First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the organizers of this event. Your continuous efforts for peace, stability and for the fundamental rights of the voiceless people of our world, are highly appreciable.
I am honoured that you have invited me to share my views at this august gathering.
China’s expanding strategic ambitions have many layers and interrelated dimensions. As a State Subject of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, I will mainly discuss the implications of China’s presence in GilgitBaltistan, and thus in the State of Jammu & Kashmir, from a purely native Kashmiri-perspective.
I will also try to elaborate its effects on the people of GilgitBaltistan and on the future of the wider Kashmir-Issue.
I would like to emphasize that I am not averse to economic development, solutions to Pakistan’s growing economic crisis or the eradication of poverty. I welcome that and wholeheartedly wish that the friendship of China and Pakistan will flourish into eternity.
As we all know, China’s presence in GilgitBaltistan is an extension of its ambitions of reconstructing the ancient Silk Road. The construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, also abbreviated as CPEC,at a cost of 46 billion dollar, is an important pawn in this New Great Game.
I, as a Kashmiri, have my strongest reservations regarding this new economic corridor, the origins of which can be traced back to the Border Agreement of 1963 in which Pakistan ceded more than 5000 square miles of illegally occupied Jammu & Kashmir to China.
Part of this 3,000-kilometer long network of roads, railways and pipelines, will pass through GilgitBaltistan, which does not fall within the jurisdiction of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Since 1947, the region has been treated as a disputed territory. Formerly known as the Northern Areas of Pakistan, it is the northern most administrative territory of Pakistan.
Although administered by Pakistan, GilgitBaltistan isan elemental part of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The region, together with Pakistan Administered Kashmir (So-called Azad Kashmir), Aksai Chin, Shakshagam Valley under Chinese occupation and Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir, is an integral part of the Kashmir-Issue which is disputed between India, China and Pakistan.
It covers an area of almost 30.000 square miles and is highly mountainous. The estimated population is around 2 million original inhabitants. The abolishment of the State Subject Rule in 1974 by the Government of Pakistan has, however, resulted in large scaledemographic changes in the region.
While administratively controlled by Pakistan since the First Kashmir War, GilgitBaltistan has never been formally integrated into the Pakistani state and does not participate in Pakistan’s constitutional political affairs. In 2009, the GilgitBaltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order was passed by the Pakistani cabinet and later signed by the then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari. The order granted self-rule to the people of GilgitBaltistan, by creating, among other things, an elected GilgitBaltistan Legislative Assembly and GilgitBaltistan Council.
GilgitBaltistan, thus gained a de facto province-like status without constitutionally becoming part of Pakistan.
Officially, Pakistan claims that it cannot integrate GilgitBaltistaninto Pakistan as that would prejudice its international obligations with regard to the Kashmir conflict.
It has, however, become imperative for China that GilgitBaltistan has a political status within Pakistan. From Beijing’s point of view, a political status for GilgitBaltistan would address the domestic concerns of the local people from being exploited by Islamabad, and externally the Indian objections.
In this backdrop, a high level committee has been formed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, which is contemplating to elevate the constitutional status of GilgitBaltistan in a bid to provide legal cover to the multi-billion-dollar Chinese investment plan.
The proposal would see the mountainous region of GilgitBaltistan, for the first time in the country’s constitution, bringing it one step closer to being fully absorbed as an additional province of Pakistan.
The move signals a historic shift in the country’s position on the future of the wider Kashmir-Issue. Internationally, Pakistan has always insisted, yet not practiced, that the parts of Jammu & Kashmir it controls, are semi-autonomous and have therefore not been formally integrated into the country. In line with its claimed position that a referendum should be carried out across the whole of the region.
In addition to being named in the constitution, GilgitBaltistan would also send two lawmakers to sit in the federal parliament – though they would be given observer status only.
Hence, Pakistan’s move to illegally annex GilgitBaltistan, change the fundamentals of the actual Kashmir-issue and cement China’s stake in this dispute are in response to concerns raised by Beijing. China finds it internationally indefensible to invest billions of dollars on a road that passes through a disputed territory claimed both by India and Pakistan.
The actions of Pakistan totally negate the interests of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and their future, while jeopardizing any kind of solution to this long standing conflict.
I firmly believe that after Pakistan’s many attempts throughout history to change the demographics of GilgitBaltistan and its role in marginalizing the voice of the Kashmiri people on international platforms like the UN, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a deliberate attempt to change the constituents of the actual Kashmir-Issue.
If Pakistan imposes its sovereign writ over Gilgit-Baltistan, India will then have a political and moral right to fully integrate Jammu & Kashmir into India and scrap Article 370 of its constitution, which gives Jammu & Kashmir a special status.
Any kind of solution to the long standing Kashmir-Issue will only be jeopardized by these kind of intrusions. China is not investing billions of dollars to simply withdraw if any solution is found to the Kashmir Issue. China’s heavy investment in the disputed region is not speculative: it is a calculated investment to bolster her strategic interest in the region.
The corridor plans have been strongly opposed by people living in GilgitBaltistan and the rest of Jammu & Kashmir.
The much-publicized China-Pakistan Economic Corridor may benefit Pakistan and in particular its Punjab province, but it will render more than 10,000 people of GilgitBaltistan jobless, once the existing dry port is relocated from Sost in GilgitBaltistan to Havelianin Pakistan.
According to the local population and International observers, the region is deprived of all fundamental human and civil rights and it has no representation in the National Assembly of Pakistan or any other national legislative body. They believe that China is busy digging more than 22 tunnels in GilgitBaltistanfor deployment of missiles, while other areas in GilgitBaltistan are explored for natural mineral deposits especially gold resources. The local owners of these lands are barred from going to these areas.
