Monday, July 22, 2024

Impact of CPEC 2.0 on Gilgit Baltistan (POJK)

Washington, DC – Despite financial and security concerns, Pakistan and China have launched CPEC 2.0 with a renewed emphasis on manufacturing, mining, farming, intergovernmental support, market adaptation, and media mobilization.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, accompanied by over 100 Pakistani leaders, including 79 enterprise heads, has just returned from Beijing, where the two countries signed 23 agreements related to CPEC 2.0. The Chinese government expects Pakistan to help Chinese enterprises expand their footprint by exploring investment and partnership opportunities in information technology, innovation, green transition, tourism, aerospace, science and technology, and education and culture sectors.

CPEC aims to reduce the time and cost of transporting oil, gas, minerals, and other commodities overland through Gilgit rather than via the Indian and Pacific oceans.  According to the Financial Times, CPEC currently includes 23 energy projects, seven major road and rail lines, nine special economic zones, and the Gwadar seaport and airport.

In 2021, Pakistan’s parliament passed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority Act. According to Nikkei Asia, the controversial law, which many political parties and civil liberties organizations rejected, empowers the country’s military generals in managing CPEC projects and revenue. These officials enjoy immunity while dealing with billions of dollars in transactions and would not be accountable to Pakistani civilian courts. The law also enables the CPEC officials to harass and scrutinize entities for refusing cooperation.

The Financial Times quotes Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s former planning minister, saying that his party had opposed the passage of the CPEC Authority Act since it weakened the civilian government and gave the military absolute control. According to Professor Adnan Nasimullah of King’s College in London, the CPEC will continue to be a military project due to its strategic outlook.

Under this law, Pakistan cedes even more control to the Chinese government. The Act designates China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Beijing’s top planning agency, as co-chair of the CPEC authority committee.

Beijing prefers the Pakistani military to the democratically elected federal and provincial governments to oversee CPEC projects. The Pakistani military controls vast areas of the country’s farmland in order to run agriculture-related corporations such as the lucrative Fauji Foundation. The military also controls the cement industry, mining, shipbuilding, housing, banking, and oil and gas exploration. The Military’s Frontier Works Organization (FWO), the National Logistics Cell (NLC), and the Special Communications Organization (SCO) continue to be at the forefront of profiting from CPEC contracts.

On April 23, 2024, the Gilgit Baltistan government and a newly established military-affiliated company called Green Tourism Limited (GTL) signed an agreement to lease 44 vacation sites in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan. According to a letter issued by the Gilgit Baltistan Tourism, Sports, and Culture Department on March 8, 2024, “a company, namely Green Tourism (Private) Limited, registered under the Companies Ordinance of 1984, and having 99% share of Pakistani Army has shown interest to acquire 20 rest houses of works department and 17 rest houses of forest department on lease cum joint profit sharing basis for a period of 30 years.” The inventory also includes seven Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation lodges. The company also claims Skardo City Park, which covers 7 acres, and the Hoto orchards and plantation, which covers 57 acres. The company will also manage 8 acres of recreational land near the well-known Phander Lake and Shandur Polo Ground.

According to media reports, GTL was established on January 26, 2024, and operates under the auspices of the federal government’s Special Investment Facilitation Council. In addition to ventures in Gilgit Baltistan, the company has claimed over 120 tourist venues throughout Pakistan. GTL’s Arsalan Ahmed Malik opines that the company would make efforts to generate business and employment in Gilgit Baltistan as Pakistan has the potential to generate up to $30 billion per year from tourism. The company provides an opportunity for the Pakistan Army to enter the tourism sector and operate hotels, bungalows, and other tourist infrastructure.

According to the Friday Times, GTL’s actions will deprive locals in Gilgit Baltistan of their livelihoods. Tourism, as the economic lifeline of this Himalayan region, is the leading source of local income. Locals believe that, like the British East India Company, GTL will illegally encroach on hundreds of acres of common property essential for animal husbandry, herbal production, horticulture, fisheries, and subsistence farming. In addition to lodges, the military will have control over local national parks, trophy hunting reserves, lakes, river and glacial trekking trails, polo fields, and forest reserves.

The Gilgit Baltistan government claims that the military’s role will be limited to ensure transparency and smooth departmental coordination, and the army intends to withdraw once the private enterprise stands on its own feet.

The secret agreement between the Gilgit-Baltistan government and the GTL has sparked public discontent. Activists argue that the local tourism industry is already thriving without outside assistance and that if the government wanted to generate revenue, the lodges should have been offered first to local tourism businesses. More and more locals are taking to social media to condemn this scheme.

Local political bodies such as the Baltistan Youth Federation, Gilgit Baltistan United Movement, Awami Workers Party of Gilgit Baltistan, Karakorum National Movement, Awami Action Committee, Astore Supreme Council, and Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) have held several rallies and demonstrations in recent months to resist GTL’s illegal encroachment on public lands. In Islamabad, police arrested many students of Gilgit Baltistan who were protesting the transfer of local lands to GTL.

MWM’s Aga Ali Rizvi condemns the company’s acquisition of public lands as both un-Islamic and unconstitutional. He contends that the properties managed by the forest department are community-owned and cannot be leased without their permission.

Awami Workers Party of Gilgit Baltistan terms this sinister land deal as coercion, manipulation, and illegal occupation. According to advocate Ehsan Ali of the Awami Action Committee, Gilgit Baltistan is a disputed territory, and the Pakistani military and its affiliated enterprises have no legal right to claim land there. The Karakorum National Movement exclaims that such a short-sighted move will result in massive deforestation and irreversible environmental disasters.

Nawaz Naji, a member of the Gilgit Baltistan Assembly, chastised the government for leasing valuable public assets without first holding an assembly debate. The Astore Supreme Council warns GTL against claiming ownership of the Rama Lake and surrounding acreage, emphasizing that it belongs to the people of Eidgah, Chongrah, and Patipura villages.

Najaf Ali of the Awami Action Committee warned that failure to respect local sentiments would jeopardize regional economic and political stability. Shabbir Mayar of Gilgit Baltistan United Movement said that the government is creating a situation similar to what exists in Muzaffarabad, where a recent clash between locals and Pakistani paramilitaries resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries.

Locals in POJK do not have high hopes for Pakistan, which has not learned any lessons from Bangladesh or Balochistan.

Author profile
Senge Sering

Senge Sering is a native of Pakistan-occupied-Gilgit-Baltistan and runs the Washington DC based Gilgit Baltistan Studies


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