A sharp criticism and opposition is rising among Kashmiris as Pakistan and China are constructing a multi-layered infrastructure project, which passes through Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a 51.5 billion dollar project that aims to connect Kashgar, in China’s western province of Xinjiang, with the port of Gwadar in the Pakistani province of Balochistan.
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The road and rail network under the project traverses through Gilgit Baltistan.
While CPEC is being touted as a ‘game changer’ for Pakistan and China by the leaders, the people of PoK and Gilgit Baltistan claim the project is another attempt to make them slaves. The project brings no industry and fails to create jobs for the locals.
Mohd. Ali Shafa, an academician and human rights activist in Gilgit said, “Our educated youth is roaming without any jobs. The SHO, Chief Secretary, IGP, SSP or any other good government post, people from Punjab have been appointed at all these places.”
“In the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), our people are not hired as they do not have any government backing. There is no one to raise our point at the assembly or in the senate. There are no jobs, no opportunities and no business,” said Shafa.
The CPEC enters Pakistan from China through the Karakoram Highway.
Though Gilgit Baltistan plays a key role in the CPEC project and all roads and pipelines crossing into China from Pakistan will run through this mountainous region, there are no plans for any special economic packages to support the people of Gilgit.
The locals, as stakeholders in the project, have been demanding that the Pakistani government shares details of the project with them, failing which they would consider the project, being constructed through an area contested by India, as illegal.
Nasir Aziz Khan, spokesperson of United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP), said, “Pakistan has allowed China to get access into the PoK and Gilgit Baltistan and is signing new pacts without the consultation of locals. The local population has not received any benefit. The CPEC has no mention of the PoK and Gilgit. All benefits will go to Pakistan and China and they will use the land of Kashmir and exploit its natural resources.”
As a largely remote area with a delicate eco-system, Gilgit has been grappling with the problem of ecological imbalance due to uncontrolled deforestation.
Now, with the CPEC project planning to upgrade the Karakoram highway and build a rail network in the region, there are concerns that the project will displace thousands of locals and render them homeless, and also disturb the fragile ecology of the region.