The people of GilgitBaltistan have no say over their natural resources and minerals. All decision-making powers in relation to forest, power, tourism and minerals are under the direct control of the GilgitBaltistan Council, which is headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. All the mining licenses are also directly issued by Islamabad.
From day one, the federal government of Pakistan has never bothered to invite GilgitBaltistan officials to any national level meeting on the construction of this corridor.
Since the people of GilgitBaltistan, through whose territory the corridor passes, have had no say in CPEC projects, it means that Pakistan has virtually sold out the territory to China under the rubric of infrastructural development.
The region is completely excluded from the high financial profits that a project like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor would bring. Despite the fact that this corridor would cross the region and produce a number of negative environmental and ecological impacts.
GilgitBaltistan is already facing serious environmental problems in relation to climate change because of air and water pollution, inadequate waste disposal, natural resources depletion, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and glacier melting.
There is an abundance of water resources, minerals worth billions of dollars and an ocean of undiscovered tourism potential in this part of Jammu & Kashmir.GilgitBaltistan has notable reserves of copper, coal, iron, silver, and gold among other metals and minerals. The region is also blessed with considerable reserves of uranium.
The factories which will emerge during the construction of this corridor will use all the minerals of GilgitBaltistan as raw material for which the population will not be paid royalty.
There are at least 5000 glaciers, including three of the largest in the world outside of the polar regions, in GilgitBaltistan. It has almost 2500 glacial lakes. The potential of Power is 52.000 MW, while the requirement of the indigenous population is just 150 MW.
Researchers have already concluded that the current rise of temperature will dry up the glaciers in the Karakorum and Himalayan region within a century.
Toxic gasses by heavy traffic flow and construction works related to the establishment of this corridor will only accelerate the melting of the world’s largest reservoir of fresh water glaciers.
Geologists have concluded that erosion and weathering processes, seismic activity, steep terrain, snow melt, rainfall and irrigation for agriculture, and sediments carried by glacial melt into rivers have been the key triggers of the landslide in 2010, which created the Attabad Lake in Hunza area in GilgitBaltistan.
The landside swept away hundreds of Gilgit-Baltistan villages submerging into the Hunza River and leaving over 1.000 people displaced.
Inaction of Pakistan to adequately compensate the victims of these calamities caused massive protests by the local population, led by Baba Jan. In August 2011, the Police used violent means to crush the uprising and ended up killing two unarmed protestors, namely Afzal Baig and his father, SherUllahBaig.
In the aftermath of these brutal murders, Baba Jan organised more protests while demanding impartial investigations into the killings. Baba Jan along with his fellow activists was arrested and subjected to inhuman methods of tortures before being charged with violating Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act.
Amusingly, this Act according to Pakistan’s own constitution and Supreme Court, has no jurisdiction in GilgitBaltistan.
After he was granted bail, Baba Jan also protested against the selling-off of all the natural resources of the region to Chinese companies and challenged the forcible occupation of 2,800 square miles of the region’s land mass by the Chinese, as well as the annexation of Kohistan and Chitral into the Republic of Pakistan.
Fearing his victory in the bye-elections scheduled for May 2016, which were later delayed to June 2016, the Supreme Appellate Court of GilgitBaltistan sentenced Baba Jan and 11 other political activists, just 8 days ago, to a 40-year prison-termin a case based on fabricated charges of terrorism.
As you all can conclude from the injustice faced by Baba Jan and his associates, China’s presence in GilgitBaltistanstirred up more than China and Pakistan would want the world to believe. Human rights violations are the order of the day in the region while the State of Pakistan keeps operating and unleashing terror with total impunity. The Anti –Terrorism Act is being used to silence voices of justified dissent.
Based onfirm historical evidence and logically drawn inferences and analyses, I am of the opinionthat the construction of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is illegal and in contravention of international law.
Gilgit Baltistan is an integral part of Jammu & Kashmir State, the future status of which still needs to be decided according to the wishes of the people living in Jammu, Ladakh, the Kashmir Valley, Pakistan Administered Kashmir and indeed, GilgitBaltistan.
The construction of this corridor, complimented by the military benefits for both China and Pakistan and an investment of 46 billion dollars, has all the ingredients to exacerbate the complexities of the Kashmir-Issue, threaten peace and secure China’s strategic interests by allowing it, to increase its illegitimate share in Jammu & Kashmir.
The people in GilgitBaltistan are not in need of economic corridors of exploitation. They have been longing for basic human rights and their political liberties since the last 70 years. No country, not even our so-called elder brother and benefactor, has the liberty to impose economic corridors on us by force.
In order to protest against Pakistani attempts to illegally annex GilgitBaltistan, China’s designs in the region and to raise awareness regarding the objections of the people of GilgitBaltistan in particular, and Jammu & Kashmir in general, I have initiated a Signature Campaign against the CPEC in major European cities.
This Signature campaign has already been held in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Vienna. Tomorrow and Sunday, the 18th and 19thof June, I will be holding this Signature Campaign here in Geneva, in front of the United Nations, next to the Broken Chair. The signature-lists have also been made available in this room.
On behalf of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, I would humbly like to invite you all to join me in protesting against the nefarious designs of China and Pakistan.
I appeal you to come and sign against the human rights violations in GilgitBaltistan and show your support to a just and humanitarian cause.
I appeal you to sign against Chinese and Pakistani attempts, aimed at the further division of my homeland.
I appeal you to sign for Justice.
– This is the speech given by Junaid Qureshi on the 17th of June 2016 during 32nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva at a Seminar, ‘China in GilgitBaltistan: Its implications’, on the invitation of an European based NGO, World Environment and Resource Council. Among other speakers were Mr. RyszardCzarnecki, Vice President of the European Parliament.