[Opinion] Under the Shadows of the new Great Game

By Amin Beg

Is Gilgit Baltistan a new pot for cooking a mix of chinese, south asian and continental cuisines by the Yankee and the asian dragon with hot spices from the south asian vultures? Or is Gilgit-Baltistan coincidentally wedged between the devil and the hard rock or is it only a corridor for the exchange of flood waves?

While the first/old great game that was played by the British Empire and the Tsarist Russia ended in the division of Badakhshan in Central Asia along the Panj River into Afghan and Tajik parts, and later when the sun set on the British empire in subcontinent, we found that it left Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan divided as a bleeding wound between the asian dragon and south asian vultures. At the height of the cold war, when USSR entered Afghanistan and the US and allies fought back through proxies and denied the polar bear access to the warm waters, it ended in a devastated, high and dry Kabul, which still continues to bleed. What will happen this time, when the uneasy, but rising asian dragon meets the naked American imperialism at its very borders in Afghanistan and Central Asia for the first time, and when New Delhi darbar’s greater ambitions and Pakistan’s’ sense of state insecurity-and notions of strategic depth, and internal anomalies of misgovernance oscillate courting between the two poles? while Tehran continues to pinch the US-Israeli-Saudi nexus in the Gulf, what new order is in the making in this region? Is Gilgit-Baltistan another pawn in the chess game along with Afghanistan and Kashmir in the new great game?

On August 26, 2010, Selig S. Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy and a former South Asia bureau chief of The Washington Post published an opinion in the New York Times entitled as, ’ China’s Discreet Hold on Pakistan’s Northern Borderlands’.

Building his arguments around the increasing Chinese strategic investments in Pakistan in term of providing men, money and machine, especially in building the Gawadar Port (which the author called Chinese-built Pakistani naval bases in Gawadar, Pasni and Ormara), widening of the Karakoram Highway and projects related to construction of small and large dams and ‘construction of 22 tunnels in secret locations’ in the Karakoram and Himalayas, the author has termed it as, ‘influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the Peoples Liberation Army-PLA.

Why China would take this gigantic step? In the author’s own analysis, because, ‘China wants a grip on the region to assure unfettered road and rail access to the Gulf through Pakistan as it takes 16 to 25 days for Chinese oil tankers to reach the Gulf. When high-speed rail and road links through Gilgit and Baltistan are completed, China will be able to transport cargo from Eastern China to the new Chinese-built Pakistani naval bases at Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara, just east of the Gulf, within 48 hours’.

And why build 22 tunnels? Because, the author goes on, ‘tunnels would be necessary for a projected gas pipeline from Iran to China that would cross the Himalayas through Gilgit’. Why build these in secret locations?, because, ’ they could also be used for missile storage sites’.

Why has Pakistan reportedly agreed to cede ‘de facto control of Gilgit-Baltistan region to China’, which the author claims was part of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir? The author offers two lines of arguments; first, ’ What is happening in the region matters to Washington for two reasons. Coupled with its support for the Taliban, Islamabad’s collusion in facilitating China’s access to the Gulf makes clear that Pakistan is not a U.S. “ally.”, second, ‘Equally important, the nascent revolt in the Gilgit-Baltistan region’…’where Sunni jihadi groups allied with the Pakistan Army have systematically terrorized the local Shiite Muslims.. ‘Gilgit and Baltistan are in effect under military rule. Democratic activists there want a legislature and other institutions without restrictions like the ones imposed on Free Kashmir’.

What is the author suggesting to stop China to ‘engulf’ Gilgit-Baltistan and what are the next steps for the Yankee- the United States of America:

“The United States is uniquely situated to play a moderating role in Kashmir, given its growing economic and military ties with India and Pakistan’s aid dependence on Washington. Such a role should be limited to quiet diplomacy. Washington should press New Delhi to resume autonomy negotiations with Kashmiri separatists. Success would put pressure on Islamabad for comparable concessions in Free Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. In Pakistan, Washington should focus on getting Islamabad to stop aiding the insurgency in the Kashmir Valley and to give New Delhi a formal commitment that it will not annex Gilgit and Baltistan. Precisely because the Gilgit-Baltistan region is so important to China, the United States, India and Pakistan should work together to make sure that it is not overwhelmed, like Tibet, by the Chinese behemoth”.

This op-ed by Harrison was taken by many Indian, Pakistani, Russian, European, south Asian newspapers, online blogs etc., and opinions, analysis and comments were made some condemning Pakistan and China for taking over Gilgit-Baltistan others, including foreign office officials in Peking and Islamabad rejecting the op-ed as baseless, absurd and provocative. Some analysts in India went on to say that it was actually China’s internal problems in Muslim majority Xinjiang that prompted it to work closely with Pakistan to secure its border region from infiltration. Gilgit-Baltistan being the frontline region for making or breaking peaceful co-existence between Pakistan and China. Therefore it is in the interest of China and Pakistan to keep Gilgit-Baltistan terrorist-free and free of jihadi groups and create an island of economic prosperity and peace in this poverty stricken and sensitive region.

What is in this story for us, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan?

Many people here in Gilgit Baltistan are of the view that renewed closer economic ties with China and the Xinjiang province will benefit the people of Gilgit Baltistan and also create deeper strategic relations between China and Pakistan which is in the interest of regional peace and security and shall promote regional economic integration between South and Central Asia.

China is also seen as a stabilizing factor in the region. However, Islamabad also shares Chinese concerns about what it calls the three evils; separatism, fanaticism and terrorism in Xinjiang. Both countries agree that counter-terrorism, counter-separatism and counter-fanaticism strategies are required both at local, national and regional levels between Pakistan and China. However, in doing so it is also important for both countries to protect, promote and deepen local self governance, local autonomy and strengthen empowerment of local people and guarantee the fundamental rights of the local people to use and own their own resources on their own homelands through fairplay and internationally accepted principles.

In the new great game for access to the oil and gas reserves of Central Asia, controlling trade corridors and reaching out to the warm waters of the Gulf and the Arabian Sea, any regional strategy and frameworks must underline the aspect of self rule, alleviating the sufferings of the mountain people in these strategic nodes, and protecting their fundamental rights guaranteed by international conventions rectified by both Islamabad and Peking.

At the same time, the local people in Gilgit-Baltistan and Xinjiang must rise above petty internal conflicts and schism and accept plurality of views, adopt progressive ideas and embark on social modernization and educate their children to benefit from the new opportunities.

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  1. An impressive piece of writing indeed.
    The above given analysis of great game 2 around this land is determined, one on one, each one of the four nuclear giants have their own interests in this area, retaliating one another power boom.
    But the point to ponder is; are we going to sandwich between the east and the west because of some one else cause and if we are going to be sandwiched then how will come out of it?
    If Pakistan and China are sincere about the economical and political empowerment of this particular land, don’t they fear it for themselves in the future ahead, as the area stand ‘ disputed territory’ and the same empowerment might re bounce back?
    As mentioned above, China feel concerned about terrorism, separatism and fanaticism prevailing in the region, but intelligentsia on this side holds the same interests and ideologies, which theses terrorists, separatist and fantasist forces holds. Will it not create dissatisfaction in relationship among the two nation?

    1. Thank you Aasim.
      Ya I agree it is multifaceted.
      However continued disenfranchisement, corruption and bad governance reduces participation of people in the affairs of the government, alienates the youth and they become more vulnerable to extreme ideas.
      In order to have peace on both sides of the borders and to win the hearts and minds of the people, it is important for both countries to create a sense of participation. As a frequent visitor to Xinjiang, we see the enormous economic development and social modernization taking place. what is important is, in my view, both China and Pakistan agree to capitalize on these gains and create more economic dependencies between the two regions. On the Pakistan side of the border, China needs to fund major development projects and also invest in social development including health and education and livelihoods.

  2. The New York Times article seems intended to promote US involvement. We all know how subtle the US diplomacy can be, with blackmail and bombs the main tools in foreign policy. The US is also attempting to create a rift between China and Pakistan.
    That being said, if Pakistan allows China to do all the infrastructure work along the KKH to make possible the transport of oil, gas and goods by rail and truck, then China which is already building the Gawadar harbor, will consider Pakistan as just another province that it will de facto occupy. There will be so much Chinese people working in the building and later in the transportation of goods to and from China that the invasion will be unavoidable even if it does not happen by military means.
    Plus your country will have no way of preventing a different kind of flood: the flood of plastic garbage from chinese factories, in the form of cheap toys, gadgets, household goods etc. Your country will be another dumping site, another market.
    So how can Pakistan agree to fight separatism while trying to promote regional independence? These two words have the same meaning, one from the point of view of the occupier, the other from the point of view of the independent minded people. Also, fanaticism and terrorism are imperialist words, those of China (and the US). The Uygurs the Tibetans might use different words: resistance, nationalism.

    1. Briggitte, thank you for sharing ur comments.
      1. Yes it is a scary scenario if the yankee gets involved in this border.
      2. China and Pakistan share common interests in this region, both have time and again committed to adhere to the principle of ‘peaceful co-existence’ and ‘live and let live’. However, increased US involvement in Pakistan’s affairs might create confusions and that requires regular ‘hotline’ b/w China and Pakistan and ‘chinese proactive involvement’ to assist Pakistan in these hard times, including investing in strategic sectors and helping in stabilizing its borders areas. This look fair.
      3. The world is flooded with chinese goods and we see the chinese containers everyday on our border for the last two decades now. Yes plastics are bad, but border trade with china creates jobs for over 5000 youth annually, and provides cheap technology and utility items, including fuel and relief goods we received during this disaster.
      4. Yes these words have different meaning for different people. However in order to create win-win solutions between full indepedence and a colonial appartus, there is a need to go for local self governance and increased regional autonomy within the national borders, however create economic dependencies and integration across borders.

