Kashmiri leaders living in exile in London have described China's ambitious Belt and Road ( OBOR ) initiative of which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the mainstay, as nothing more than a modern-day land and market grabbing the initiative.
Dr. Shabir Choudhry, a Kashmiri writer and director of Institute of Kashmir Affairs in London, told ANI, "There are reports that land is acquired illegally and without paying any compensation to the local people for the CPEC projects, and this is adding to the resentment of the suffering people."
He added, "Sad thing is if people complain or protest against this injustice, they are accused of being anti-Pakistan and agent of India. Some unfortunate people are facing sedition charges."
Choudhry further told ANI, "There is a construction of an army headquarters in Gilgit Baltistan; and regional headquarters for secret agencies of Pakistan, which will make life difficult for the local people. There will surely be more harassment and intimidation and human rights abuses in Gilgit-Baltistan. Already human rights activists and political workers belonging to different parties face immense pressure and are subject to torture, imprisonment; and some face sedition charges."
In 1963, China and Pakistan concluded an agreement in which it was clearly recognised that Gilgit-Baltistan was a disputed territory. Under this agreement, Pakistan transferred around 2000 square miles of Gilgit Baltistan territory, Shaksgam Valley to China which enabled China to create a link with Aksai Chin, which they occupied in a war with India in 1962.
Many Kashmiri political activists told ANI that China is aware that Gilgit-Baltistan is a disputed territory, and Pakistan has no legal right to annex these areas, or go against the expressed sentiments of the local people.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a 51.5 billion dollar China-led, multi-layered infrastructure project, enters Pakistan from China through the Karakoram Highway.
Though Gilgit Baltistan plays a key role in the CPEC project, and all roads and pipelines crossing into China from Pakistan will run through this mountainous region, there are no plans for any special economic packages to support the people of Gilgit.
Jamil Maqsood, Former Central Secretary, Foreign Affairs, United Kashmir People's National Party told ANI "It's not the Government of Pakistan, but the military of Pakistan is the stakeholder in this billion dollar project. If the Government of Pakistan is not directly benefitting and if the people of Pakistan are not directly benefitting out of this project, one can only dream that the people of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan would have any share in this project. They are completely marginalized, they are completely deprived. Only their resources are used, but they are not given any opportunity to benefit out of this project".
Kashmiri political activists also fear a demographic change with large number of Chinese and Punjabis settling in the area, resulting in the indigenous people turning into a minority.
Many activists, who have opposed the CPEC, have been slapped with sedition charges and hundreds are languishing in jails across Pakistan.
Though touted by the Pakistani government as a 'game changer', there has been a relentless wave of opposition to the project from the local population in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan.