China has major presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir: Gilgit activist

Last Updated: Thu, Sep 02, 2010 07:50 hrs

China has massive presence in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, said a US-based activist from Gilgit who added that massive investments were made by Beijing in that frontier region to expand the Karakoram Corridor as a strategic pathway.

Washingon-based political activist Senge H. Sering, who was in India for over a year until March 2010 as Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), warned the Indian government about the Chinese presence over the years in Pakistani Kashmir.

Sering has spoken about massive investments made by China in the frontier region to expand the Karakoram Corridor as a strategic pathway to the sea lanes linking to West Asia.

Highlighting the multifaceted character of Chinese presence in the Gilgit-Baltistan province, Sering said China-Pakistan cooperation in the corridor includes expansion of the Karakoram Highway (KH), construction of a parallel railway line as well as oil and gas pipelines, which will give China rapid connectivity to Pakistani ports lying in the gateway to the Strait of Hormuz and Suez Canal.

The region's close proximity to Afghanistan, Tajikistan and India, in addition to Tibet and Xinjiang, gives China diplomatic, strategic, logistical and political gains, he said.

He added that by linking the KH to Pakistani ports like Gwadar and Ormara, China will not just gain a strategic footprint and access to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf but also could significantly influence the geopolitics and trade in the Indian Ocean Region as well as Central Asia.

Sering stated that the Gwadar-Karakoram Corridor combination endows China with a massive logistical advantage by significantly reducing the original distance of 16,000 km to a mere 2,500 km for the Chinese industrial areas to the Persian Gulf.

'Similarly, Kashgar, which is 3,500 km away from Chinese eastern shores, finds itself at less than 1,500 km from Pakistani ports near the Strait of Hormuz,' he claimed.

The activist warned that when linked to the upcoming Urumqi-Beijing rail link, the commute time from central and eastern China to the Pakistani ports will come to a 'mere few hours'.

By using the corridor as an alternative supply route, China will be able to embark of huge stockpiling of oil reserves.

The KH expansion project, originally conceived by former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, entails the conversion of the highway to a 90-foot-wide expressway. Costing over $6 billion, the corridor will also provide a direct link for China and Pakistan to Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran.

He observed that Chinese dominance in this strategic Himalayan gateway will be a serious setback to India's strategic interests in this region, including on the Kashmir dispute.

Sering expressed concern that China may use its presence in Gilgit-Baltistan as leverage in its border dispute with India by potentially demanding India's guarantees of non-aggression or claim on the region for similar quid-pro-quos in the western and eastern sectors.

'These interventions are strategic investments in the guise of economic support,' he said.

He stated that through the Chinese presence and investments, Pakistan was attempting to offset local disgruntlement over lack of development in this backward region.

More importantly, Pakistan aims to permanently mitigate India's claims of the province, which Senger says is 'constitutionally part of J&K, and under Pakistan's illegal occupation since 1947'.