April 15, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3772

Kashmiri Writer Examines the Strategic Implications of China's Military Presence in Kashmir Region

April 15, 2011
, , , Pakistan, India, China | Special Dispatch No. 3772

In February and March 2011, Kashmiri writer Dr. Shabir Choudhry delivered two lectures in the British parliament on the issue of China's growing role in Gilgit Baltistan, an ethnically different region that has been traditionally considered as part of Jammu & Kashmir state. The state of Jammu & Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India by a Line of Control (LoC), with the Pakistan-administered Kashmir known as Azad (Free) Jammu & Kashmir.

The first lecture, 'Gilgit Baltistan – The Emergence of China,' was delivered on February 11, 2011 at a seminar in the House of Lords of the British parliament. The second lecture, 'Gilgit Baltistan – A Battleground for Future War,' was delivered in the House of Commons of the British parliament, organized by the Democracy Forum on March 31, 2011.

In both lectures, Dr. Shabir Choudhry addressed the implications of China's increasing presence in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Kashmir, and the likelihood that the region could emerge as a battleground for confrontation between China and Pakistan on one side and India and the United States on the other. In the lectures, he also presented the findings of a survey conducted by a team he led to Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Kashmir in October 2010. His team's visit came at a time there are international media reports revealing the presence of more than 11,000 Chinese troops in Gilgit Baltistan.

Following are excerpts from the February 11, 2011 lecture:[1]

"Some People with Vested Interests Promote the Kashmir Dispute as a Religious Dispute, And Claim That Only Indian-Administered Kashmir is Disputed…; That is a Distortion of the Facts"

"First of all I want to thank Baroness Emma Nicholson and her staff for sincerely and actively working to promote the cause of people of Jammu & Kashmir, and for making arrangements for this seminar. Also, I want to thank my colleagues Abbas Butt, Mohammed Asim, Mohammed Shoaib and Imtiaz Ul Maqsood who, as part of the delegation, visited Gilgit and Pakistani-Administered Kashmir. The journey was extremely difficult and hazardous…

"The former State of Jammu and Kashmir has great strategic importance, but if areas of Gilgit Baltistan are annexed by another country then that will significantly reduce its strategic importance. Some people with a vested interest promote Kashmir dispute as a religious dispute, and claim that only Indian-Administered Kashmir is disputed. In our view that is distortion of the facts, as the Kashmir dispute is political in nature, and the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir which includes Jammu, Valley, Laddakh, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan is disputed.

"Hitherto there were only three parties to the Kashmir dispute, namely the people of Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan, and India. Over the recent past some quarters are working hard to make the Republic of China a party to the dispute. To me this is a very dangerous move which will complicate the dispute further, and could prove to be disastrous for the region, especially for areas of Gilgit Baltistan and northern parts of Pakistan.

"Apart from that, parties to the Kashmir dispute are countries of South Asia. China is not in South Asia, but has great economic, political, and strategic interests in the region going beyond the coast of the Gwadar sea port [on the coast of Pakistan's Baluchistan province]. Those who want to cut out an active role for China in the Kashmir dispute need to understand that China is a great economic and military power, and they will protect and safeguard their own interest; and that could well be against the desires and interests of those who are promoting a Chinese role in this region…"

"Since 2008, China has been More Assertive and Proactive in Matters Related to Jammu & Kashmir and on the Borders of India with China"

"Some commentators point out that China already has a role in the Kashmir dispute, as they have supported the rights of the Kashmiris on different platforms. In that sense many other countries also have a role in the Kashmir dispute, as they have supported different UN Resolutions and other initiatives to peacefully resolve the Kashmir dispute.

"This kind of support expresses the concern of other countries about the ongoing trouble in Kashmir, and the instability it can have for the region. However, this kind of support does not make them a party to the Kashmir dispute, as India and Pakistan are. We can appreciate the desire of other countries to facilitate the dialogue process to resolve the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the will of the people, but we must refrain from making other countries a party to the Kashmir dispute, as it will be counterproductive.

"China's role in Kashmir has been inconsistent, as it vacillated with time from being neutral to pro-Kashmir, pro-Pakistan, and back to neutrality; even during the Kargil crisis [i.e. the Indian bombing of Pakistani troops occupying the Kargil peak], by and large China remained neutral. But since 2008, China has been more assertive and proactive in matters related to Jammu & Kashmir and on the borders of India with China.

