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People in Occupied Kashmir Fear China May Annex Gilgit-Baltistan, Express Desire to Join India

Special Report by Dr. Sakariya Kareem

Amid protests in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) against inflated power bills, concerns are growing about China’s intentions to annex Gilgit-Baltistan. This comes as Pakistani Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar visits Beijing to discuss the realignment of the Karakoram Highway, acceleration of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, and improvements to the Chinese-managed Gwadar Port.

People in PoK fear that intensified CPEC projects will lead to greater exploitation of their resources by China and further inflated power bills. Protests against high power bills have been recurring, with significant demonstrations in February and September of this year.

Residents of PoK oppose CPEC projects, citing the forcible acquisition of their land without compensation for roads and hydro-electric power stations that do not benefit them. Activists warn that CPEC projects could cause major ecological imbalances. The European Union and India have previously warned that CPEC construction in PoK violates Indian sovereignty rights.

Analysts suggest that once China establishes a foothold in Pak-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan (PoGB), it will never vacate the area due to its strategic importance. There are concerns that China aims to control PoGB and possibly eliminate the Uighur population there. Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister, during his Beijing visit, has supported China’s controversial policies towards the Uighurs in Xinjiang, which borders Gilgit-Baltistan.

Islamabad appears willing to let China take control of PoGB, a Shia-majority area that seeks independence from Pakistan. Abdul Hamid Khan, Chairman of the Balawaristan National Front, asserts that PoGB residents prefer to join India. He claims that the Pakistani administration has altered PoGB’s demographic profile by allocating large tracts of land to non-locals.

The roads constructed under CPEC are used to transport PoK’s resources to prosperous Pakistani provinces like Punjab and Sindh. The power generated in PoK primarily serves these provinces, while Chinese firms profit from these projects. A probe by the previous Imran Khan government revealed that six China-funded CPEC power projects had overcharged, leading to significant profits for Chinese companies.

Pakistan’s major power crisis means it relies heavily on electricity from Gilgit-Baltistan, depriving local residents of royalties and employment opportunities. Chinese workers dominate these projects, leaving PoK residents jobless.

Senge H. Sering, Director of the Gilgit Baltistan National Congress, highlights that land acquisition for CPEC projects is done forcibly, without compensation. The planned realignment of the Karakoram Highway, discussed during the Deputy Prime Minister’s Beijing visit, has raised further concerns about forced land acquisition.

Controversial hydro-power projects in PoK, such as the Azad Pattan and Kohala Dams, have faced local protests. Both projects are heavily funded and controlled by Chinese companies.

Protests in PoK against high power bills have intensified, as the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) allows power producers to charge consumers additional tariffs for security costs associated with CPEC projects. This decision, along with ongoing attacks on Chinese workers in Pakistan, underscores the volatility of Chinese investments in the region.

In July 2021, nine Chinese engineers were killed in a bus explosion at the Dasu hydropower plant. In March 2024, five more Chinese engineers were killed in a suicide bomb attack at the same site. The Baloch Liberation Army has threatened to escalate attacks on Chinese nationals unless China withdraws its personnel and dismantles its projects in Balochistan.

As Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China deepens, the people of PoK continue to grapple with the implications of these developments on their land, resources, and future.


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