  3. As far as China is concerned, she has a huge part in this great game which has political as well as economical aspects. China’s number one priority is to safe-guard its trade and commerce via this rout to the Middle east, Africa and Eastern Europe on the other hand ensure supply of oil and gas for its energy requirement to run its giant industrial setups in the western China. On the political front it has to safe guard its western boarders for infiltration of extremist and radical elements and drug trafficking and also ensure favorable governments in the countries of interest and strategic importance. It has also to keep an eye on the American moves in the region which are now directed towards China, a real threat to the interests of the United States.

    As this great game goes on, lots of opportunities also emerge for the people of the region and it is solely on the capabilities of the people as how they exploit these emerging opportunities in their favour. The last great game was played when the people of this region were technically and intellectually living in the stone ages and the rulers may have availed the opportunities. But now the people of this whole region are well prepared to understand and avail every opportunity.

    All we need to do is build and strengthen local institutions to look after interests of our region and environment, give awareness to the masses and be prepared to avail the opportunities.

  4. The article has well elaborated the situation of the region which is going on behind the scene in between the world powers. It was around 20 years before an agreement was made for a tri-country trade route from central Asia to Gawader port via from Kirghizstan to china and Pakistan. Because of unknown reasons the agreement did not work.
    Another foreign policy of Pakistan failed to capture the route of Afghanistan to central Asia which was led by Taliban regime that collapsed.
    Now situation has turned into a new game where Americans has already captured Afganistan which is unstable. The only safe access route to central asia is only through Gilgit-Baltistan. This region has already provided the road link between pakistan and china. it seems that china’s interset to hold their control in the region is because of their concerns not only trade but foreign insurgency in Sink yang province as well. but on the other side Americans interest to central Asian region is very clear only for the natural resources.
    India which is the main rival of pakistan do not like to see China to take control of this region. Indian foreign policy to hold Kashmir by raising the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan is their main concern now.
    It Seems Gilgit-Baltistan has been sandwiched between all these Nations Interest and their foreign policies. This so called game has cultivated ignorance, the inner sectarian violence, poverty, social injustice, Dictatorship and deprivation of freedom rights in the region.
    A well sense able educated society and civil society organizations of the region can take this turn ahead for the interest of the area.

  5. We know that the new great game is gonna b played in this energy corridor between Khunjerab and Gwadar. The locals should prepare themselves to be stakeholders in this game otherwise we would b collecting garbage on new railway stations along the new railway track. China can not become super power in future unless she builds these two major projects i.e pipeline to pump oil from middle east via gwadar and deliver the good to gwadar to further distribute to the middle east and other parts of the world via rails through karakorum. Russia, India and Iran and UAE have their own economical and political interests in Gwadar and this energy corridor, which is evident from the troubles created by these countiries in Balochistan. We should also prepared ourselves politically to stop Yankees play dirty games in our region.

  6. sorry to say but what i see in this article is bunch of conspiracy theories put together. China is building its own ports throughout its eastern and southern coasts. althought the route throrgh KKH will be shorter but imagine who can afford transporting good through fragile land full of terrorists and robbers. And about chinese products they have already taken the place of locally made stuff in markets. Dozens of factories have been shut down in central areas of Pakistan, especially the shoe factories. I would rather say better to hand over this piece of land to US for militiary bases if people here are clever enough to decide their fate. It will bring much more opportunites to this place rather than staying with Chinks and Pakis,,, just an idea.

  7. A good attempt of gathering certain issues of strategic nature engulfing this narrow but high plateau – GB. How the residentants should participate in this so-called new game-II, should be the real question. Over six decades now the peace loving people decided unilaterally to join new land – Pakistan, mainly for their religious and cultural backgrounds.

    If analyzed, that decision was a 50/50; getting economically and socially (….again debatable), but losing/failing to get at political front. All this can be attributed to the sincere attachment of the people to the motherland, which contrarelly was considered an un-conditional and total submission of some undermost subjects. However, political backwardness of the people of the area has been the pramount factor responsible for their backwardness in all other spheres of life .

    How the religious culture of the area was devasted is not unkown to all, including those who benefited; How the ensuing circumstances were engineered to benefit a selected group(s); How the present & coming generations are being de-tracked and thus weakening and pushing them to darkness of ethenic & religious disparities and other forms of polarization; are the questions the youth have to seek answer. If the people particulary the young generation feel that only the political leadership will do, would be the real recipe for disaster.

  8. Amin,
    It is scary because you are prophesizing another disaster, this time political one after the natural disaster. Where does GB Legislative Assembly stand on this issue, I hope you have sent this article to the members with an Urdu translation. I also wonder about your audience again if I am not wrong it is not GB public rather few English speaking intellectuals of GB and friends abroad.,,,,,

    1. thank u Mamu Khan,
      Well i am neither prophersizing nor playing devil’s advocate. It was just an opinion on the much discussed and publisized op-ed by Harrison in the NY Times.
      I use Simurgh my personal blog to express my opinions. My audience is the youth, development professionals, policy makers, literati and activists of GB and the mountain people in this region.

      Thanks to PT for providing a link here.

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