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Modi and CPEC Put Gilgit-Baltistan On the Table
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A while back I wrote a piece, The Most Dangerous Letters in the World Aren’t SCS…They’re CPEC.

I made the case that the South China Sea was a case of high-functioning, cautious states not interested in blowing each other up…while in South Asia the core Chinese gambit, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, was at the mercy of Pakistan and India, two borderline dysfunctional states that were interested in blowing each other up.

Indian PM Modi added some tinder to the bonfire with his August 15 Independence Day speech and another internal speech, in which he made an issue of Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (POK), Balochistan, and (drumroll) Gilgit-Baltistan.

In my opinion, the ongoing unrest in India’s slice of Kashmir is an embarrassment and reproach to Modi, who has to live up to the rep of World’s Largest Democracy, Upholder of the Rules-Based Liberal International Order, and Worthy US Ally.

Awkward fact is that while the PRC has done an OK job of coloring inside the lines post-Deng, India suffers by comparison as a historically Anschluss-happy (Sikkim) terrorist exporting (Sri Lanka), nation-shattering (Bangladesh), bullying (Nepal), brutal occupier (Kashmir) and recklessly malicious regional actor (Afghanistan) with appalling social problems, and run by an unapologetic, pogrom-executing fascist.

Sorry, Indian friends!

Anyway, in lockstep with Modi’s speech, nationalist-friendly Indian media started cranking out videos on how terrible things are in Pakistan, which was presented as a brilliant riposte to Pakistan pointing fingers at India over Kashmir.

Commentators swarmed all over the Balochistan issue, which is a hot button thanks to what is apparently an unbelievably brutal Pakistan security operation intended to destroy Baloch’s capacity for political action and nationhood by death-squad operations against Baloch activists and intellectuals.

In Balochistan, the Pakistan army seems to be recapitulating the horrors of Operation Searchlight in East Pakistan in 1971, which started with systemic slaughter at the universities and, when the project was lurching to defeat, wholesale exit massacres of Bengali intellectuals and professionals.

I’m guessing the Pakistan army is reassuring itself that it’s different this time.

Balochistan, unlike East Pakistan, is contiguous to the Punjab heartland, sparsely populated, and lacking an Indian border to provide havens and bases for subversion and intervention. The army’s probably right, especially since Iran has a Baloch problem of its own (exacerbated, of course, by the Pakistan army with its traditional brilliance, since it enables Saudi-backed Baloch militants making mischief in Iran’s Sistan and Baloch Province), and is unlikely to view Baloch self-determination with great enthusiasm.


Gilgit-Baltistan is, hopefully, another kettle of fish. Sometimes referred to as “GB”, it’s a mountain district of around 2 million people in northern Pakistan, abutting China, and hosting the northern stretch of the CPEC road network to Kashgar.

I take the road less-traveled and write about GB in my most recent piece for Asia Times, India Plays its cards in Gilgit Baltistan.

And here’s probably the best map you’ll find of the area, courtesy of the Gilgit Baltistan Scouts.


GB has suffered the usual sectarian and demographic divide and rule abuses at the hands of the federal government, spawning a nascent localist movement that veers into calls for some kind of independence or self-determination, and which has been met with the usual ham-fisted central government suppression justified on security/counterinsurgency/counter-terrorism campaign.

The temptation for India to meddle in GB to wrongfoot the CPEC must be irresistible, and indeed a two-city general strike was called in Gilgit Baltistan on the same day Modi namechecked the region in his Independence Day speech.

Indian media pitched in with reports on the unrest whose obvious objective was to send the message: Not like India in Jammu/Kashmir; Worse!

However, I’m hopeful that things are actually Better! up in GB and some combination of civilian common sense in Pakistan’s federal government and PRC pressure will turn GB into a “win-win showcase” instead of another demonstration of Pakistan’s suicidally counter-productive security-through-death squad military strategy.

Some encouragement can perhaps be derived from the fact that GB’s most noteworthy activist-dissident, Baba Jan, apparently got detained, kicked around, had his fingers broken and got sentenced to forty years in prison by the central government, instead of being abducted, tortured, shot, and dumped in a ditch by security forces as is apparently the norm in Balochistan.

It’s also inspiring that the Awami Action Committee, which organized this week’s strike, has been able to stick with Baba Jan’s determinedly non-sectarian political strategy (though I wonder how many of the resented Sunni Punjabi interlopers jointed the strike enthusiastically) and the movement seems to have broad backing from professional as well as religious groups.

And the PRC can take the fact that the local activists have not, like the Baloch independence activists, categorically repudiated the CPEC as exclusively an instrument of central government oppression and exploitation.

