China’s Diplomatic Expansion In South Asia
By Zafar Iqbal
China has decided to open a Consulate in Pakistan controlled Giligit Balitistan which recently became as a focal point of diplomacy after a series of enigmatic visits of US envoy and other officials.
The decision which poses far-reaching strategic and political implications for regional key players was made in China’s Muslim-dominated Xinjiang Uyghur province last week when officials of two key regional players met to talk about bilateral relations.
Chinese government has officially informed Pakistan through Nur Bekri, Governor of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region during a fresh visit of his counterpart Syed Pir Karam Ali Shah, who is Governor of Gilgit -Baltistan (GB), a disputed territory bordering China and Indian administrated Kashmir. Nur Bekri, Governor of Xinjiang is planning to visit GB in October to mature the plan of extension of diplomatic mission.
The Chinese move follows numerous trips of US diplomatic officials to Gilgit Baltistan which has raised many eyebrows in a time when Islamabad- Washington nexus has reached at the heights of mistrust and volatility after Salala check post incident when 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by US forces on Afghan-Pak border. Following the attack Pakistan has ceased supply line of the NATO toAfghanistan and vows continue to till Washington‘s “unconditional apology” over the NATO strike. Stalemate continues as the US has rebuffed Pakistan’s demands for the regret.
Amid such multifaceted national and international developments, two million people of Giligt Baltistan ponder over these mysterious diplomatic changes in their region. Surprisingly, in the past the GB area has not only been politically, constitutionally and administratively isolated from rest of the country but it remained distant from shrewd diplomatic access for ages.
Last month US diplomats irked their hosts when they turn up to the Giligt Baltistan allegedly without informing the government functionaries. These exceptional and covert US officials’ visits to the Gilgit Baltistan have been interpreted publicly through the lenses of numerous conspiracy theories. Traditional populist media commentators believe that the US officials persuaded local political elements to dissipate Chinese influence in the region. On the other hand, US diplomats vindicate their trips labeling their as ‘aimed to boost cultural and social ties with the people of a marginalized area’.
Additionally, both China and Pakistan also face increased pressure over their nuclear cooperation. Many states have expressed concern over Sino-Pakistan nuclear relationship during the annual plenary session of the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) last week in the U.S. In this context, China and Pakistan, known for their “time-tested, all-weather friendship” are seemingly struggling to shield under new strategic diplomatic avenues to counter their peculiar internal and external challenges.
In this backdrop, it is obvious that the idea of Chinese diplomatic presence in Gilgit Baltistan will help out the Beijing to dilute the disrepute about her alleged military presence in the region and address global pressure vis-à-vis its nuclear patronage to Pakistan by highlighting her business motives.
In addition, Chinese diplomatic plan can infuriate both India and US which are already panic due to growing Sino-Pak economic relations and strategic partnership mainly focused in to Pakistani controlled Giglgit Baltistan and Kashmir regions where Chinese firms work on various mega projects.
Furthermore, proposed diplomatic mission in the region can also help China to gauge suspected Islamic militants who are accused for infiltrating from Pakistani soil into Muslim dominated Xinjiang Uygur province. In the past China has blamed that militants were trained in Pakistan before crossing the border and launching attacks in Xinjiang. Though, Pakistan has assured to weed out any terrorist activity on Chinese territory by hunting militants and handing over some of Chinese rebels to Beijing. Analysts believe that Beijing move of starting new mission in a highly strategic area can complicate relationship of Pakistan and India over Kashmir dispute as well.
“China will use Gilgit Baltistan as a lynchpin to increase her influence in Afghanistan,” says Senge Hasnan Sering, head of Washington DC based Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies.