Sino-Pak Nexus: Implication for India
Gilgit-Baltistan, which is part of the disputed territory of Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, is on its way to become the fifth province of Pakistan. It is seen as a move to please China.
• According to the sources of the Pakistan Government, Imran Khan would soon visit the region and make a formal announcement in this regard.
• After consultation with all stakeholders, the Pakistan government has decided in principle to give “constitutional rights” to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
• The intelligence-sharing cooperation between the China and Pakistan has deepened and reports suggest posting of Pakistan’s ISI officers, from this March to China’s Central Military Commission’s Joint Staff Department.
• The alliance expanded into an economic partnership with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It passes through Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan sees the corridor as a game-changer.
No Political Rights for People of Gilgit-Baltistan
Gilgit-Baltistan for long has been neglected, and has remained in a constitution and administrative limbo, because of the lack of clarity on its status and the deprivation locals have felt because of it.
When the Kashmir conflict began in 1947, Gilgit-Baltistan was treated as part of Kashmir region, but in the 1970s, the Pakistan’s ruling elite decided to carve it out of Kashmir, and make it an administrative unit, directly controlled by Islamabad. Since then, local politics has been sidelined in the region.
The only indigenous local party was banned in Gilgit-Baltistan, and now only Pakistan-based parties exist in the region.
Another local political activist, Baba Jan was jailed in 2011 under Pakistani anti-terrorism laws for participating in a protest over the killing of a man and his son. The two were allegedly shot dead by the police in an earlier protest demanding compensation for a landslide incident that had destroyed their village.
Demographic Engineering and Shia-Sunni Tensions
Islamabad does not just control local politics in Gilgit-Baltistan with an iron-hand. Kashmiri political parties are also not allowed in the region.
The policy makers in Islamabad have also been actively changing the demographics by bringing in outsiders to the region.
The Pashtuns have been encouraged to settle here. Then a lot of religious groups belonging to Sunni school of thought in Islam that has been pouring in.
Demographic re-engineering has led to increase in sectarian and ethnic violence in the area.
Recent years have seen a rise in killings of Shia Muslims, and some suspect that the state is complicit in these acts of terror.
The first time there were Shia Sunni tensions, it was done by the Pakistani state, during the seventies. This was the same time when Karakoram Highway was being built, that connects Pakistan with China. The state sowed division so that it could move in under the pretext of security.
Pakistani dictator General Zia ul Haq also fanned anti-Shia sentiment during his tenure in the eighties because the then military government wanted some villages along the highway to be removed.
These villages were occupied by local Shias who did not want to move from there, so Sunni extremists came and attacked them and ransacked the villages.
Again then, Shia-Sunni tensions have only exacerbated. In 2012, a bus headed to the region with 20 Shias was stopped by Sunni militants. All were shot dead after being verified as Shias by the attackers.
But local intelligence officers downplay these tensions, perhaps in a bid not to worry China, which is heavily invested in this region.
China's Role in the Region
Earlier, China's involvement was restricted to investing in the mining and transport infrastructure, but now it wants to expand its footprint.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which experts believe is a debt-trap for Pakistan, has a major chunk of its route passing through Gilgit Baltistan region.
China maybe lobbying in Pakistan to regularize the region so as to protect its investments.
The western route of CPEC goes through the Gilgit-Baltistan and it seems China is advising Pakistan to move on and accept the status quo with regards to the Kashmir conflict. It wants to consolidate all areas under CPEC to use it productively for the project.
Pakistan Army can no longer solve the Kashmir issue, which includes Gilgit-Baltistan region, militarily. But there is a caveat though.
If Pakistan ends up converting Gilgit-Baltistan into a province, then it will no longer have any justification to protest India's move to change the status of Kashmir under its control.
Pakistan has been on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list since June 2018 and even though Islamabad is getting its progress report ready, there is little evidence to suggest that its faith in the use of terrorism as a state policy against India will change.
Pakistan’s growing alliance with China has been a major factor that has alleviated international pressure on FATF, altering its strategic calculus.
Beijing’s all-out support to Pakistan provided room to shrink Islamabad’s reliance on the West, especially the US.
Importantly, Pakistan’s military build-up has continued with Chinese defence imports despite its economic slowdown and mounting debt.
China wants its alliance with Pakistan to serve as an epitome to smaller nations in South Asia and the Middle East to fulfil its boundless strategic and economic ambition.
Beijing’s diplomatic support to Pakistan has grown significantly after the revocation of Article 370 and China has repeatedly raised the Kashmir issue at the UN Security Council.
China’s lavish military assistance to Pakistan has been on four critical fronts:
o Export of Chinese conventional military equipment;
o Support in Pakistan’s nuclear build-up;
o Assistance to Pakistan’s indigenous defence industry and
o Intelligence sharing.
The Sino-Pak nexus is expected to grow further in the coming years and India needs to be strategically prepared to deal with the implications of the alliance.