12 years back In August 2010, the New York Times had reported the influx of 7,000-11,000 soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Gilgit-Baltistan. The report also said that mystery surrounds the construction of 22 tunnels in secret locations where even Pakistanis are barred from visiting, which could also be used as missile storage sites.

The report citing foreign intelligence sources, Pakistani media and Pakistani Human Rights groups, said that the PLA construction crews, who earlier were in temporary encampments, were building large residential complexes for permanent presence.

Indian newspapers reproduced the NYT report but there was no comment or concern expressed by our government and our intelligence agencies attired in ‘emperor’s clothes’ who probably heard of PLA presence in Gilgit-Baltistan for the first time. Concurrently, speculation in regional media of Gilgit-Baltistan was that Pakistan had secretly leased Gilgit-Baltistan to China for 50 years. This speculation has re-emerged in the Indian media in recent months.

Periodic reports over the years have indicated the following:

  • Pakistan shifted major sunni-muslim terrorist camps into Gilgit-Baltistan but its move to marry off local Shia girls to Sunni terrorists did not worked out as planned.
  • The Pakistani establishment has been selectively targeting Shias in Gilgit-Baltistan; Shia population was estimated to have been brought down from 70 percent to about 50 percent by 2014.
  • PLA and PLA owned companied engaged in construction of the Karakoram Highway, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and projects connected with the CPEC.
  • Vehicle-borne detachment of armed PLA soldiers in civil attire guarding the CPEC.
  • PLA engaged in development of dams and hydel projects in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
  • Maltreatment by Chinese contractors and lack of compensation by Pakistan causing resentment in locals of Gilgit-Baltistan.
  • China funding and arming terrorism in J&K – same as in the northeast,
  • Chinese flags and literature seized in J&K.
  • PLA soldiers have been observed on Pakistani posts along the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K.
  • PLA constructing bunkers, pill boxes and defence works for the Pakistani army.

On October 27, 2022, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in what is being construed as a tough message to Pakistan, said, “We have only just begun walking north, our journey will be complete when we implement the resolution passed unanimously by the Indian Parliament on February 22, 1994 by reaching the remaining parts of Gilgit and Baltistan. Rajnath was speaking at the ‘Shaurya Diwas’ celebrations to mark 75 years of the landing of Indian Army troops at Budgam airfield to protect J&K from Pakistani raiders.

Rajnath did not elaborate how he would walk into Gilgit-Baltistan. Would he be part of Imran Khan’s long march, go via Timbuktu or jump out from a satellite with a posse of Agniveers? Pakistan would be mighty amused with this ‘geedar bhabhaki’ – no guts to push back PLA intrusions in Ladakh in 2020 but boasting to walk into Gilgit-Baltistan with Chinese troops in situ? Would Beijing respond beyond mere Kadi Ninda or Ghor Ninda?   

Some of our politicians behave not just like frogs in the well but more like dumb frogs sitting on a hydra-headed serpent unaware of the implications. The least we can learn from China is prepare well in advance (without shouting from rooftops) and then grab the opportunity when it presents itself.  Isn’t this what China did in Eastern Ladakh in 2020. Earlier we had Union Minister Amit Shah thumping the table in Parliament and saying we will take back Aksai Chin. But now we have landed up in a situation where the PLA is sitting 20 km inside Depsang Plains and no one dare squeak about Aksai Chin any more.  

For the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the meaning of defence apparently is to secure the chairs of the politicians and the bureaucrats. No one wants a national security strategy because it would call for accountability. So, ways are found to divert attention – the Agnipath scheme being just one example. The latest in this series is the news report of MoD seeking information on the British-era names of roads, schools, towns and cantonment areas in Uttrakhand for renaming them with those relevant to local culture. 

The media report quotes unnamed defence officials in Uttrakhand saying that following MoD’s instructions, a proposal has been made to change the name Lansdowne to ‘Kalon Danda’ which in Garhwali means ‘black mountain’. Lansdowne Cantonment has the Garhwal Rifles Regimental Centre. The special interest in Uttrakhand is obviously because the NSA and the CDS hail from that state. But why is Rajnath not interested in renaming a road in the national capital – Krishna Menon Marg; named after the rat who contributed to the 1962 debacle? Many have periodically called for this road to be renamed Sam Manekshaw Marg but why is the MoD ignoring it? Surely Rajnath is not hoping another road named after him for his contribution to the 2020 debacle in Ladakh.   

Planning to take back our territories in illegal occupation of Pakistan and China is must. But the question is what have we done about it? Why are we not even making Pakistan pay for its terrorism in J&K and elsewhere beyond looking up to the US and the toothless UN, while the ISI helps the CIA in America’s dirty war? What have we done to capitalize on the dissent inside Gilgit-Baltistan? Counting the number of terrorists killed in J&K is hardly the counter to Pakistan’s proxy war because Pakistan’s low cost strategy of terrorism (hybrid terrorists included) is continuing unabated.  

Has any thought been given to reverse the proxy war on the Pakistani side of the LoC? No need to harp on the ‘surgical strike’ which was a reactive raid and more of a political compulsion. We may even witness another raid in run up to the 2024 general elections, which could even be given another fancy name like ‘orthopedic strike’ for political effect. But is that really enough? Have we, for example, exploited the religious divide in Gilgit-Baltistan?

Pakistani journalist Kiran Nazish writes that non-Sunnis (not just Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others) are termed ‘Kafirs’ in Pakistan and even tormented by fellow worshipers at a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers. She says sectarianism divides Pakistan’s politics, military, media, militant groups and eventually the people divide themselves. But we can exploit such fault-lines only if our own politicians are not indulging in polarizing the society for political gains, including getting mass murderers and rapists out of jail, latest being the rapist-murderer Gurmeet Ram Rahim.   

Pakistan is in an economic mess and heavily armed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) cadres have been arriving by the thousands in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) from Afghanistan. But Talibanization of Pakistan will have its own fallout on India. China is also worried about terrorist attacks on the CPEC and has reduced funding for CPEC projects. However, China’s strategic interests in Pakistan will keep growing and the US also will not abandon Pakistan.     

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is visiting China on November 1, 2022 on an invitation by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Sharif is among the first batch of foreign leaders to visit China after the 20th Congress of China’s Communist Party (CCP) and is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, hold talks with Li Keqiang and meet Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Li Zhanshu. Compare this to the last visit of Imran Khan as the prime minister heading a delegation to Beijing when Xi did not give an audience to Imran and the other Chinese officials only gave a video audience to him under the pretext of Covid

The CPEC will obviously be the focus during Sharif’s China visit. But the next strategy of the China-Pakistan anti-India collusion will also be discussed. Our dumb-frog politicians may not have noticed that in his just finished second presidential tenure, Xi Jinping allowed postings of Pakistani army officers in the headquarters of China’s Western Theatre Command and Southern Theatre Command. The aim of such a move is obvious and having secured the third presidential term, Xi would be much more aggressive.

The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.


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