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Mapping the Role of External Players in Pakistan occupied Kashmir

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  • March 15, 2013
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Amb Phunchok Stobdan
    External Discussants: Capt Alok Bansal, Dr. D. Subachandran and Dr. Mathew Joseph
    Internal Discussants: Dr. Smruti Pattanaik and Shri Vishal Chandra

    In her paper titled “Mapping the Role of External Players in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir” Dr Priyanka Singh examined the role of external actors in PoK – China, the US and the UK – post-2005 earthquake.

    Dr. Singh identified the following critical drivers for external interest in the PoK, i.e., the strategic location (PoK connects Central Asia with the Indian subcontinent and shares border with China); resources (hydel and minerals), expanding Chinese footprints; growing interests of the western countries (presence though international aid agencies, NGOs, etc.); developmental initiatives as opportunities for investment; and the emergence of diaspora interest. China in particular is involved in the construction of several hydropower projects in PoK – the Diamer-Bhasha Dam in Gilgit Baltistan, the Bunji Dam, the Neelum Jhelum project and raising the height of the Mangla Dam in the so called AJK.

    The Chinese involvement in PoK, as the paper highlighted, is long standing. China is in possession of Aksai Chin and the Trans Karakoram Tract, both of which are part of the erstwhile princely state of J&K. China also played a critical role in the construction of the Karakoram Highway that was completed in 1978. China also plans to build a railway to enhance connectivity to PoK. Citing sources, Dr. Singh said that there was a strong possibility that more than 10,000 PLA (Peoples’ Liberation Army) soldiers were present in PoK.

    Clearly, PoK is of significant strategic interest for China. Hydropower projects aside, it is opening banks and constructing road networks across PoK. The region also provides China access to Arabian Sea and a strategic communication link through Gwadar port of Balochistan (also built by China) to oil rich regions of west Asia, through which China can transport energy. Aware of the fact that the region borders its restive Xinjiang province, Beijing considers POK important to have a credible security presence so as to insulate its borders from the fundamentalist forces operative in Afghanistan-Pakistan region. It fears the percolation of such forces could fan the secessionist challenge in Xinjiang. In addition, China is also involved in activities like Widening/realignment of the Karakoram Highway, building a new 17 km stretch of the Karakoram Highway, a proposed road link between Jaglot in Gilgit and Skardu in Baltistan, Mangla dam raising project and investment of $300 million in housing and communications sector.

    Focusing on the US interests in the region, Dr Singh argued that its increasing interest in the region could be partly to monitor the use of funds granted by it for socio-economic development in the region, and partly to keep a close watch on the Chinese presence especially in Gilgit-Baltistan. This explains the US decision to provide financial assistance for Diamer-Bhasha dam. She also stated that this was well in line with its earlier policy to provide assistance for the Satpara dam near Skardu.

    Dwelling on the interest shown by the UK, she said that it could be due to the presence of PoK Diaspora community in UK. She also mentioned that Mirpuri was second largest spoken language in UK after English. About the involvement of France, she made the audience aware that France had extended Rs. 9 billion (68 million Euros) as soft loan for the extension of an existing dam in PoK. This project aims at building a new 48 MW run-of-river hydro-power project in the Jaggran valley of PoK. In addition to this, a French concern is also involved in a two-year capacity-building programme for government agencies in AJK such as the Hydro Electric Board, which is responsible for implementing the Jagran II project. France, like other countries, contributed substantially to the post 2005 earthquake reconstruction and rehabilitation work in PoK.

    Dr. Singh stated that the Russian interest in PoK was relatively new and that Russia had recently offered to take the contract for Diamer-Bhasha dam without bidding for it. She also discussed that role played by countries like Japan; even the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) has also expressed its keenness to participate in the building of the Diamer-Bhasha dam in PoK. Germany and Saudi Arabia were interested in the developmental sector— pertaining to education, health, housing etc. — especially after the 2005-earthquake. Even Indonesia, Like Japan, has expressed its willingness to offer expertise and extend “maximum co-operation” in the horticulture sector in Gilgit Baltistan. Considering that Gilgit Baltistan, even after the demographic tampering by Pakistan, has a substantial Shia population, Dr. Singh said that Iran had a natural interest in the region.

    The author then went on to suggest that that PoK could well turn into a geopolitical battleground given the renewed interest of western countries in the region to countervail China. Dr. Singh concluded by saying that the presence of important external players and their growing interest in PoK may provide tacit recognition to Pakistan’s illegal claim over the territory. Though there was not much that India could do about the growing Chinese footprints in PoK, the presence of countries like the US and Russia, it was hoped, could act as a balancer in the region.

    During the course of the discussion, the following points were raised to strengthen the paper:

    1. The role of Pakistan needed to be analyzed and likewise the implication for India.
    2. The presence of international organizations was inadequately covered.
    3. The differences in Chinese approach towards GB and PoK needed to be sharpened. Also the presence of Chinese Army required to be studied in detail — whether such presence is offensive/defensive or to provide security to Chinese workers? Further, Chinese reaction to the presence of other countries in PoK was also felt wanting.
    4. Some information on the role of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the PoK was essential.
    5. From a geopolitical perspective, how the US would balance China in PoK would be a good research question to explore.

    Report prepared by Anwesha Ray Chaudhuri, Research Assistant, IDSA