The local expectation in GB appears to be that the CPEC is a potential positive, especially if the government can be strongarmed into putting some economic development zones into the district.

The CPEC already has a sizable footprint in GB thanks to a crash $275 million/three year project to improve the Karakoram Highway to convert it into an all-weather road capable of handling semis pulling 40 foot containers year round back and forth to (eventually) Gwadar.

The project was desperately needed since a landslide in the Hunza district in 2010 had not only cut the road; it had blocked a river and created an enormous new lake, dubbed Lake Attabad, that had to be crossed by boat before the PRC realigned the road, building five tunnels with an aggregate length of 7.2 kilometers in the process.

The federal government’s initial dilatory and parsimonious response to the disaster—which killed 19 or 20 people and displaced 25,000 villagers—became a key issue for local activists, including Baba Jan (he was arrested after security forces fired into a Hunza-related protest, killing two, and tried to evade culpability by accusing Baba Jan of terrorism).

From what I can tell, the project was funded primarily by the China Exim Bank and contracted by Pakistan to China Road and Bridge Corporation. Local employment, if any, during the construction was pretty minimal. So, something of corporate welfare to China’s beleaguered infrastructure section.

I have to admit, I can’t get too worked up about it. I was struck by the fact that the U.S. under President Obama alone has sold $110 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, providing a similar service in keeping domestic industry fat and happy. And for its $46 billion from China, Pakistan is getting some roads and power plants out of it, and not just tanks and cluster munitions.

The new Karakoram Highway in GB, by the way, looks pretty impressive, at least until the next landslide comes along.

I’m guessing that local activists hope to use the heightened attention to GB thanks to Modi’s remarks to demand more from the CPEC than the road link and the promise that the beauties of Lake Attabad will bring more tourists to the region. GB has also risen on the domestic political agenda since the opposition PPP sees it as a stick to beat Nawaz Sharif with. And, as I wrote over at AT, I’m guardedly optimistic that the PRC will prevail on the Pakistan army not to turn GB into the usual hell-hole.

But it’s still an open question how badly Pakistan can mismanage the GB issue, and how far India can and will go to exploit it.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: CPEC, Gilgit Baltistan, India, Narendra Modi 
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Never read such ill-informed and irresponsible rubbish. Mr. Lee should, if he wants to know about what happened in East Pakistan, take a look at the excellent research contained in, ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War, by Dr. Sarmila Bose’. She is a Bengali lady from India, now teaching at Oxford and has examined records and interviewed concerned individuals in all the three countries.

    Baluchistan has a population of eight million. Out of this only three million are ethnic Balochis. As against this there are an estimated seventeen million Balochis living in Punjab and Sind provinces. The three million who live in Baluchistan are divided into eighty-two tribes. Of these, only parts of three tribes are involved in the insurgency. There have been at least two Baloch Presidents and three Prime Ministers of Pakistan.

    The leaders of the insurgency are being looked after very comfortably in Switzerland and England. The insurgents themselves are trained and operate out of camps in Afghanistan that are operated by the Indian and Afghan governments. Each insurgent is paid between $1,500 and 4,000 depending upon the nature of the task assigned to him. The Pakistan Army has no reason and does not engage in wanton killing. Almost all of this happens when Balochis settle scores between themselves. It is nothing new.

    As for Gilgit Baltistan, there was an election only two months ago in which the people voted overwhelmingly for the Muslim League which is totally committed to a united Pakistan.

    • Replies: @5371
  2. Rehmat says:

    Narendra Modi is a known anti-Muslim and pro-Israel bigot. His statement on Kashmir Valley, Balochistan, and Gilgit is based on lies to cover India’s expansionism.

    India is as much ‘World’s largest democracy’ an Israel ‘the only democracy in the Middle East”. India is an artificial state created out of former British occupied Indian subcontinent established by the Mughal rulers over 5,000 mini-state fighting with each other.

    After 1947 partition, India army occupied three states, Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad, and Junagarh, which decided to join Pakistan. In addition India annexed kingdom of Bhutan. Later in 1970 Indian army occupied East Pakistan (currently Bangladesh).

    Cunning racist Hindu Modi didn’t speak about 40% of Balochistan which is part of Iran – and being eyed by both the US and Israel.

    On August 14, 2016, Pakistan’s ambassador to India Abdul Basit said in New Delhi that Pakistan was dedicating its Independence Day to the liberation of Indian occupied Kashmir.

    “As far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, we are dedicating this year’s Independence Day to the freedom of Kashmir. An we firmly believe that the sacrifices made by the people of Jammu and Kashmir will not go in vain,” Basit said.

    Leaders of the ruling BJP has urged Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to expel Abdul Basit immediately.

