Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan

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Imran Malik
Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is blessed with an extraordinary landscape, immense natural resources, vibrant manpower and a profoundly consequential location. It is situated at the confluence of the three Asias—west, central and south—as well as the three mighty Asian mountain ranges; the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayas. It forms the northern part of the Greater Kashmir Region. Of late, China too has asserted its legitimate rights along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India, particularly in Ladakh. The changing paradigms of geopolitics have raised GB’s importance in regional and global considerations. It is now central to the evolving strategic environment in the South-Central Asian Region (SCAR), primarily due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through it. To its West lies the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, which is still experiencing some terrorism. In the North-West it has the Wakhan Corridor which links restive, volatile and terrorism-stricken Afghanistan to China and Tajikistan. To its East-North lies Xinjiang from where the CPEC emanates. To its South-West it has Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K); most of the live-wire LOC between Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir Region (IIOJ&KR) and AJ&K-Pakistan lies to its East-South-East. IIOJ&KR remains perennially destabilised and bristling under the inhuman and tyrannical stranglehold of the Indian military. GB’s geopolitical relevance has been rising in tandem with the progress on CPEC. This flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), portends enormous strategic connotations. CPEC’s successful completion will establish BRI’s viability and China’s credibility as the pre-eminent economic power of the world. China’s sphere of influence and strategic reach are inexorably expanding to the SCAR, the Greater Middle East Region, Africa, the Mediterranean, Europe and beyond. CPEC gives China vital access to the Indian Ocean Region, Arabian Sea, and Persian Gulf through the strategically important Gwadar-Makran Coast. It makes China a two-ocean nation and enables it to outflank the Malacca Straits chokepoint effectively. This profoundly neutralises China’s strategic vulnerability of a blockade at the Malacca Straits. All this has understandably raised US’ ire, which finds its singular position as the world’s premier economic power under serious threat. India, US’ strategic partner, continues to sulk on the side lines, as BRI and CPEC transform the regions all around it. Both have been roundly outmanoeuvred by the Chinese in the SCAR. This creates a natural convergence of US and Indian interests in delaying, disrupting and eventually destroying the project entirely. GB’s mountainous terrain lends itself to disruptive activities against CPEC as it snakes its way down South. At the geostrategic level, the national interests of China-India and India-Pakistan clash violently in the Greater Kashmir Region. The strategic environment on the Siachen Glacier, in the IIOJ&KR, along the LOC and LAC has degenerated drastically. The arraying of massive Chinese, Indian and Pakistani militaries on the LOC and the LAC make the Greater Kashmir Region perhaps the most militarised, nuclear weapons heavy region and the likeliest nuclear flash point in the world. India finds itself hopelessly caught in a potential two-front war scenario and fears a joint Pak-Chinese pincer movement could make its tenuous hold on IIOJ&KR untenable. Chinese presence on the LAC in Ladakh may have pre-empted Indian ambitions against Aksai Chin, the Xinjiang-Tibet (G219) lateral and eventually GB.

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