WILL GILGIT-BALTISTAN BECOME WORLD POWERS’ FUTURE BATTLE-GROUND?
Isolated and neglected, Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan, the northern-most part
of Kashmir under its control, could become a future battle-ground for the
world powers to compete.
For one, it borders China and local politicians in GB, among them,
Chairman of Karakoram National Movement, Mumtaz Nagri has
expressed fear that Pakistan may cede GB to China on lease to pay off
its mounting debt.
Nagri is arousing people and has asked them “not to be scared of ISI and
be prepared to go to jail,” Pakistani media reports have said.
On the other hand, the United States, smarting under a chaotic withdrawal
from Afghanistan last year, and in no mood to quit the region, wants to
prevent this likely Chinese expansion into South Asia and instead, may
want an outpost of its own.
Washington rued the fact that its only withdrawal route was through
Pakistan that successive administrations realised had double-crossed it.
The Central Asians were in no position to help, there could be no question
of asking Iran, and Pakistan under Imran Khan refused to allow military
support that an embarrassed US said it had never sought.
But a voice has emerged from the US, that of a Republican, probably a
maverick, who views the region from a possible American strategic
Bob Lancia, a US Congress candidate for Rhode Island, has said: ‘US
could have benefited in Afghanistan if Gilgit-Baltistan was in India and
Balochistan was independent’.
(An) “Indian controlled Gilgit-Baltistan would also be a major blow to
America’s number one rival, China, and China’s belts & roads initiative, by
denying China direct access to ports on the Arabian Sea,” Lancia said in
a June 8 report widely carried in the US.
Lancia said that the US failed exit from Afghanistan had much to do with
not having India as a partner. The former Navy chaplain said that ‘things
could have gone differently’ had America partnered with India during its
withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Republican politician said that US
would not have to depend on “unreliable and double game playing
Pakistan”, if Balochistan was independent and if Gilgit-Baltistan was in
Lancia is a former Member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.
He is contesting in the elections for the US House of Representatives
elections scheduled in November this year from Rhode Island,
He also took to Twitter to focus on India’s strategic location and
geopolitical prowess as a player in ensuring the interests of South Asia on
the global map.
He said that if Balochistan was an independent country, US could have
used it for supplying US forces in Afghanistan instead of depending on
Endorsing views of a well-known American security analyst, Lancia wrote,
“As Col. Ralph Peters pointed out in his Congressional testimony, an
independent Balochistan would have provided the US direct access to
Afghanistan for supplying our troops without having to rely on Pakistan
who was obviously playing a double game.”
It has been testified that arms supplied by the US for Afghanistan could
be used by Pakistan’s internal players to create instability in Kashmir, he
Lancia’s may be a maverick viewpoint, but could snowball in garnering
support from the Western security community since it thinks well of India
compared to Pakistan where successive governments feed on anti-US
and anti-EU action and propaganda.
Pakistan ceding GB that it illegally occupies would be a boon for China’s
South Asian expansion. It has made use of territory in the region that
Pakistan ceded earlier and would like GB since the Karakorum is right on
the trail of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Writing on The Print, an Indian web site (June 16, 2022), security analyst
Tara Kartha has asked whether Pakistan has already given China “a carte
blanche” on GB.
Any such move could earn Pakistan a hefty lease money that could help
tide over its current economic woes. But this could also annoy the US to
deny or delay the USD three billion bailout from the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) But this could also blacklist Pakistan for the foreseeable future
from getting funds from the IMF, World Bank and other global agencies.
A move on GB would not be easy, despite complete civil and military
control from the federal government and extremely limited powers given
to the local administration. For, it could trigger local protests as the
population already feels short-changed by the way CPEC has by-passed
GB at Islamabad’s behest when it comes to development projects.
Kartha writes: “As Pakistan’s economy reels from crisis to crisis, the first
overt protests have begun, that too in its part of Kashmir, illegally occupied
since 1947. There is a form of extremely limited government in the two
areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and ‘Azad Kashmir’, and it is from within these
that officials are pushing back against severe budget cuts, which will
render already shaky administrations virtually dysfunctional.”
Pakistani media reports say GB has a dwindling population, able-bodied
people migrating with their families wherever they get work and poor living
conditions. One report alarmingly states that nine percent of all suicides
in Pakistan occur in GB.
Despite providing power to the rest of the country, Gilgit-Baltistan has just
two hours of power available, because the region is not part of Pakistan’s
national grid. In addition to this, it suffers food shortages, and has no
control over its hydropower or other resources.
With such socio-economic conditions prevailing in GB, there could be
trouble from a desperate population. The Pakistan government is trying to
meet the situation politically and often, militarily by trying to empty out the
place and make it ready for China.
The earlier plan to make Gilgit-Baltistan a province is not likely to be met,
as it not only requires more finances, but it will also give more power to
the regional government, who will have a say in decisions regarding the
use of its resources by Pakistan or China.
GB may become the new trouble-spot, if it is coveted by the Chinese and
the Americans – and if that happens, it will not spare the rulers in