Pak-China Economic Corridor and Gilgit Baltistan

Photograph courtesy
Photograph courtesy
JK Bank

After the division of the sub-continent and emergence of two new states –  India and Pakistan, the subsequent circumstances not only imprinted tales of woes in the hearts of people on either sides but gave birth to some new geopolitical issues in South Asia. The most prominent among all is Kashmir issue, which is yet to be resolved after so many dialogues, deliberations and no doubt a hell of sacrifices of indigenous Kashmiri men, women, and children. Extravagance of both Pakistan and India without demilitarization in Jammu Kashmir will never bring an ultimate solution of the said issue. Both the countries have to understand that they can’t seek peace in their countries without resolving the issue. It is evident that the talks on confidence building measures between both have ended resultless.

In 2005, after the disastrous earthquake of Pakistan and in the two controlled-Kashmir regions, both countries agreed on cross border trade. The declaration by both the governments was a ray of hope for the two divided regions of Kashmir, because it was agreed that the natural routes of pre-1947 will be opened not only for trade but for exchange of people as well. Two crossing points were opened on Line of Control (LoC). Controlled trade and exchange of people was initiated to begin with and it was hoped that with the passage of time both the countries will agree upon the porous border so that Kashmiris will have an opportunity to travel across.


But unfortunately it has been proved that the cross LoC trade in Kashmir has no significance for Kashmiris. The LoC trade is most beneficial to big businessmen of Pakistan as people of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir came to know so far. So hypothesis about prosperity and development of Kashmiris in terms of jobs and business went wrong.

A common implication of the LoC trade can be understood from the prices of Bananas. A standard pack of Banana at LoC ranges from PKR. 800 to 1000 but it is not sold on crossing points as there is no established market solely for the purpose. The same Banana is loaded on trucks and sent to the fruit market of Islamabad first, then it is brought back to the Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. A common consumer buys a dozen of those Bananas for PKR. 200 to 250. In the holy month of Ramadan, it reaches at peak price of PKR. 300. The prices of Pakistani goods in Indian controlled Kashmir are unknown because of controlled communication between Kashmiris on both sides.

Pak-China Relations

Solidification of relations between Pakistan and China is a new debate in South Asia as well as in rest of the world. China gave shoulder to the sinking economy of Pakistan by signing agreements of 46 billion USD. In power corridors of Islamabad the said agreements are anticipated as emancipation of prosperity and development in Pakistan. The most important part of the agreements is Pak-China Economic Corridor. It is said that once the corridor will develop it will reduce the distance of Chinese products to Pakistan and rest of the world. How will it be good for Pakistan remains a confusion?

Although there is no noteworthy coherence among affected or beneficial provinces of Pakistan but the most important part of the Pak-China Economic Corridor – Gilgit Baltistan has been ignored at policy level. Gilgit-Baltistan is not having a provincial autonomy in Pakistan’s hierarchy so the decisions imposed upon people of this region are made in Islamabad, without consulting the local political leadership. The most unfortunate thing is that the region’s people got the right to vote in 2009. The Government of Pakistan introduced “Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009” on 28 August 2009. The reforms package was introduced through a presidential order that was approved by the Federal Cabinet and set forth for immediate implementation. It was a matter of celebration for the people of this region that they are going to have their own Governor and Chief Minister and the status similar like a province but not a province because of denied representation in the Parliament and the Senate of Pakistan.

Through the reforms another setup has been created, similar like Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, the Gilgit-Baltistan Council headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. These two parallel arrangements on the other hand, increase the prevailing confusion of the local population in order to explain the future of the area with regards to its constitutional inclusion in Pakistan as fifth province or integration with Jammu and Kashmir as one of the units of probable plebiscite.

Gilgit-Baltistan is the homeland of 1.5 million people, left constitutionally indeterminate state for long time after its annexation with Pakistan in 1947. The area is divided into two entities of Gilgit and Baltistan, which is further divided into seven administrative districts of: Gilgit, Ghizer, Hunza-Nagar, Astore, Diamer, Ghanche and Skardu. Gilgit-Baltistan is situated in the north of Pakistan bordered with China, India, Afghanistan and Tajikistan via Wakhan Corridor.

By aforementioned presidential order in 2009, 1.5 million residents of this region had a right to vote and elect their local political leadership who can advocate for their rights in Pakistan. Though, the expansionist attitudes of Pakistan’s political parties opened their branches in Gilgit-Baltistan and many elected members of Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly have the binding with Larkana, Riawind or Nine Zero.

On one hand Islamabad is continuously trying to satisfy Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan on the route of Pak-China Economic Corridor while on the other hand Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly is being ignored. Pakistan’s military establishment, print and electronic media and intellectuals are continuously misinterpreting the role and importance of Gilgit-Baltistan in the economic corridor.

Geographically about 470 kilometer road and railway track will be on the land of Gilgit-Baltistan. It can be anticipated by simple equation that other than human migration and demolishing of current infra-structure, the region will be affected environmentally and its biodiversity will be altered due to increase in temperature by excess of carbon from heavy terrific. Due to increase in the temperature glaciers of Gilgit-Baltistan will start melting and incident resembling to Attaabad Lake are possible in near future.

Let us assume that all the environmental counter measures will be taken by Pakistan government, can it be assured that people of Gilgit-Baltistan will have a definite share in economic output of Pak-China Economic Corridor? The answer will be no because it is evident that China inducts maximum Chinese human resource in all their projects being implemented in Pakistan and if they want any Pakistani manpower or field force that will be from rest of Pakistan not from Gilgit-Baltistan. The same happened when Neelum Jehlum hydro power project was initiated in Muzaffarabad, maximum skilled workers and engineers were brought from China, consultants and office workers from Pakistan and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir was given privilege to induct drivers and security guards.

Secondly, the market prices of goods imported from China will have the same prices for people as they are paying now while in controlled cross border trade because those will be re-transported to Gilgit after unloading in Islamabad or Karachi.

In such situations when KPK and Baluchistan are not on the route, the people of entry point have their own reservations. The conflicted region of Gilgit-Baltististan can claim royalty of trade and establishment of market in their zone. If Pakistan will get success in building of anticipated corridor via Gilgit-Baltistan, efforts of making this region the fifth province will be maximized in Islamabad.

The peace of South Asia is strongly associated with Kashmir issue and once the Gilgit-Baltistan is officially declared as fifth province of Pakistan, and it is given proper representation in senate and national assembly, the efforts of confidence building measures from both Pakistan and India will fall through as ever. There will be a new contention which will ultimately be hazardous for peace of South Asia in general and Sub-Continent in particular.

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