"The Sino-India war of 1962 resulted in Chinese occupation of Kashmiri territory of Aksai Chin. This war brought Pakistan and China closer to each other; and to strengthen that friendship, Pakistan gave away around 2200 sq. miles of Jammu & Kashmir territory from Gilgit Baltistan to China. But despite that, China at that time had no plans to play an active or assertive role in this region…"

"There is a Big Chinese Presence in Gilgit Baltistan; [The] Presence of the Chinese Army… is Worrying; Not Only are They Opening Chinese Banks There… They are Secretly and Assertively Taking Control of the Region"

"The above policy of China [to remain uninterested in this region] has changed because China has emerged as a formidable economic and military power, and needs to find new markets, new sources of energy, and a new assertive role. In that context, China wants to ensure that they have a greater say in the matters of Gilgit Baltistan, and even in matters of Pakistan. They want to ensure that they not only have access but control of the route to Gwadar [the Chinese-built port on Baluchistan cost], where they have invested billions of dollars.

"There is a big Chinese presence in Gilgit Baltistan. Apparently they are involved in the construction of many mega projects, but the presence of the Chinese army and their designs to take control of this region is worrying to many. Not only are they opening Chinese banks there and building infrastructure by investing billions of dollars, they are secretly and assertively taking control of the region.

"When we visited the region in October last year we saw many Chinese there, which included army men. In the past, they used to come for development work, and lived in temporary shelters, and went back after completing their tasks; but now they are here to stay and have built concrete accommodations. During our visit, we managed to take some photos with the Chinese, and what also surprised us were the signboards in Chinese."

"It is Not Likely that India and America will Remain Silent Spectators and Give China a Free Hand, as They Also have a Keen Interest in the Region"

"All of this is worrying to people of Gilgit Baltistan. It is also worrying to India and America, as they will not like Chinese influence and control in this region, especially the Chinese desire to reach and control the port of Gwadar. It is not likely that India and America will remain silent spectators and give China a free hand, as they also have a keen interest in the region.

'One Indian defense analyst, Bharat Verma, recently said [about international strategic interest in Baluchistan], and I quote: 'The self-destructive path that Islamabad chose will either splinter the state into many parts or it will wither away - a case of natural progression to its logical conclusion. In either case, Baluchistan will achieve independence. For New Delhi this opens a window of opportunity to ensure that the Gwadar port does not fall into the hands of the Chinese. In this, there is synergy between the political objectives of the Americans and the Indians. Our existing goodwill in Baluchistan requires intelligent leveraging.'

"I don't subscribe to the views expressed above, however, my worry is that our region could be a battleground for competing interests, and that could prove disastrous."

"As Pakistan is Becoming Ungovernable… They have Allowed China to Fill the Vacuum if Pakistan is Faced with a Serious Civil War or a War with India…"

"[Some] analysts believe that as Pakistan is becoming ungovernable and is fast losing its writ over certain areas, they have allowed China to fill the vacuum if Pakistan is faced with a serious civil war or a war with India or some other power.

"What surprises some analysts is that on one hand there are growing bilateral trade ties between India and China; and on the other hand increased tension and rivalry over areas of Jammu & Kashmir and other border and water disputes. One wonders if this increased tension and claims and counter-claims will jeopardize growing trades and understanding between the two countries.

"On one hand there is a strategic partnership between India and America, and on the other hand there is a strategic partnership and a common agenda of China and Pakistan. However, Pakistan is also an important partner of America in the war against terrorism."

"Those Forces [i.e. the Pakistani Army] Which Promote and Export Jihad, on One Hand They Seek American Help and Support in Kashmir and on the Other Hand They Train, Arm, and Help Those Groups That Seek to Attack American Targets"

"But it must be noted that those forces [i.e. the Pakistani army] which promote and export jihad, on one hand they seek American help and support in Kashmir and on the other hand they train, arm, and help those groups that seek to attack American targets. Similarly there are clear contradictions in [Pakistan's] relations to China, which was promoted as an 'all-weather' friend, but at the same time they trained and armed Muslim rebels in China…

"In the recent past some important surveys have been conducted with some astonishing results. All surveys had one finding in common, that the people of Jammu & Kashmir on the Indian side of the LoC did not want to join Pakistan. We wanted to ascertain the views of the people in Azad Kashmir and in Gilgit Baltistan. It was a sample survey of 150 people from both regions.

"You can understand the situation prevailing there by this example. We were sitting in a hotel with a group of local people and we were discussing various issues. In reply to one question one man very forcefully expressed his resentment against Pakistani rule. He said, 'Like Nawaz Naji Sahib [an earlier respondent], his first option is an independent Gilgit Baltistan, second option is united and independent Jammu & Kashmir; but if we had only two options, he will vote for India and not Pakistan. We have seen true face of Pakistan in the last 63 years, and we know what the Pakistani rule is like; it will be good idea to see what Indian rule is like.'

"That was an interesting and courageous statement. I asked him: are sure you would vote for India, if there were only two options. He said, 'Yes,' and then immediately changed his tone and statement. He said: 'India is a Hindu country. Pakistan, with all its faults, is a Muslim country. They are our brothers, and if we have only two options we will vote for Pakistan. But our first option is an independent Gilgit Baltistan.'

