By Patial RC
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the Skardu International Airport on 16 Dec 2021 and the Jaglot-Skardu strategic road. India called it interference in the internal matter, because Skardu airport is in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and forgot about the event. It is Pakistan’s step by step plan to make Skardu a global hub through cartographic war and infrastructure development to help their ‘Iron brother’ China. “Pak-China friendship is higher than Himalayas, deeper than ocean, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel.”
Note the next development – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan attends the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb 4. The Global Times reporters spoke to him on his visit to Beijing via a virtual exclusive interview on February 5.Imran Khan; “So being invited to watch the Winter Olympics was a great pleasure… the event was just out of this world. In Pakistan, there is no tradition of winter sports. Now we are paying attention to winter sports for the first time. “The main place where we could exchange winter sports is in remote northern areas that neighbours China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. It is China that has helped us to build the Karakoram Highway which links northern areas to other parts of Pakistan. Some of the top 10 highest mountains are in Pakistan. We have high mountains with great skiing slopes. Skardu is right in the northern areas with an international airport will have people coming from all over the world.” Northern Areas now calledGilgit-Baltistan.
Skardu Airport is located at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet. It is nestled in the Karakoram and Himalayan peaks and is one of the highest airports in the world. Imran Khan said that Gilgit-Baltistan had the “most beautiful mountain scenery in the world but people did not know enough about it because travel was difficult. Tourism can become a big asset of Pakistan. If Switzerland could generate $70 billion from tourism then Pakistan could also generate substantial income from tourism all year long. We can make at least $30-$40 billion from tourism just in Gilgit-Baltistan.”
Gilgit-Baltistan (PoK) integral part of India is located strategically, as itborders Pakistan, Afghanistan and China.It is ahigh-altitude territorylocated on the north west of the Union Territory of Ladakh. Itsstrategic, economic and commercial significance has increased in light of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, under which Beijing is investing large sums to develop the area as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India has always asserted that Gilgit-Baltistan is an integral part of India “by virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947.” Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on 1 November 2020 his government’s intention to grant Gilgit-Baltistan (earlier known as Northern Areas) region ‘Provisional Provincial status’ (Vide 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill) for strategic and economic stakes rather than grant the people of the region their long-delayed fundamental rights. The proposed law is believed to give provisional status by amending Article 1 of the Constitution. After the bill is passed, it will become the 5th province of the country.It is also said to have provisions for representation of the region in the National Assembly and the Senate. Supreme Court of Pakistan in a judgment in 2019 had directed the government of Pakistan to take necessary steps within fortnight to grant citizens’ right to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan those would remain contingent upon the settlement of the issue according to the UN Security Council resolution.
Gilgit-Baltistan was part of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, when Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India on October 26, 1947, the Gilgit Scouts rose in rebellion, led by their British commander Major William Alexander Brown who switched allegiance to Pakistan. The Gilgit Scouts also moved to take over Baltistan, which was then part of Ladakh, and captured Skardu, Kargil and Dras. On November 1, 1947, a political outfit called the Revolutionary Council of Gilgit-Baltistan had proclaimed the independent state of Gilgit-Baltistan and declared its accession to Pakistan. Indian forces retook Kargil and Dras in August 1948.
Catalysts to change the status:
- Possible reaction to India’s abrogating Article 370 and bifurcating the state of Jammu & Kashmir into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
- Long pending Gilgit-Baltistan public demand for declaring it as a province.
- China’s likely pressure encouraging Islamabad to change the status of Gilgit-Baltistan. Chinese interest is the CPEC agreement, under which Beijing is investing huge sums to develop the area as part of its BRI project which runs through Gilgit-Baltistan.
- In view of India’s continuing claim to the area, Beijing is interested in delinking Gilgit-Baltistan formally from Kashmir so that its investment does not remain hostage to the possibility of another round of India-Pakistan hostilities over Kashmir.
- Beijing views the Indian move of abrogating Article 370 as the first step towards India attempting to enforce its reclaim on Aksai Chin, currently under Chinese occupation. China reaction to abrogating Article 370; “Any unilateral change is illegal.”
- In addition to CPEC, China considers Gilgit-Baltistan very important because of its strategic location. It is contiguous to Ladakh as well as Xinjiang and could act as a staging post or a direction of an offensive against India if a major conflict erupts in Ladakh.
- Large Chinese civilian presence is already there in Gilgit-Baltistan related to CPEC projects. China is interested in stationing military personnel as well and may be PLA soldiers are already there in the garb of civilian workers.
- Effort to delink the region from the Kashmir dispute will benefit Chinese presence in Gilgit-Baltistan and complicate India’s strategic environment.
India maintains the Government of Pakistan or its judiciary has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it. India has clearly conveyed to Pakistan that the entire Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of the country by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession. India has protested to China over the CPEC as it is being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
India need to monitor Pakistan starting to issue permits for mountaineering expeditions game called ‘Oropolitics’ — mountaineering expeditions with a political goal was played in 1970s-80s. The mountaineering expeditions competition eventually escalated into military battles which led to the occupation of the relevant ridgelines by military forces India and Pakistan on the Siachen glacier ‘the highest battlefield of the world’ in the Karakoram ranges. ‘Oropolitics’ means the use of mountains and mountaineering to show the authority over the mountains in the Himalayas leading to a cartographic war.
The reality of the international politics post pandemic COVID-19 of today are the overriding considerations of strategic, diplomatic and commercial interests that are attached closely to China which India need to calibrate in view of the CPEC on fast track post Beijing Winter games 2021. PM Imran Khan’s Beijing Winter Olympics visit would have further reinforced the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries, and advanced the objective of building a closer China-Pakistan shared future with India focus. In addition the topmost priority during the visit was to request China to approve another loan of USD three billion and commencing second phase of the CPEC. India, on the other hand, must learn from its past mistakes and exert to give greater importance to Pakistan occupied areas. India must calibrate its response carefully because merely by turning up the rhetorical heat on Pakistan, it may play into Chinese and Pakistani hands. India in view of the Chinese present deep involvement in the Pak-China Gilgit-Baltistan (PoK) game plan has to weigh the changed scenario by a meticulous realistic assessment.