Economy

Secretive land acquisition for China creates sense of dread in Pakistan

By Zarak Khan

Residents of Hunza on July 1 protest against leasing land to Chinese companies. [Awami Workers Party]

Residents of Hunza on July 1 protest against leasing land to Chinese companies. [Awami Workers Party]

ISLAMABAD -- Showing resentment against Chinese investment in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, civil society groups and rights activists in the area are warning that a recent plan to acquire additional land for Chinese companies is creating new conflicts in the region.

Gilgit-Baltistan region shares a border with China's Muslim-majority Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and is a gateway to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a Pakistani component of China's controversial Belt and Road Initiative, also known as One Belt One Road (OBOR).

The region is home to the Himalayas and the world's second highest mountain, K2, and because of it, domestic tourist numbers rocketed to nearly 700,000 in 2021, government figures said.

However, local residents and civil society activists are concerned about land grabs and demographic shifts because the government has been acquiring land for Chinese companies to build a plant for multiple unannounced purposes.

This photograph taken on May 17 shows the base of a Chinese consortium in Logar province, Afghanistan. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

This photograph taken on May 17 shows the base of a Chinese consortium in Logar province, Afghanistan. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Some activists claimed that China has plans to build a processing plant for the lithium it will mine and transport from Afghanistan in the near future.

China is already eyeing up Afghanistan's vast mineral wealth, using the excuse of wanting to help rebuild the war-torn country.

Afghanistan's resources include bauxite, copper, iron ore, lithium, and rare earth elements, according to a January 2021 report by the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Since April, residents, civil society activists, and political workers organised several protests against secret agreements between Islamabad and a Chinese company to lease the land of the upper Hunza Valley.

Activists also have denounced Pakistani media outlets for bowing to federal government pressure and ignoring the protests -- all in an effort to protect Sino-Pakistani relations.

On July 1, hundreds of residents of the Nasirabad area of Hunza district organised protests outside the Gilgit Press Club against the issuance of a mineral lease to a private company in their area, Dawn reported July 2.

"Residents of the area will not allow any outsider company, including Chinese, to take their land on lease," said Hussain, a leader of the protest, who requested to use his surname only for security reasons.

Some reports say that China has been building a lithium processing plant in the region, said Hussain.

"The Pakistani government should disclose all project agreements it inked with China that will be carried out in Gilgit-Baltistan," he said. "We also demand the government share the environmental impact studies of the projects and their impact on the area and local population."

Land is a precious commodity in the mountainous terrain of Gilgit-Baltistan. Activists and residents fear that the CPEC-related projects will swallow their lands.

The federal government has already allocated about 250 acres of land for Moqpondass Special Economic Zone in the region.

Creating new conflict

Chinese investment in Gilgit-Baltistan benefits only Beijing and could spark armed resistance to it, said activists pointing to the experiences of Balochsitan and Sindh province.

Conflicts between Islamabad and local groups are already evident in Balochistan and Sindh provinces, where local ethnic militant groups have formed an alliance, called Baloch Raji Aajoi Saangar (BRAS), to attack Chinese interests in Pakistan.

"Now such elements in Gilgit-Baltistan could exploit the situation if the concerns of the local population about Chinese investment are not resolved properly," said Muhammad Shafiq Hunzai, a college professor of political science in Hunza.

"The Chinese are known for implementing development projects without caring much about the environment, local culture or religion," he said.

"On one side, the lands have been taken over forcibly in the name of CPEC projects, while on the other side, the area has been secured by deployments of largre numbers of army personnel in the name to protect Chinese nationals," he said.

Chinese investment could even lead to violence and bloodshed in Gilgit-Baltistan, the country's most peaceful region, if the government does not change its stance on Beijing's increasing role in the country, he said.

Detaining Uighur wives

Beijing's oppression of Muslims has spilled across the border into Gilgit-Baltistan as the regime continues to detain hundreds of Uighur wives and children of Pakistani nationals, hardening anti-China sentiment in the country.

