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29 August, 2010

Chinese Troops Move Into Pakistan, Western Media Hardly Bats An Eye

Earlier this weekend The New York Times reported that Pakistan has allowed some 11,000 Chinese troops into Gilgit-Baltistan, a strategically significant part of the contested Kashmir region. Steve Hynd (of NewsHoggers) beat me to posting on the news. As his thoughts on the situation mirror my own, I direct my readers to his post:

Steve Hynd. NewsHoggers. 29 August 2010.


To Mr. Hynd's excellent analysis I can add very little. There are but three points left unaddressed:

1.The most striking aspect of this story is the way it is currently being covered by Western media outlets: it isn't. A quick perusal of Google news shows that the Indian papers were quick to pick it up, but that no Western paper other than the Times has touched it. Even the Grey Lady buried the story at the back of its opinion section. Given the scope of these deployments this silence is astonishing.

2. Over the last few weeks Gilgit has been the site of much religious and ethnic strife. It is unclear if the decision to deploy in Gilgit was prompted by this, or if the Chinese have simply grown impatient with Pakistan's inability to reopen the Karakoram Highway, the one existing connection between Gilgit-Baltinstan and Xinjiang, which has been closed since a major landslide destroyed at least 12 miles of the road seven months ago. The limited access foreign journalists have to Gilgit means it is unlikely we shall know the full truth of the matter any time soon.


3. Indian analyst Bahukutumbi Raman reminds us that this is but a small part of China's broader Kashmir policy. To quote from his post:

 Bahukutumbi Raman. Raman's Strategic Analysis. 27 August 2010.

The international community treats Jammu & Kashmir as a de facto----but not de jure --- part of India. Similarly, it treats Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) as de facto---- but not de jure---parts of Pakistan. In pursuance of this policy, other countries honour the Indian passports held by the residents of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) and issue them normal visas on those passports when they want to travel. Similarly, they honour the Pakistani passports held by the residents of POK and GB and issue them visas on those passports.

China used to follow a similar policy till last year. It has now modified that policy in a significant manner. While it does not question the validity of the Indian passports held by the residents of J & K, it has stopped issuing visas on those passports.It has not debarred them from traveling to China, but they are allowed to travel only on the basis of a plain paper visa which is stapled to their Indian passport. The entry and exit stamps of the Chinese immigration are affixed on the plan paper visa and not on their Indian passport.

While doing so, Beijing has not changed its visa issue policy in respect of Pakistani residents of POK and GB. It is believed they are still issued visas on their Pakistani passports. Moreover, ignoring Indian protests, it is going ahead with its project to assist Pakistan in the upgradation of the Karakoram Highway which runs across GB and in the construction of hydel power and irrigation projects in GB. It has also agreed to participate in a feasibility study for the construction of a railway line to Xinjiang through GB. It has not yet agreed to assist Pakistan in the construction of an oil/gas pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang through GB.

The modifications in the Chinese policy have the following implications:

  •  Firstly, China has started treating POK and GB as de facto and de jure parts of Pakistan. It does not recognise Indian claims to these territories.
  • Secondly, it has diluted its past acceptance of J & K as a de facto part of India. This would give satisfaction to Pakistan, which projects J & K as Pakistani territory under the illegal occupation of India. This would also lend support to the Pakistani contention that it has a political, diplomatic and moral right to support the so-called freedom struggle in J & K.
  • Thirdly, by questioning the legitimacy of India's sovereignty over J & K, the Chinese may be creating a future option for themselves of questioning India's locus standi to negotiate with them on the future of the Indian territory in the Ladakh area occupied by them in the past. They could use this option in future if their relations with India deteriorate.
Mr. Raman goes on to argue that China's changing stance on Kashmir reflects the active assistance she is receiving from Pakistan in containing Turkic separatists in Xinjiang and Xinjiang's anticipated economic growth if it is integrated with a stable Pakistani Kashmir. While I do not disagree with this analysis, I think China's policy is designed to frustrate  external threats as well as internal ones. China's competition with India has just as much bearing here as does its fears of Xinjiangi separatism.

As a parting thought, I offer a post (written by this author at an earlier date) that may prove itself useful to those discussing this news:

T. Greer. The Scholar's Stage. 25 June 2010.


EDIT (31/08/2010): The Pakistani foreign ministry is disputing the claim that it allowed Chinese troops into Gilgit. The Indian government has declared that it will verify independently whether the Times is correct in its coverage.

EDIT (01/09/2010): The Chinese foreign ministry has also denied sending troops into Gilgit.

EDIT (01/09/2010):  Selig Harrison, the author of the New York Times' report, has been caught fabricating details in the past. Unless the Indian government's report verifies Harrison's claims, it looks as if the Times will have to publish an apology column. 

1 comment:

LFC said...

Thank you for this -- interesting.

I have not read Selig Harrison's op-ed column. However, at the risk of seeming a bit picky, I would like to make a (non-substantive) comment on one aspect of what you have written.

A column that appears on a newspaper's op-ed page (i.e., opposite the editorial page) is, as far as I know, never considered part of that newspaper's news reporting, regardless of what factual claims may be made in such a column. Therefore, while the NYT may indeed (as you suggest) find itself obliged to run some kind of correction to Harrison's column should it turn out that Chinese troops did not deploy to G-B, it is incorrect to refer to the Harrison column as part of the NYT's reporting. Reporting is reporting; op-ed columns are op-ed columns. These are two different things, formally speaking. As a practical matter, some opinion of course seeps into and colors the 'objective' reporting; and the opinion pieces of course may and often do make, as Harrison's evidently did, factual claims. But they are still different things, and whatever is said in op-ed columns should not be described as a newspaper's "reporting."

Sorry to sound pedantic, but I do think this point is worth making.