By Sajjad Shaukat

Although Indian officials and media have always implicated Pakistan and China on various issues, now with the help of American media, they have started a new phase of propaganda against these two countries in respect of Gilgit-Baltistan.

In this respect, Indian writer B. Raman has already been maligning both Beijing and Islamabad, while Selig Harrison, former correspondent of the “Washington Post” in New Delhi has left no stone unturned in this regard.

On August 27, 2010, the “New York Times” carried an article by Selig Harrison who wrote, “While the world focuses on the flood-ravaged Indus River valley, a quiet geopolitical crisis is unfolding in the Himalayan borderlands of northern Pakistan, where Islamabad is handing over de facto control of the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region in the northwest corner of disputed Kashmir to China. The entire Pakistan-occupied western portion of Kashmir stretching from Gilgit in the north to Azad (Free) Kashmir in the south is closed to the world…but reports from a variety of foreign intelligence sources reveal, “two important new developments in Gilgit-Baltistan: a simmering rebellion against Pakistani rule and the influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army.”

The report caused considerable sensation in India. The Government of India, while expressing its concern, ordered a verification of it by its agencies. A strong denial of the report came from the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing. “A senior Pakistani official on August 31 denied recent reports that Chinese troops are stationed in the area of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to build a high-speed rail and road there. Masood Khan, ambassador of Pakistan to China told the Global Times, “The story is not true,” and “It is totally fabricated.”

Selig Harrison, in his article referred to the Gilgit-Baltistan region as “Pakistan-controlled Kashmir”. On the other hand, Chinese Government officials and journalists describe Jammu and Kashmir as “Indian-controlled Kashmir.”

On the September 1, 2010, the Government-controlled Xinhua news agency disseminated the report: “China rejected reports of the presence of over 11,000 Chinese troops in northern Pakistan, saying that such “groundless reports” were made with “ulterior motives.”

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu remarked, “We believe the attempts of some people to fabricate stories to provoke China-Pakistan are doomed to fail.” The comment came in response to recent reports of some American and Indian press that China had deployed more than 10,000 troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan.

The next day, during the regular briefing of Bejing-based journalists including some from India, Jiang Yu reportedly used the expression “northern Pakistan” while referring to Gilgit-Baltistan in context of the article of Selig Harrison.

As Pakistan’s close neighbor and all-weather friend, China has been helping Pakistan for its severe natural disaster. The Chinese Government has offered several installments of humanitarian relief supplies worth more than RMB 100 million. An international relief team sent by the Chinese Government has arrived in the hardest-hit southern part of Pakistan and set up a mobile hospital which is in operation now. Beijing has provided sincere and timely assistance to Pakistan without any strings attached.

However, the Hindu correspondent further reported: “On September 3, Indian Ambassador to China, S.Jaishankar had conveyed New Delhi’s concerns over China’s recent moves in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir—protested China’s reference to the disputed region as a part of northern Pakistan. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun assured that the troops were stationed there only for flood relief work and to provide humanitarian assistance.

According to reliable sources, China recently refused to grant a visa to Lieutenant General Jaswal, head of Indian Army’s Northern Command, and the Indian side said that the refusal was about the Kashmir issue. China’s visa policy towards the residents of Indian-held Kashmir is consistent and remains unchanged. Unlike the western countries, Beijing more strongly holds that the Kashmir issue should be properly handled through dialogue and consultation between India and Pakistan.

The fact of the matter is that the Chinese reference to northern Pakistan could have been the result of the use of a similar expression by Selig Harrison who has referred to Gilgit-Baltistan as “Himalayan borderlands of northern Pakistan.”

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Nevertheless, it is evident that the Chinese, while sticking to the decisions to issue stapled visas to residents of Jummu and Kashmir and to assist Pakistan in the development of its infrastructure in Gilgit-Baltistan have irked the Indian eyes—whose high officials and journalists have misperceived the close ties of Beijing with Islamabad.

As regards Beijing’s contention that their troops were present in the Gilgit-Baltistan region only for humanitarian relief work, the Chinese have made two humanitarian interventions in the area this year. The first was in January last. On January 4, a landslide created a huge artificial lake in the Hunza area, which subsequently burst submerging a large number of villages in the Gojal Tehsil. About 22 KMs of the Karakoram Highway were submerged under water totally disrupting road communications with Xinjiang in China and with the rest of Gilgit-Baltistan. The Pakistan Army was able to go to the assistance of the affected villages only in the downstream area. It was not able to reach the affected villages in the upstream area for want of helicopters. The Pakistan Government appealed to the Chinese for assistance. Workers of the Chinese Red Cross and engineers of the People’s Liberation Army entered the Hunza area for relief.

In that connection, The Xinhua reported: “On January 19, at the request of the Pakistani government, the Chinese side made special arrangements to open the Kunjirap border and facilitate the purchase of relief goods from China and its clearance. The second humanitarian intervention at the request of Islamabad was made after the recent floods.

It is mentionable that during the visit of President Zardari, under Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) officials of the two Governments signed—that China will build the 165-km long Jaglot-Skardu road and the 135-km long Thakot-Sazin road. Under another MoU to be jointly executed by Chinese company Datang and Norwegian company EBT—500 MW electricity would be produced through wind power.

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China and Pakistan plan on building a rail link, which would pass through Gilgit-Baltistan near the Karakoram Highway. This has sparked a debate in India. In this regard, Indian Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju said, “It is definitely a matter of concern.”

Besides, the two leaders of Pakistan and China discussed a host of issues relating to strategic partnership. The most prominent area of this bolstering of ties—especially for the world is the Sino-Pak civilian nuclear deal which is now beginning to see complete formalisation and initiation. It is unfortunate that the US and India have expressed their concerns about this deal, where the main goal is to address the acute power crisis in Pakistan. While rejecting particularly US objections, China has once again clarified that it will supply two nuclear reactors to Pakistan under the old nuclear deal.

It is also regrettable that, until now, we have been denied the same right to civil nuclear technology that India was granted by the US in 2008. It provides the precedent, and in fact, has opened the door for any similar sort of nuclear deal in the future. Indeed, after setting precedent by themselves, both India and the US have no legal and moral grounds to challenge the legality of the Pak-China nuclear deal.

In fact, Pakistan’s province, Balochistan where China has invested billion of dollars to develop Gwadar seaport that could link Central Asian trade with rest of the world, irritates both Washington and New Delhi. It has even shifted the central gravity of the Great Game to Pakistan.

Returning to our earlier discussion, Selig Harrison’s information about the presence of Chinese troops in Pakistan has not independently be confirmed as it is part of a new propaganda game against China and Pakistan.

Sajjad Shaukat is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker. He writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations.