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China’s presence in PoK worries India

New Delhi feels that Islamabad cannot undertake project in the territory under its illegal occupation.

While the Sino-Pak nexus has always been a matter of concern for India, what has exacerbated the matter further is the degree of seamlessness the two countries are fast acquiring in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) region. This prompted journalist Selig S Harrison to comment that “Islamabad is handing over the de facto control of the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region in the northwest corner of the disputed Kashmir to China.”

The article further mentioned that there has been an influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation army. One need not have to depend on the veracity of the article to discern the growing foot-prints of China in the PoK which is getting robust over the years.

It is against this backdrop that the meeting proposed to be held between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao assumes importance. As far as physical occupation of Jammu & Kashmir is concerned, while India is in possession of 45 per cent and Pakistan 35 per cent, China occupies about 20 per cent of Jammu & Kashmir territory (including Aksai Chin and the Sakshgam valley ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963.) The Karakoram highway, which connects China’s Xinjiang region with Gilgit-Baltistan region, was constructed by Chinese engineers over a period of time and was completed in 1986.

China is currently involved in several infrastructure projects in the disputed region. China and Pakistan signed a deal in 2006 to upgrade the Karakoram highway. Once the projects are completed, the transport capacity of the strategically significant region will increase significantly. It will facilitate China free access to the oil-rich Gulf through the Pakistani port of Gwadar in Balochistan.

It is significant to note that during the visit of Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari to China in August 2010, Beijing declared Kashgar, in north-west Chin’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, as a special economic zone like the Shengzhe which borders Hong Kong.

The strategic significance of Kashgar for China is that it is the hotbed of Uighur separatists indulging in sporadic violence to press for their demands for an independent East Turkmenistan nation. China has been seeking both intelligence and military support from Pakistan to keep the Uighur separatists in check, and cut off their links with pro-Taliban forces.

China and Pakistan have worked out anti-terrorism programmes under which Pakistani security forces push back Uighur fighters trying to cross the border to seek sanctuary in terrorist camps in Pakistan in a fashion the ULFA militants were flushed out by Myanmar to India few years back.

Anti-terrorism exercise

China and Pakistan have held anti-terrorism exercise in 2004 and 2006. The third round of such joint military exercise was conducted in the month of July this year to crack down on Islamic militant groups like East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
ETIM regarded as a pro-Al Qaeda group is active in Xinjiang, the Chinese Muslim Uyghur majority province bordering Pakistan and the Chinese officials have complained that their cadres are being trained in terrorist camps in Pak-Afghan border.

The Sino-Pak collaboration in hydro-power project in the PoK region is also a matter of concern for India. During Zardari’s visit to China last year, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on construction of a hydro-power station at Bunji in Northern Areas.

New Delhi is of the view that Islamabad cannot undertake any project in the territory under its illegal occupation. Besides this MoU on hydro power project, there were MoUs for cooperation in education, fisheries, agriculture, dams and investment. However, the most important of them was the construction of the hydro power project on ‘build, operate and transfer’ basis, which means that all the investment will be made by Chinese entrepreneurs.

The dam is estimated to cost between $ 6-7 billion and will have a capacity to generate 7000 MW of electricity. During the visit, the Pakistani president also invited Chinese companies to bid for construction of small and medium sized dams in all the four provinces of Pakistan.

Sino-Indian cooperation and friendship can be taken to greater heights only when there is trust and understanding and both respect each other’s core interest. The sidelines meetings have acquired a new dimension in recent times providing very good opportunities to share and exchange views.

In the recent past, the two prime ministers have met on the sidelines of SCO/BRIC summit, held in Yekaterinburg on June 15, 2009, and later at in Hua Hin, Thailand, on the margins of the East Asia/ASEAN summit in October 2009. Given the excellent chemistry between Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao, it is hoped that the frost in the bilateral relationship between the two countries is likely to melt, opening up fresh impetus.

By Rup Narayan Das
(The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)

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