Trouble brewing over ‘territorial aggression’ in Gilgit-Baltistan

New Delhi, March 14 (IANS) A large chunk of the Gilgit-Baltistan area, part of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, has been allegedly occupied by the neighbouring north-west frontier province, triggering protests in the Shia-dominated region, also claimed by India as part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir state.

Large contingents of Pakistan paramilitary troopers have been deployed in the apprehension of trouble brewing in the occupied 25 kilometre border area that connects divided Gilgit-Baltistan with the Khyber Pakthtunkhwa province, according to a news report in “Baad-e-Shimaal”, a respected Urdu daily in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

“And the Gilgit-Baltistan government is watching like a mute spectator,” the daily said in its frontpage lead story of the Monday edition.

“The provincial government has deployed Chitral forces in the area after illegally taking over and including the occupied mineral rich chunk of land in its territory.”

A lawmaker, Sarfaraz Shah, has reportedly written a letter in protest against the “territorial aggression” to the government of the frontier province asking it to vacate the land.

However, the government has denied the allegation and dismissed the lawmaker’s protest, saying that the land forms part of the province and “deploying paramilitary Chitral forces is our right”, the daily said.

The report came after alarm bells rang in the Indian security establishment following Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops being spotted at forward posts along the Line of Control (LoC) along Pakistan-administered Kashmir where the Chinese government is building a Jhelum-Neelam 970 MW Hydel power project.

Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan after the 1948 war. Pakistan has separated Gilgit-Baltistan from the areas occupied by it in Kashmir and designated it as a separate administrative territory.

The landlocked region borders the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan to the northwest, China’s Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang to the northeast, Indian Kashmir to the south and southeast, Pakistani Kashmir to the south, and Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province to the west.

The Chinese government is said to have made huge investments in the vast but sparsely populated Gilgit-Baltistan area, bisected by the Karakoram highway, which leads from the plains of north Pakistan to China.

The Pakistan government has signed a multi-billion dollar deal on a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through Gilgit, which activists and separatists in the region see as a design by the two neighbours to exploit the resources in the occupied territory. The corridor is said to be part of China’s ambitious proposed 21st century Silk Road (also called the Belt and Road) initiative to reach out to Central Asia.

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