New Delhi 16 March 2016
After Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops were spotted in forward posts along the Line of Control in PoK, sources in defence and security establishment back in India claim that the presence of Chinese troops has been so large and intrusive, it seems the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) has become China Occupied Kashmir (ChoK). Specially, more so this time Pakistan Army is working directly under the aegis of Chinese PLA right in PoK as China’s new counter terrorism law has been discretely amended to facilitate PLA troops deployment overseas. Recently, Pakistan Army has raised three additional brigades with artillery and attack helicopter support under a Special Security Division (SSD). Out of 12,000 troops in SSD, 4,000 belong to Special Service Group (SSG) trained in counter terrorism all meant to defend $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in active coherence and orders from Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
After the news of deployment of Chinese troops in PoK widely reported in India, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang’s shrugged off the presence of Chinese soldiers in PoK when specifically asked to confirm the reports in India, which said that PLA troops have also been spotted in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. “I have not heard of it”, replied Lu Kang.
Kang said, “China’s position on the Kashmir issue is consistent. We believe it is an issue between India and Pakistan left over from history and should be properly handled by the two sides through dialogue and consultation” when asked “Does their (Chinese PLA troop’s) presence have anything to do with the building of China-Pakistan economic corridor? Is China concerned that the building of the corridor will impede China-India relations?”
With the new development, it is pertinent to analyse if the status of PoK is being changed? What is the security significance of this? Are these Chinese workers or are they Chinese military personnel as reports indicated? asks Brigadier (Retd) Arun Sehgal, Director General, Forum for Strategic Initiative.
According to defence experts, Chinese have larger designs with regards to PoK than India can even think of. Pakistan in November last year on orders of Chinese military leadership has changed security plan of China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan had upgraded three layered security cover to four layered security cover for over 3,000km-long trade route that will connect the Gwadar port to China’s north-western Xinjiang province, the fourth layer being added is that of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). CPEC Project Director Maj Gen (Retd) Zahir Shah in November 2015 claimed that 500 Chinese security personnel will be deployed in PoKfor capacity-building of the newly-raised special force as well as local police to better guard the sensitive routes surrounding the port. But it seems the number of Chinese troops has increased far beyond mere 500.
Soon after this tacit understanding to deploy Chinese troops in PoK, China has amended it’s counter terrorism law and passed it in December 2015. New anti-terror law permitted Chinese PLA soldiers to be deployed overseas. Article 71 under Chapter VII of new Chinese Counter Terrorism Law on International Cooperation says, “Upon reaching an agreement with relevant nations and reporting to the State Council for approval, the State Council Public Security Department and national security department may assign people to leave the country on counter-terrorism missions”. “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Chinese People’s armed police forces may assign people to leave the country on counter-terrorism missions as approved by the Central Military Commission”.
“China has recently amended counter terrorism law by which they are able to deploy their own troops in foreign land for the security of their investment. Now Pakistan is happy as first they have got the Chinese investment and second they feel more secure as by mere presence of Chinese troops in PoK, it has become 3 to 4 times more difficult for India to deal with Pakistan. Now India has to first deal with China”, says RanjitKalha, former ambassador and a leading voice on China. Chinese presence in POK also provides Pakistan the inherent security against terror organisations operating in the area.
According to sources in defence and security establishment, Chinese troops now have been spotted all over PoK especially at forward posts opposite Nowgam sector in North Kashmir; opposite Tangdhar sector, where Chinese government-owned China Gezhouba Group Company Limited has been building a Jhelum-Neelum 970 MW Hydel power project. PLA is to dig tunnels in Leepa Valley to build an all-weather road as an alternate route to reach Karakoram Highway.
“It should be completely unacceptable to the Indian state to have Chinese troops in Indian Kashmir, which is under illegal occupation of Pakistan. The Indian Parliament has already passed an unanimous resolution to take back that Kashmir which is under illegal occupation of Pakistan and one day certainly some Indian leader will take back that Kashmir. Sending Chinese troops in that area without Indian permission is a violation of the treaties of friendship between India and China and violation of norms and it simply shows that China is using Pakistan as a pawn against India”, says Tarun Vijay, BJP Rajya MP, who is also the President of Parliamentary Group on India – China Friendship.
China is accused of pursuing double standards vis-a-vis Pakistan occupied and administered Kashmir is concerned. China has a stand that as and when the sovereignty of PoK will be decided, she will deal with the New Government. In Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese have objected and stopped ADB funds. Similarly, Chinese have objected to oil blocks to ONGC Videsh Limited awarded by Vietnam in South China Sea. “They do not have any reason to be there (in PoK) since they oppose our involvement in ONGC blocks taken from Vietnam in South China Sea. They have objected. So, that is quiet irrational for them to involve in a disputed territory if they maintained that it is a problem between the two nations, they should not be involved”, says Brigadier Dahiya, Deputy Director General, Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA).
“PoK is becoming China Occupied Kashmir (ChoK) because of their (PLA’s) large scale involvement in the infrastructure projects. There have beensome terror attacks on Chinese working on CPEC project because of internal resistant in the PoK& in Gilgit- Baltistan. So, it is unlikely that they will leave the security entirely to Pakistan although Pakistan has raised almost a divisionstrength of troops for the security of these people and 46 billion dollar CPEC project”, elaborated Brigadier Dahiya.
But is it just securing CPEC or Chinese have larger designs for turning PoK into ChoK. According to leading defence and strategic expert Brigadier (Retd) V. Mahalingam, “Aksai Chin and Shaksgam valley is under illegal occupation of China and both linking up to the west is all PoK. Area between Aksai China and Shaksgam valley is Ladakh, which Chinese want to occupy at any cost. Once they get it, their National Highway G219 (Also known as Western Highway) connecting Tibet and Xinjiang becomes particularly secure. Chinese believe India can interfere any movement on highway G219 as Siachen overlooks the entire area to its north includuing G219. Securing PoK and Siachen, especially the area of Gilgit- Baltistan militarily provides them the much needed strategic advantage.”
G219, where movement can be interfered, which goes up to Khunerab pass from where it branches into two- one going to Xinjiang and another joining and merging with the Karakoram highway, which will ultimately be the part of CPEC. In case of disruption to the road connecting Xinjiang and Gwadar, either due to militant action or natural calamities, Chinese will be in a position to use G219 to maintain supply to eastern part of China. “That explains the reason why China is particular about having its own troops in PoK. China believes Pakistan’s Military, a large portions of which has been radicalised might have been compromised and may therefore not be fully effective in POK. It is a point to be mentioned that a large number of fundamentalist and terror camps are functioning from there”, adds Brigadier Mahalingam.
Since PoK is Indian territory, can India let Chinese play a game which further alienates the territory. When specifically asked if Ministry of External Affairs would raise the matter with China diplomatically, MEA spokesperson refused to comment. “India should protest because this is Indian territory; however, what effect it will have on both parties is unknown”, says former ambassador Ranjit Kalha. Chinese are known to think much ahead of time. They prepare and execute their expansion plans with precision and utmost sincerity. But, Is India ready to let PoK turn ChoK?