    Under British India Partition agreement, princely state of Jammu and Kashmir being a Muslim-majority (80%) was supposed to join Pakistan but Indian leaders backed-down from their promises – invaded and occupied 2/3 of the state in 1947.

    On February 22, 2016, professor Nivedita Menon (Jawaharlal Nehru University) told her students: “Everyone knows that India is illegally occupying Kashmir. Everybody accepts it.” Listen below.

    “There were more than 200 incidents of rape in Doda in January 1994 alone. Rape continues to be a major instrument of Indian repression against the Kashmiri people while the majority of casualties in Kashmir are civilians. The Indian authorities have also steadfastly refused to allow any independent monitoring of the situation,” says professor Prasenjit Maiti (Rurdwan University, W. Bengal, India).

    • Replies: @Moi
    , @Marcus
  3. Moi says:

    Modi is a Hindu fascist, plain and simple. Liked your post. Here’s another pretty good article on the Partition:

  4. 5371 says:

    Yes, I don’t believe many things that the Bengalis say about that war. They are hysterical and silly people. However, the misdeeds of Pakistan’s own intelligence service make it natural that Pakistanis don’t get as much sympathy as they would like when they suffer the same ills in their turn.

    • Replies: @Rehmat
  5. Rehmat says:

    NOPE – Bengalis may be hysterical but certainly not silly. They like many other people such as Sudanese and Libyan were fooled by the USraeli propaganda.

    Like others, Bengalis too are now realizing their past mistakes.

    On June 6, 2016, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan accused Israeli agents of carrying out the recent assassinations of country’s anti-Islam Hindu and other minority intellectuals and bloggers. He claimed that he has the proof of Israel’s involvement in those murders blamed on religious Muslim groups.

    Asaduzzaman Khan said that there is evidence that some foreign countries are involved in creating tension between the country’s Muslim majority (87%) and Hindus (12%) in order to destabilize the country bordering India’s West Bengal state.

    Asaduzzaman Khan was condemned by the Israeli and Western press for making such ‘antisemitic’ claim.

    In May 2016, MP Aslam Chawdhury from BNP opposition party was arrested after he met Mendi N. Safadi, member of Netanyahu’s Likud party while visiting India. Mendi Safadi is founder of Israeli advocacy group, the Safadi Center for Public Diplomacy and International Relations, which is linked with Israeli Mossad…..

  6. Marcus says:

    Of course no mention of the violent ethnic cleansing of the Hindu population, engineered by Pakistan

  7. Marcus says:

    Then fascism has no meaning, and your article is rubbish: Gandhi went to great lengths to appease the Muslims and was rewarded with massacres and forced conversions followed by partition.

  8. El Dato says:

    So is this a case of he-did/they-did inter-ethnic inter-religious strife with no sense and purpose and only random grievances from the history book that will only be allayed once a good, fat 30 years war killing as many civvies as possible in a most horrible way has passed over the lands?

  9. I see no reason why the author feels a need to apologise to us Indians. Except for Modi’s troll army, whose only purpose is to bully dissenters into silence, and his tame media (especially the horrible Times Now channel, which puts Faux News to shame), Indians aren’t interested in Empire. And those of us with any brains know all about India’s own record of perfidy and brutality, not just abroad or in Kashmir, but inside the country. Modi in fact has lost the lower castes and is in the act of alienating the middle class as well. That’s why he needs his bully boys and an attention-diverting external threat. I’ve long said he’s likely to provoke a border war with Pakistan if faced with defeat in the next election, due in 2019.

  10. @Moi

    I call Modi and his party Hindunazis. They closely model themselves on the Nazis, whom they admire intensely. Right wing Indians even use Mein Kampf, which is on top of every pavement book stall’s pile, as a self help book and management text.

    • Replies: @Marcus
  11. Marcus says:
    @Fiendly Neighbourhood Terrorist

    More leftist hysteria, the closest thing India has had to fascism was the secular government of the Gandhis

  12. @Marcus

    Yeah, right. The only alternative to Hindunazism is Congress dynasticism. Your brilliance is eye-dazzling.

    • Replies: @Marcus
  13. Marcus says:
    @Fiendly Neighbourhood Terrorist

    I’m not the one throwing out Nazi comparisons like a 12 year old. Btw Hitler told Bose to his face that India was better off under British rule.

  14. anon • Disclaimer says:

    For such a moralizing tone of Peter Lee, I am surprised at his hypocrisy and dishonesty-Kashmiri are fighting for independence but tamils in Sri Lanka are terrorists.

    • Replies: @Marcus
  15. Marcus says:

    LTTE were terrorists as well, and possibly a front for Christian missionaries

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