Is China's Economic Deprivation of ‘Azad Kashmir’ Leading to Violent Civilian Unrest?

China Pakistani Chinese flags

Azad Kashmir, or Pakistan-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK), is experiencing a fresh wave of violence as locals take to the streets to demand subsidies on wheat flour, electricity prices, and the abolition of privileges for the elite class in the occupied territory. In response, local police and Pakistan Rangers were called in to suppress the protests violently. At least four protesters were shot dead by Rangers, and over 30 were injured as they marched towards Muzaffarabad to peacefully demand their basic rights. It is well known that the Pakistani military and the ‘selected’ civilian governments in Islamabad have been trying to control PoJK through brute force and restricted media coverage. Furthermore, the situation in the occupied region increasingly deteriorated after the formal announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2015.

The growing Chinese pressure has led to illegal land grabbing, exploitation of natural resources, and diversion of electricity from PoJK to CPEC projects. Ironically, Pakistan’s second-largest multipurpose dam, Mangla Dam, is situated in Mirpur district. The government generates around 2,700–3,500 megawatts of electricity from hydroelectric projects in PoJK, yet locals are forced to pay PKR 60 per unit. Public subsidies exist only on paper, as the region continues to face discrimination and subjugation by the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani state authorities.

According to sources, Pakistan recently prepared a lengthy report highlighting how CPEC has caused inflation, depletion of natural resources, and power shortages across the country. Notably, the report reveals the impacts of Chinese projects in the occupied territories of PoJK and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B). More importantly, the 3,000-km long route of CPEC, connecting China’s northwest Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and Gwadar Port, passes through G-B and is very close to PoJK. The regular movement of heavy vehicles and ongoing construction activities on CPEC projects have severely impacted the livelihoods in both regions. Despite regular protests in G-B and PoJK over the negative effects of CPEC and the blatant exploitation of local resources, the Pakistan government have neither compensated the civilians nor controlled the illegal activities of Chinese engineers and workers. As a result, the people of these regions are now forced to take to the streets to demand their basic rights.

To avoid the internationalisation of these protests, Pakistani authorities regularly shut off internet services, and mainstream media channels are prohibited from reporting the ground realities of PoJK and G-B. Beyond being an embarrassment for Pakistan, any negative coverage can also affect China’s international image. As a result, several projects were announced under CPEC for these regions to divert the attention from real issues. For example, the Karot and Kohala hydropower projects were promised under CPEC in PoJK, along with constructing a 200-km Mirpur-Muzaffarabad-Mansehra Road. Similarly, special economic zones (SEZs), a dry port, and additional hydropower projects were announced for G-B. Multiple reports indicate that these projects are still in limbo as the Pakistani side has failed to fulfil its original commitments on CPEC and is now facing a dire economic crisis. Moreover, China seems reluctant to make new investments in Pakistan until the ongoing CPEC projects are completed and old loans are paid back.

CPEC has rendered locals jobless in PoK as workers from other parts of Pakistan, especially Punjab, and Chinese nationals have grabbed their lands and mineral resources. Since G-B and PoJK are not mainstream provinces, the federal government, under the control of the military establishment, holds decision-making powers in sectors like tourism, the environment, distribution of food resources, critical minerals, and power generation. These regions have witnessed massive street protests over the wheat crisis since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. For the past few years, the government in Islamabad has been making unilateral decisions in G-B and PoJK under possible Chinese pressure to stabilise the ground situation.

According to the report, China is interested in building big dams in Gilgit-Baltistan and PoJK. For example, China Power and Pakistan Army’s commercial wing, Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), are building the 4800-MW Diamer-Bhasha multipurpose mega dam project in G-B. Interestingly, locals hardly require a fraction of the power that China is trying to generate in the region. It is believed that China will be using the extra power from these dams for CPEC projects, berefting the local population of their rights on the resources. Pakistan Army will be safeguarding Chinese nationals and quell any form of resistance from the local population.

During recent protests in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan Rangers opened fire on peaceful protesters even after the federal government accepted the demands of the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC) and announced a PKR 23 billion subsidy package for the region. It was a clear attempt to silence voices of discontent and showcase the brute power of the Pakistan military. Additionally, China would not accept any instability in PoJK and G-B as it plans to initiate the new phase of CPEC. New projects will require more electricity, water, food resources, manpower, and other essential items. As an “occupied” territory with a puppet “Prime Minister,” PoJK will face more looting and plundering of its resources, whether electricity or land. This will exacerbate the sense of political alienation and reinforce the label of “non-Pakistanis” for the people from the region. Lastly, the lack of political status and constitutional recognition of PoJK will only heighten popular sentiments against Pakistan, as well as China.

READ MORE: Mitsotakis Warns North Macedonia: Respect Prespa Agreement or EU Path Remains Closed.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024