As China opened one of its biggest foreign policy initiatives since 1949 – the One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit in Beijing, which is being attended by heads of state and government of over 23 nations, including Pakistan, protests broke out in Gilgit-Baltistan against the ongoing construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project under the Belt and Road initiative.
Various students and political organisations including Karakoram Students Organisation, Balawaristan National Students Organisation, Gilgit Baltistan United Movement and Balawaristan National Front have been protesting against OBOR in Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu and Ghizer.
They described the project as an illegal attempt to grab Gilgit and see it as a “Road of Gulami or Slavery for Gilgit-Baltistan “. Protestors across Gilgit see the CPEC and OBOR as a ploy by China to take over their territory. Carrying placards and banners stating ” Stop Chinese Imperialism ” protestors have been calling on the World Community to stop this Chinese transgression on Gilgit’s soil which remains disputed since 1948-49.
They claimed that China has entered Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) illegally with the help of Pakistan, adding that a well-conceived two-pronged strategy has been put in place to facilitate continued Chinese military presence in Pakistan and to counter the United States through CPEC.
The USD 51.5 billion multi-layered infrastructure project aims to connect Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang province with Gwadar Port in Balochistan.
China is reportedly establishing some military bases in Gilgit-Baltistan, a territory whose sovereignty is disputed, said the founder of the Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum, Wajahat Khan.
Both China and Pakistan have crushed the legitimate concerns of the people of the region, violating their human rights to achieve CPEC objectives.
According to Senge H. Sering, a scholar from Gilgit-Baltistan who is based in Washington D.C., “China has a huge and long-term presence in Gilgit-Baltistan and is building extensive roads, bridges and telecom networks to sustain it. The drives compelling China to develop the Karakoram Corridor are diverse and mainly pertain to its economic, strategic and political ambitions.”
There is military component to this much-touted economic development project as there is a construction of an army headquarters in the Gilgit-Baltistan region for the security of the CPEC.
Various political and human rights organisations have expressed their concern over the silent invasion of China, so much so, that Pakistan has complicated the situation further by increasing the percentage of the Sunni population over a predominant Shia region.
Balwaristan National Front (BNF) president Abdul Hamid Khan said, “The attempt (to build CPEC in Gilgit-Baltistan) amounts to a deliberate violation of the UNCIP as well as against the will of the people after the passage of 67 years of deprivation under the occupation of Pakistan in the name of (the) J&K dispute.”
The people in Gilgit Baltistan are worried as thousands of Chinese workers are being deployed or posted in Gilgit to construct the CPEC at their expense.