By Babar Ali Bhatti
Surrounded by Afghanistan and three nuclear power countries China, India and Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan’s strategic value does not need to be implied anymore
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is much more than just roads. Rather, it is a complete framework of energy, infrastructure, ports and industry related projects. It would connect Khunjrab to Gwadar, and China has pledged to invest over $46 billion for this project. The establishment of economic zones is also part of the CPEC. This project is causing immense curiosity amongst national and international analysts and economists. It is being considered as the game changer for the entire region because of its unique nature and the fact that it does not have any historical counterpart.
Gilgit-Baltistan and its peaceful people have generously offered their lands for the accomplishment of project desired by both China and Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan with Ladakh has a combined area larger than Syria. This combined area is a resource-rich landscape of multiple ethnic heritages. Surrounded by Afghanistan and three nuclear power countries China, India and Pakistan, this region’s strategic value does not need to be implied anymore. The capital of Gilgit-Baltistan — Gilgit and the capital of Ladakh — Leh are both located on the proposed Silk Road and play their roles as hub cities by establishing the connection among Xinjiang, Punjab and Tibet. Besides, its marvelous beauty also lures the tourists from across the world.
After the materialisation of CPEC, GB would undoubtedly become more significant than ever before, despite the fact that its benefits for GB are yet to be defined. The robustness of CPEC now lies in the heart of GB along with other points. Therefore, more attention must be given to the GB and its people. People of Gilgit-Baltistan are serving in various sectors of Pakistan, including the military and other armed forces. They have fully indulged themselves in the whole Pakistan cordially including the ethnic-linguistic heritages of Punjab, Sindh and so on.
Although Chief Minister Hafeezur Rahman has again ensured that two economic zones will be set up in the region and that land for one zone has already been identified in Gilgit. However, two economic zones might not necessarily bear enough fruits for Gilgit. Moreover, that has been the sole benefit that has been told to people of GB who do not find it enough to contend.
GB must be given its due share as it has been generously participating in the mega project. Its due share is yet to be calculated, which must be made by bringing GB on the CPEC table. After reckoning the pattern of equal distribution among all other provinces of Pakistan, GB should be given more benefits comparatively and all the benefits, whatsoever, under this project must also be told to people of this region.
Security measures have already been taken into account for the entire CPEC route. Instead of militarising the entire region, local police should be given more incentive and facilities so that they could work with absolute devotion. Police may work more effectively than any other institution at the domestic level.
After becoming the centre of ethnic strife, this region, unfortunately, demands more attention on different grounds including anti-ethnicity rhetoric. As demanded by the deputy speaker of GB, a few days ago, Pakistan Islamic Ideology Council must visit the GB to calm (as much as they can) the uncertainties, which may lead to ethnic bloodshed. Religious clergy must also be urged to play their part with full potential to expunge the menace of ethnicity. Clergy of GB should be given a presentation on all available forums in Pakistan. Sectarian harmony is desperately needed to assure long lasting peace. All these kind of measures must be simultaneously taken.
Thereafter, the controversial legal position of GB should be resolved now. Pakistan must raise the constitutional status of GB for it would reinforce the belief of completion of CPEC. The International community can question the Chinese corporations that they are building multi-billion economic corridors on the place which does not even have any constitutional framework. A way must be sorted out with utmost conventional wisdom to raise the constitutional status of the region without affecting the status of Kashmir.
All of these steps are not only significant because of their strategic role in successfully completing the CPEC, but also for the people of GB to eliminate their deprivation and further integration into Pakistan. National integrity is acute for the completion of CPEC including the full integration of Gilgit-Baltistan in the project.
The writer is Islamabad based columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in the Daily Times