In a quiet move, Pakistan is handing over de-facto control of the strategic Gilgit- Baltistan region in the Occupied Kashmir to China in an area witnessing a simmering rebellion against Islamabad. The New York Times said that there were two important new developments in Gilgit-Baltistan; a simmering rebellion against the Pakistani rule and the influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army in the area, which is closed to the world.
"China wants a grip on the strategic area to assure unfettered road and rail access to the Gulf through Pakistan", the paper 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.
"Many of the PLA soldiers entering Gilgit-Baltistan are expected to work on the railroad. Some are extending the Karakoram Highway, built to link China's Xinjiang province with Pakistan. Others are working on dams, expressways and other project," the paper said. It said that mystery surrounds the construction of 22 tunnels in secret locations, where even Pakistanis are barred. Tunnels would be necessary for a projected gas pipeline from Iran to China that would cross the Karakorams through Gilgit. "But they could be also used for missiles storage sites," the Times said.
So far, the paper quoting foreign intelligence sources, Pakistani media and Pakistani Human Rights groups, said the PLA construction crews had been living in temporary encampments and went home after completing their assignments. But now they are building a big residential complex, clearly designed for a long term presence, and the New York Times said what is happening in the region is a matter of concern for Washington.
Coupled with support for Taliban, Islamabad's collusion in facilitating China's access to the Gulf makes it clear that Pakistan is not a US "ally", the New York Times said. The paper said that there was widespread brutally suppressed local movements for democratic rights and regional autonomy in both Gilgit and Baltistan, where Sunni Jihadi groups allied with the Pakistani army have systematically terrorised the local Shia Muslims.
"Gilgit and Baltistan are in fact under military rule," the paper said, pointing out that the local people are aspiring for legislature and others institutions without restrictions like those imposed in other parts of PoK. The Times said in PoK the elected legislature control only four out of 56 subjects, covered in the state constitution, the rest are under the jurisdiction of a "Kashmir Council", appointed by the President of Pakistan.
In comparison, the paper said, India gives more power to the state government in Kashmir; elections there are widely regarded as fair, and open discussion of demands for autonomy is permitted. It said the US was uniquely situated to play a moderating role in Kashmir, given its growing economic and military ties with India and Pakistan's aid dependence on Washington.
Washington should press New Delhi to resume autonomy resolutions with Kashmiri separatists as success would put pressure on Islamabad to stop aiding the insurgency in Kashmir Valley. The Gilgit-Baltistan region is so important to China, the US, India and Pakistan should work together to make sure that it is not overwhelmed like Tibet by the Chinese behemoth.