A large group of men, mainly from the Gilgit-Baltistan region, have been campaigning since 2017 for the release of their Uighur Muslim wives, who reportedly are being held in the Chinese regime's notorious "indoctrination camps".

Residents of Gilgit-Baltistan and Xinjiang frequently visit each other via the Khunjerab Pass and intermarry.

In 2018, the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly unanimously demanded that the federal government take urgent steps to secure the release of the detained wives in Xinjiang.

However, despite large-scale protest and the local parliament's resoultion, Chinese authorities did not release wives and children of Gilgit-Baltistan residents yet.

Do you like this article?

6 Comment

Comment Policy * Denotes required field 1500 / 1500

Mr. Qana writes: The Chinese are greedy, ruthless, and heartless thieves. They are similar to the interest receiver Sulaiman Khel s of Assam (India). At first, they would give you a loan with little interest. They slowly increase the amount of interest, and finally, they would make you addicted to interest, as they would turn their interest market to the base of Pul-e-Sokhta [part of Kabul city]'s heroin smokers. China threw Pakistan from the cliff. Russians do not allow them to invest in Central Asia. The Gulf countries are under the control of the United States. Iran also knows them, and they keep the Iranian territory away from the market of Chinese industries. summary Beware of China. Chinese investment is a sweet that is seasoned with poison.

Reply

Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit, and Baltistan are parts of Afghanistan that were cut off from Afghanistan by the British rule by the alleged Durand Line, and Pakistan treats them as an occupied region; this is why it has let the Chinese extort and loot it, and doesn't care about the environment or the interests of the people. It will also extract the wealth of the occupied region with Chinese support and use it for the progress of Punjab (Pakistan).

Reply

China's sinister foot is dragged to Afghanistan too. According to the reports from Balkh province, in the north of Afghanistan, Pakistan's intelligence officials in collaboration with Chinese intelligence officers have started an inspection operation for the Uighur minority. They go from house to house in the Balkh district of Balkh province to find members of this minority group. It has been said that after being arrested, the members of this group experienced various types of persecution and were even subjected to death; some of them were taken to China. Afghanistan's Uyghurs, which make up an estimated 2,000 people, are second-generation immigrants who fled their homeland decades ago and long before the starting of China's ongoing crackdown policy on Muslims. Most of these people live in Balkh province. Through your website, I call on the international community to prevent China from implementing its anti-human policy against the impoverished Uyghurs here. I also ask the Taliban to treat the Uighurs, our Muslim brothers, in an Afghan and compassionate manner and to stop torturing them.

Reply

A few days ago, Iran's Tasnim news agency published a report on this topic. The report stated that Pakistani forces and engineers have invaded the Nuristan province of Afghanistan and are trying to steal Afghanistan's mines. Salaam Times' report shows that Pakistan and China jointly want to loot Afghanistan's mines. Salaam Times should give Afghans the mindset that Pakistan is Afghanistan's enemy and Afghans should always be ready against Pakistan.

Reply

It seems that not only Pakistan but China is also a partner in the theft and joined hands to loot all the assets of Afghanistan. However, Pakistan is very rude. It shouts every time and on every stage that Afghanistan is its friendly country but has many traps behind its friendship.

Reply

Pakistan made close ties with China, hoping to benefit from the abundant financial resources of China on the one hand and to get privileges from China's rival, the United States, on the other hand. In contrast, as it seems, Pakistan not only didn't achieve these dreams, but the agreement with China resulted to the detriment of Pakistan. By becoming a close friend of China, Pakistan made the United States, other western countries, and its people inside angry. Pakistanis thought that with the start of the CPEC project, they would have jobs and occupations. However, as per their roles, the Chinese hired all their workers from China. Even the ordinary workers of these projects were Chinese. Along with these, the Punjabi government of Pakistan tried to consume all the money of the Chinese in the states of Sindh and Punjab, which caused anger among the people in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now the issue of land acquisition has raised, and indeed, Pakistan would suffer once again.

Reply