"After the meeting when we were walking towards our room that man got hold of my hand and said: 'Choudhry Sahib sorry for that change of tone and change of statement. You could not see, but I saw an ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence of Paksitani military] man coming to the restaurant. I had to change my statement, otherwise I could have been in trouble. There is no need to annoy them unnecessarily and get myself and my family in to trouble. We know what to do when it comes to the voting time.'

"That statement spoke volumes about the situation here and the sense of fear and oppression. Despite this man's change of statement and despite the presence of the ISI man, who was not visible to me, at least, three students said they will vote for India if there were only two options available to them…"

"The Government of Pakistan and Their Proxies are Trying to Make China a Part of the Kashmir Dispute"

Following are excerpts from the March 31, 2011 lecture:[2]

"It was reconfirmed that the people of Gilgit Baltistan were not happy with the rule of Pakistan. They were treated like colonized people, and their resources were looted and plundered; and in this regard the government of China is also helping Pakistan.

"The Government of Pakistan and their proxies are trying to make China a part of the Kashmir Dispute. To me and my colleagues this is very dangerous move and could endanger peace and stability of Gilgit Baltistan and South Asia.

"Some pro-Pakistan Kashmiris claim that China is already a part of the Kashmir dispute, because China made some suggestions for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute in 1948. This is ridiculous argument. Many countries have, one way or the other, supported resolutions on Kashmir or opposed them - does that mean they are all part of the Kashmir dispute?

"Apart from that, China of 1948 is different from the China of today. The Republic of China joined the UN in October 1945, and under Article 23 became one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. But in October 1949 the Communist Chinese took over China and informed the UN on 18 November 1949.

"The Communists ruled China as the People's Republic of China, but they were not a member of the UN. However, the Republic of China was relocated to Taiwan and enjoyed all the powers as the Permanent Member of the Security Council.

"The present-day China, which holds veto power in the Security Council and has a large army in Gilgit Baltistan, became a member of the UN in October 1971. So we can see that China and the people who made some suggestions about the resolution of Kashmir have no role in the Kashmir dispute."

"In the Past, Danger to These Areas and the Indian Subcontinent was From the Russians; Now that Danger is From China"

"I acknowledge we have one of the best polo grounds in Gilgit Baltistan and people like to play and watch polo matches, but believe me, the Chinese are not there to play a polo game. Their game is very dangerous and needs to be understood.

"In the past, danger to these areas and the Indian Subcontinent was from the Russians; now that danger is from China. It is unfortunate that this time the government of Pakistan is very keen to provide a helping hand to the Chinese to have a foothold in this region, which could be extremely disastrous to Gilgit Baltistan and South Asia. The Pakistani government is playing this dangerous game, as they face instability and a bleak future. Pakistani governments want to ensure that if they go down, then these areas are taken over by China, and India or another power doesn't step in.

"For this purpose, they want to make China a party to the Kashmir dispute, but they need to understand that if China becomes a party to the dispute they will also be a party to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, and that will create enormous problems for Gilgit Baltistan and the region.

"China has its own agenda, not only related to Gilgit Baltistan but it goes far beyond the shores of Gwadar [the Baluchistan coast where China is building a port], and this is where China and India could be in direct competition with each other for markets and energy resources. This cold war or competition could attract other players in the region, and our region could become a battleground for a future war with disastrous consequences for Gilgit Baltistan and the entire region.

"India wants to use the Chabahar port of Iran, which is only 44 miles away from Gwadar Port, to have access to markets of Central Asia; and for this purpose they have completed 200 kilometers of road in Afghanistan's province of Nimroz, which will reduce its dependence on trucking goods through Pakistan."

"What Do the People of Gilgit Baltistan Say…? 60% Said They will Vote for… Independence [from Pakistan]

"What do the people of Gilgit Baltistan say?

"[As] pointed out above, we conducted a sample survey in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir during our visit, and found the views of the people quite interesting. We have published a complete report including the survey… I produce answers to 2 questions, which will give you an indication what is included in the report.

"Q8: Who would you vote for if there was an internationally arranged referendum with no threat of intimidation or coercion, and you were given only two options, either to join India or Pakistan?

"A. 45% said they will vote for Pakistan.
"B. 30% said they will boycott it.
"C. 15% said they will decide on the day.
"D. 10% said they will vote for India, as they have seen what Pakistan is like.
"Q9. And if a third option of an independent Jammu and Kashmir is also included then who would you vote?

"A. 60% said they will vote for the third option of independence.
"B. 30% said they will vote for Pakistan.
"C. 10% said they will vote for India.

"This time their [the Pakistani forces'] game plan is different. They want to drag in China and other powers in Gilgit Baltistan, which will create enormous problems for the people of Gilgit Baltistan and the entire South Asia…"


[2], March 31, 2011. The text of the lecture has been mildly edited for clarity.

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