From our partners at Newshoggers.com
By Steve Hynd
On Thursday, veteran correspondent and director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy Selig S. Harrison had some important geopolitical news in an op-ed piece for the New York Times. Harrison reports that Pakistan has effectively handed control of an entire strategic portion of Pakistani-occupied Kashmir to China, which has moved in thousands of troops.
The entire Pakistan-occupied western portion of Kashmir stretching from Gilgit in the north to Azad (Free) Kashmir in the south is closed to the world, in contrast to the media access that India permits in the eastern part, where it is combating a Pakistan-backed insurgency. But reports from a variety of foreign intelligence sources, Pakistani journalists and Pakistani human rights workers reveal two important new developments in Gilgit-Baltistan: a simmering rebellion against Pakistani rule and the influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army.
China wants a grip on the region to assure unfettered road and rail access to the Gulf through Pakistan. 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.
Chinese troops are improving infrastructure – roads, railroads and dams – as well as building permanent-looking bases. And Harrison is clear about the move's strategic importance to the region.
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.” Equally important, the nascent revolt in the Gilgit-Baltistan region is a reminder that Kashmiri demands for autonomy on both sides of the cease-fire line would have to be addressed in a settlement.
…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, where the elected legislature controls only 4 out of 56 subjects covered in the state constitution. The rest are under the jurisdiction of a “Kashmir Council” appointed by the president of Pakistan.
Now, China isn't exactly a U.S. enemy and if they want a base in the Gulf then they're legally allowed one if the host nation (Pakistan) will co-operate - but many analysts have written about China's maritime expansion in worrying tones, seeing an eventual confrontation with the US as more possible because of it.
However, others worry more about a nascent confrontation between India and China, with Pakistan a troubling third nuclear-armed party to any possible conflict. And many more have written that solving the "Kashmir Problem" is essential to solving the Indo-Pakistani rivalry that fuels, amongst other instability, the proxy war that the U.S. trapped itself into refereeing in Afghanistan.
So China's presence in this key Kashmiri area matters.
Yet I'm not seeing any foreign policy "wonks" commenting on Harrison's report. What gives?
Update: Eric Randolph at the excellent Current Intelligence webmag mentions the Harrison report as he looks at other recent Chinese provocations of India. He writes:
The PLA sees Kashmir as a vital part of achieving strategic regional dominance, since it provides an easy way of ensuring co-operation with Pakistan (on top of all the aid and nuclear trading), and a highly symbolic way of pressuring India, which hates anyone interfering in Kashmir.
…In observing the inscrutable goings-on of Chinese politics, it is always difficult to judge where real decision-making lies, but these latest reports show the extent to which China’s strategic interests have the potential to rile India, and are being carried out by an increasingly autonomous military that is unconcerned about causing offence.
That's surely noteworthy.