China’s New Silk Road: What’s in it for Gilgit-Baltistan?
|2,000 KM long PCEC would shorten the route for China's energy imports, bypassing the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, a bottleneck at risk of blockade in wartime.|
In the history of Gilgit-Baltistan, there have been some historical events and transformational incidents that have had far-reaching impacts on the socio-economic development of Gilgit-Baltistan. These include war of independence against Dogra Raj in 1947, advent of Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in 1946, abolishment of State Subject Rule and principalities by introducing the regular civil administrative structure in GB in 1974 and construction of mighty Karakoram Highway (KKH) in 1978. Similarly in 1994, the PPP led federal government introduced Legal Framework Order giving GB limited authority over local affairs through an elected body. In 2009, the PPP led federal government promulgated an empowerment order that gave the region its distinct identity as Gilgit-Baltistan with a Governor and Chief Minister, making it seems like Pakistan’s fifth province.
Before 1978 Gilgit-Baltistan was cut off from the rest of the world and Pakistan due to harsh terrain and lack of accessible roads. Similarly, before abolishment of State Subject Rule by Z.A Bhutto and advent of AKDN in GB, all the socio-economic indicators including health and educational attainments and civic amenities were not accessible to all the GBian but selected few like Mirs and Wazirs in Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh Wazarat and the hill states of Hunza and Nagar. The first three primary schools in the Northern Areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan) were established by the Political Agent in as early as1893 in Gilgit, Astore and Gupis. Until the year 1940s, the government was the sole provider of formal education in the Northern Areas that too was meant only to selected families. In 1946, the first 17 Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Schools were established by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), that can be cited as the first community intervention in the field of education in these areas. Before these DJ Schools there happens to be only one school under the name of Government Primary School in Karimabad Hunza which was established in 1912.
Now that when the Pakistan and People Republic of China have principally agreed and started work on China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a planned $46-billion network of roads, railways and energy projects linking Pakistan's deep-sea Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea with China's far-western Xinjiang region, it can easily infer that this package of projects will have transformational and game changing impacts on the Gilgit-Baltistan as it is going through this picturesque and geo-politically important region of Pakistan by opening new vistas of opportunities in regional trade and investment, micro enterprises development with special focus on transportation, tourism, energy conservation and service sector.
As can be seen in the given map above, PCEC would shorten the route for China's energy imports, bypassing the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, a bottleneck at risk of blockade in wartime. China has acknowledged that Gwadar’s strategic value is no less than that of the Karakoram Highway, which helped cement the China-Pakistan relationship. Beijing is also interested in turning it into an energy-transport hub by building an oil pipeline from Gwadar into China's Xinjiang region. The planned pipeline will carry crude oil sourced from Arab and African states. Such transport by pipeline will cut freight costs and also help insulate the Chinese imports from interdiction by hostile naval forces in case of any major war. This multi-purpose and multi-billion strategic interventions by Chines Government will also play a critical role in restoring the regional power balance that foreign policy experts say has tilted in favour of India after President Barack Obama’s trip to New Delhi.
It is befitting to note it here that in September 2013, President Xi Jinping proposed reviving the ancient trade routes connecting China, Central Asia and Europe. In the backdrop of this the control of Gwadar Port was given to China and an agreement was signed with China Overseas Ports Holding Co on May 16, 2013, to transfer operational rights from the Port Authority of Singapore.
|26 Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been identified in rout to PCEC|
Not taking the GB region's people into confidence, and not ensuring the protection of their rights and interests will prove to be detrimental for the feasibility and viability of this important project. As you well know, GB is where the "bottle-neck", so to say, is located on this corridor. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that the bottle-neck doesn't cripple the potential of this corridor.
Before embarking on the CPEC project, it is imperative to ensure social and political liberties in Gilgit-Baltistan through constitutional measures and institutional rearrangements. Implementation of the CPEC without required political and legal guarantees makes the region vulnerable to exploitation by big businesses and apathetic decision-making bodies. If Pakistan continues with its ambiguous policy of keeping Gilgit-Baltistan in political limbo, it will ultimately harm its own interests.
|Emerging Gawadar Deep Sea Port that will connect Pakistan via CPEC with Oil reach Middle East & Landlocked Central Asia.|
As Pakistan and China proceed with the project, an unintended, but vital, consequence could be the potential transformation in the character of Pakistani state itself. At present, security overshadows the development agenda. As China gains more leverage in the country’s decision-making structures, the development goals are likely to receive more traction within Pakistan’s civil and military establishment. The economy-centric agenda of political elites, supported by China, could, in the medium to long run, improve the civil-military imbalance.