Brussels / London: Kashmiri activists have hailed the remarks by U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis, who recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was controversial as it passed through a disputed territory.
The USD 56 billion CPEC project, which is part of China’s grand vision, known as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, passes through Pakistan’s northern areas, which India says is part of the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Jamil Maqsood, Central Secretary, Foreign Affairs of the United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP), said, “We appreciate his (Mattis) statement that he has warned Chinese imperialists forces that they are crossing from a disputed territory.”
While criticising Pakistan’s and China’s investment in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan, Jamil added, “They are diverting Neelam River near Muzaffarabad, which will have dire consequences for the water shortage in the lower areas, including the Muzaffarabad city. The United States should not only rely on the press statements, but they should take pragmatic steps to stop the Chinese and the Pakistani designs to colonise natural resources of the region. They are changing the demographics of the region.”
The CPEC aims to connect Kashgar, in China’s western province of Xinjiang, with the port of Gwadar in the Pakistani province of Balochistan.
The road and rail network under the project also traverses through Gilgit Baltistan, Khyber Phakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, before terminating in Balochistan.
Mahmood Kashmiri, the chairman of the Jammu Kashmir National Independence Alliance (JKNIA), said, “The state of Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory, so Pakistan and China have no right to use this disputed land. We, the people of Jammu and Kashmir, are against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Neither the Chinese nor the Pakistani government requested a passage over the Kashmiri border and have only done so with the use of force. We would ask that the international community to work together to help us in this time of need.”
The region of Gilgit Baltistan, bordering China, is a part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The region finds no mention in the Constitution of Pakistan and is neither independent nor has a provincial status. It is a part of undivided Kashmir, and was forcibly occupied by Pakistan in 1948 and is claimed by India.
Dr Shabir Choudhry, a Kashmiri writer and activist based in London, said, “What Secretary Mattis said is a clear signal that America has decided to oppose the CPEC, and in this regard, Washington will find more than one country willing to provide helping hand. The Trump Administration strongly feels that in a globalised world, where instability, international terrorism and threat of nuclear use is serious matter no one country should be in a position to dictate world economic agenda.”
The residents of Gilgit Baltistan and the Pakistan occupied Kashmir have been protesting against the ill-designs of Pakistan and China in the disputed territory. They fear that the region will face a demographic change and have serious environmental hazards with the project.
Aafaq Ahmad, a nationalist activist from Gilgit Baltistan said Pakistan was using force to restrain their voice.
“We were raising our voice against the forceful occupation of our territory, but no world power come to our rescue. Now, the United States has raised its voice against the CPEC project. We appreciate this step. We request all world powers, including the United States, that they should help the oppressed people of Gilgit Baltistan, as they have been the victims of Pakistan’s atrocities for the past 70 years,” he said.
The latest objection to the giant corridor seems to further worsen the already fraught relations between Islamabad and Washington.
(with inputs from ANI)