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Thousands of Chinese troops in Gilgit, says US expert

September 02, 2010 03:29 IST

A noted American South Asian expert said that thousands of Chinese soldiers are stationed in the Gilgit-Baltistan area in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir .

"The total number of Chinese personnel in and on the border of Gilgit-Baltistan is uncertain, but most estimates suggest a minimum of 7,000," Selig Harrison told PTI.

He was responding to a question about the statement made by the Pakistani foreign office which refuted his last week's New York Times article that Chinese troops are present in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

"Several thousand armed personnel of the PLA are stationed in the Khunjerab Pass on the border of Gilgit-Baltistan to protect the Karakoram Highway construction crews," he said.

"China does not have combat forces in Gilgit-Baltistan. The development work to which I referred is being carried out by adjuncts of the People's Liberation Army under the direct supervision of the Xinjiang Military District: the Production and Construction Corps, the Engineering Corps and the Communication Corps, all under the command of PLA officers," he said.

Reacting to the NYT article, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said, "Given Selig Harrison's well-known anti-Pakistan mindset, his gross misrepresentation of facts is hardly surprising. Nor is it unexpected of India to create unnecessary hype using Mr Harrison's tendentious article."

"The fact of the matter is that China, at our request, is helping us in repairing the Karakoram highway, which has been severely damaged by the recent floods and landslides. Anything beyond this is one's figment of imagination," Basit had said.

"China wants a grip on the strategic area to assure unfettered road and rail access to the Gulf through Pakistan", the NYT said, and for this purpose is building high-speed rail and road link. The link up would enable Beijing to transport cargo and oil tankers from eastern China to the new Chinese built Pakistani Naval base at Gawadar, Pasni and Ormara in Balochistan, just east of the Gulf in 48 hours.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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