Locals in Gilgit-Baltistan, PoK protest against rising Chinese presence
The growing Chinese presence in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) regions has irked locals who are now protesting the exploitation of natural resources by both China and Pakistan for what they have termed as selfish economic gains.
According to a report by news agency ANI, people are strongly opposing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as it has failed to provide any tangible benefits for them.
The project, launched in April 2015 during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Pakistan, aims to link western China with Balochistan's Gwadar deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea via PoK through a massive and complex network of roads, allowing China access to the Middle East via the Arabian Sea.
The corridor, regarded as the biggest connectivity project between the two countries after Karakoram highway built in 1979, is a centrepiece of China's ambitions to shorten the route for its energy imports from the Middle East. China has played down India's concerns on the 3,000-km corridor that passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), saying that it is a commercial project.
Pakistan is raising a 17,280- strong force to provide security to the ambitious USD 46 billion project and both countries have even planned a satellite to monitor it development.
The project, touted as the biggest commercial venture that aims to bring ‘socio-economic change’, has alienated residents who allege that all stakeholders were not consulted before project was finalised.
"People want that at least they should be informed about the project, be taken into confidence so that they get to know what all benefits they will get from this project. We fear that this should not happen as if we sit idle and only count the number of trucks coming from China side and not benefit even a bit," ANI quoted Abdul Rehman Bukhari, a local resident, as saying.
Locals further allege that the presence of Chinese workers in the region has left them without jobs.
Environmentalists have also raised concern that CPEC project will create a huge ecological imbalance in the region.
"They are constructing 60 economic zones as per the CPEC project, but none of these zones exist in Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. The CPEC will pass through these areas, but they are only constructing an army headquarter in Diamer for the security of the corridor. But out of 40 million USD to be spent on the project, there is no investment in Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir," leader of the Kashmir National Party Mohd Naeem Khan said.
Recently locals in PoK came on streets to protest against what they alleged “rigged elections”. The protesters burnt Pakistani flag and clashed with the police against results of elections that took place on July 21.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party PML-N had won 31 out of 41 seats in the elections.