China-Pakistan border patrol

The joint Sino-Pak military patrol in north Jammu and Kashmir is essentially a method of formalizing an annexation of the Gilgit-Baltistan segment of Jammu and Kashmir into a joint ownership arrangement. It has to be read with the rigging of the elections in that portion of the former princely State and the pre-positioning of several thousand Chinese personnel of the People’s Liberation Army in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for laying the foundations of the road-rail-pipeline Economic Corridor from Xinjiang to Gwadar in strife-torn Balochistan.

China does not really need Pakistani troops to patrol the external border of its own Xinjiang province. It has enough military manpower to deal with the Uighur Muslim uprising instigated by Chinese Han colonization of the province even after the proclaimed reduction of about 3,00,000 troops of the People’s Liberation Army.

Pakistan has not been able to protect Chinese engineers involved in setting up dams and other infrastructure within Pakistan. Several Chinese have been kidnapped and killed over the years by jihadi Pakistani elements much to China’s consternation and ire. Pakistan has tried to placate the Chinese by feeding a regular supply of low-level Uighur jihadis who have either trained with the Pakistani terrorist groups or been baptized in Islamic hyper-fundamentalism by stints in ISIS and Al Qaeda-held territories in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria and were looking for ‘gainful employment’ in their own country. This is the same tactic that the Pakistani military establishment used in the War against Terrorism initiated by the US.

Playing terrorism card

In relations with the US the Pakistanis handed over terrorists at regular intervals to the US to avoid criticism of not doing enough to end global terrorism. It earned billions of dollars in blood money from the Americans but it made sure that top terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri were shielded and provided safe houses in Pakistani cantonments.

The banned East Turkistan Islamic Movement  and several other Islamist groups are fighting the Chinese in Xinjiang Province. Pakistan is fully aware that several hundred have been trained in camps run by the Laskar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e- Mohammad. All it needs to do is pick up one or two every so often and deliver them to the Chinese Army.  These are summarily shot by Chinese firing squads. Even the Chinese are suspicious that Pakistan is playing a duplicitous game and has expressed its displeasure on occasion.

It has been noticed that while the Pakistan Army and its Inter- Services Intelligence steadfastly refused to accede to American demands to conduct military operations in the troublesome north Waziristan to clamp down on the Haqqani and Pak Taliban operating against Afghanistan. It did so only when the Chinese indicated that more than a hundred Uighurs had crossed over to get training and facilities to head for ISIS controlled territory in Syria.

By and large China has total control over the terrorist situation in South Asia. The Uighur frequency of attacks though widespread are not sufficiently high to cause the Chinese to initiate joint patrols with a military establishment itself totally immersed in exporting jihadi terrorism around the globe. The manner in which the Chinese defended Pakistan over the activities of the Jaish-e- Mohammad chieftan Masood Azhar is indicative of how it is using terrorism to keep India unbalanced in Jammu and Kashmir. It helps facilitate Chinese penetration into the strategic stretch of Indian territory which, if in Indian hands, would totally disrupt Chinese plans to connect with Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Baloch coastline.

In a spirit of give and take, STRATEGIC AFFAIRS had suggested in its earlier columns that the China-Pakistan axis should allow secure Indian access to Afghanistan and beyond into the former Central Asian Republics of the Soviet Union (now the Commonwealth of Independent States) with which India has had millennia-old friendly relations. Given the current trends in China-Pak actions it is increasingly becoming clear that these two are bent on rearranging the geopolitics of the region with the clear intention of keeping India out. The use of terrorist organizations nurtured by Pakistan against India is central to this China-Pak game plan.

Strategic projects

No more is the Chinese assurance operational given at the time of signing the Pak-China agreement on the transfer of Shakshgam salient of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir that: “The two parties agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the government of the Peoples’ Republic of China on the boundary, as described in Article II of the present agreement of Kashmir, so as to sign a boundary treaty to replace the present agreement.” This was in 1963.

Since then China has built the Karakoram Highway through the Khunjerab Pass; created feeder roads eastward through Shaksgam linking Gilgit with Hotan, which is an important military headquarter situated at the cross-section of the Tibet-Xinjiang Highway and Hotan-Golmud Highway.

The Hotan-Golmud Highway links Xinjiang to Qinghai province and central China. It reduces the distance between Gilgit and Golmud fifty per cent. Golmud’s network of petrochemicals, oil wells and minerals make it the natural destination of pipelines bringing petroleum and its products from West Asia through Gwadar port.

All this is jeopardized by the recalcitrance of the local people of the Gilgit-Balawaristan (Baltistan) salient through which the Karakoram Highway traverses and the proposed Economic Corridor must be aligned.

Ever since Pakistan annexed nearly half of the State of Jammu and Kashmir through a military campaign disguised as a tribal uprising the locals have been ignored and sidelined even as the Punjab dominated Pakistani nation has marshaled the national wealth for the exclusive use of this community. The Chinese have been illegally mining the precious and semi-precious stones in the region even as Islamabad and the Army HQ in Rawalpindi have prevented the locals from exploiting the natural resources of their region. Many a time the locals have refused to work on China-sponsored road projects and on occasion conducted agitations to prevent work.

It was for this reason that China deployed between 4000 (Indian estimate) to 9,000 (US CIA estimate) to deal with the Gilgit-Baltistan uprising. There were reports circulating at the time that Pakistan would lease the region to China for 50 years. Seeing the manner in which both the Gilgit-Baltistan and the Balochistan insurgencies are developing China is beginning to wonder what will happen to all its multi-trillion dollar investment in the Economic Corridor if the local populations are not crushed.

A joint military patrol at the northern portion of the Corridor is the beginning of a policy of assimilation and permanent annexation of what was illegally designated ‘disputed territory’ instead of an illegal occupation by China and Pakistan operating in unison. Given the atrocities being perpetrated by these two nations on the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Balochistan, India cannot confine itself to winning brownie points in rhetoric. As the Khan of Kalat pointed out India will be the biggest loser when the China Pakistan Economic Corridor becomes reality.