule by the local population, which is seething with rebellion against the Pakistani government.
The presence of Chinese troops on the Gilgit-Baltistan region also gives rise to the question that since Pakistan has always objected to the presence of US troops on its soil then why is it so happy with the presence of Chinese soldiers.
Both China and Pakistan have territorial disputes with India. The total population of China and India constitutes about forty percent of the world population. Both countries are striving for strategic supremacy. China is establishing a foothold in a very volatile area. It probably has designs on gaining a strategic stronghold in the trade as well as the geopolitics in the Central Asia, as well as, Indian Ocean Region. But, there is a lot at stake here, what is not visible right now may be that China is also using its presence in the Gilgit-Baltistan area as a deterrent to India’s opposition to its territorial claims to border areas with China.
Whatever the intentions may be on both China and Pakistan side but one thing is pretty clear – there is CLEAR and PRESENT danger in the entire situation.