J&K: Theatre of the Next War
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 30 May , 2014

Significance of the Gilgit–Gwadar Corridor

The ominously rising strategic salience of the Gilgit–Baltistan region was made sharply apparent by Selig Harrison’s startling disclosure in 2010 that some 7,000–11,000 Chinese troops had entered the Gilgit–Baltistan area, ostensibly for flood control. The Chinese version claimed it was for repair of the Karakoram Highway (KKH). Indian military sources later reported that some 3,000–4,000 Chinese military engineering personnel were engaged in repair/widening of the KKH, construction of hydroelectric projects and building of tunnels (which could serve to hide missiles). A Chinese civil company (China Mobile) is also constructing cell towers for mobile networks in this region.

…Pakistani plans to lease the Gilgit–Baltistan area to China for the next 50 years.

For the protection of this workforce, initial media reports had indicated that a Chinese infantry battalion was deployed at the Khunjerab Pass but was later withdrawn due to the international uproar in May 2010. Reportedly, some permanent Chinese logistical infrastructure is now coming up at Challas that is indicative of a long-term stay. This is further reinforced by media reports in the Pakistani press of Pakistani plans to lease the Gilgit–Baltistan area to China for the next 50 years.

These are ominous developments, especially when one sees them in the context of the significant shift in China’s stand over J&K, from a studied neutrality during the Kargil War to a markedly hostile stance that not just underlines J&K’s disputed status (only in as much as it pertains to the positions held by India) but also marks its outright support for Pakistan’s claims over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the Gilgit–Baltistan area. Its forays into this sensitive region are merely a follow-up to its shift in stance. Enough indications of this paradigm shift have been available earlier, especially in China’s insistence on stapling visas for J&K resident passport holders and then, in a surprise move, its denial of visa to GOC-in-C Northern Command on the grounds that he was the commander of this disputed region.

Amazingly, the same yardstick has not been applied to India’s eastern army commander, who looks after the disputed Arunachal—thereby implying a new level of Chinese hostility over the J&K issue. The physical move-in of the Chinese military personnel into the Gilgit–Baltistan area now adds an ominous dimension to these pinpricks. Like Baluchistan, this area is restive. The hapless Shias of this region have been the victims of repeated Sunni pogroms and massacres. A Balwaristan freedom movement flickers here. The most recent massacre of the Shias took place here in February and April this year and have led to large-scale rioting and arson. The climactic event was the snow-cum-mud avalanche in Siachen that wiped out the 6 NLI HQ and Adm. Base at Gyari. Some 140 Shia personnel were wiped out in this major avalanche. Despite help from U.S., Chinese and German rescue teams, not a single body of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) troopers was recovered. Apart from personnel casualties, the avalanche wiped out the road link, several helipads and the entire Adm. base. This has put the Pakistani troops deployed in the Central Glacier below our Soltoro Ridge positions in the areas of Ali Brangsa and Bilafond glaciers in dire straits. Even the helicopters of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans division had to be pressed in for the relief and rescue efforts.

Pakistani spokesmen have claimed that Siachen has no strategic significance whatsoever. What then prevents them from staging a unilateral withdrawal?

Actually, what makes it worse for the Pakistan army is the fact that the NLI, which has borne the brunt of the casualties in Kargil and Siachen, has 49% Shias, 23% Ismailis and just 18% Sunnis. 55% of the Shias hail from the Gilgit area and 35% from Baltistan. The Shias have been facing relentless persecution. In 1989, General Pervez Musharraf had brought in the blood-thirsty Sunni Pathans to terrorise the Shias into submission. In the Kargil conflict, the Pakistan Army disowned the dead Shia troopers of the NLI and over 600 had to be buried by the Indians. The anti-Shia pogrom continues. On 28 February this year, 18 Shia pilgrims were pulled out of buses and massacred in the Pashtun Khwa province. On 3 April, 15–20 Shias were killed in Chilas and 50 were wounded. This led to riots where more Shias were killed. The avalanche on 7 April, therefore, came as a climactic finale that shook the Shia troops. The legend of Teram Shehar, a town which was wiped out in a terrible avalanche, lives on in the folklore of Baltistan. The Shia troops are uneasy and restive, and their Sunni commanders are deeply worried. That is why General Kayani was unnerved by the recent avalanche and the impact it has had on the unfortunate Shia troops of the NLI. That explains his smart moves to use the Indian desire for peace to get the Indian army off the Saltoro Ridge, which it had secured at such heavy cost in blood and treasure.

Now that we have mastered the logistical and environmental problems, we can stay on, if need be, forever. If the Pakistani army has had it, they can withdraw, and Indians will not interfere with their retreat in any way. Pakistani spokesmen have claimed that Siachen has no strategic significance whatsoever. What then prevents them from staging a unilateral withdrawal? The problem is their over-cleverness and lack of sincerity and the quest to gain an upper hand in Afghanistan by encouraging peace noises on the eastern front. Unfortunately, this is a tactical gambit and not a sincere desire for peace.

The Malacca Bypass Strategy

What explains the Chinese moves in to the northern areas and their sudden change of stance over J&K? This move, in fact, is dictated by the compulsions of China’s energy security strategy. Some 50% of China’s energy/oil demand is met by the Middle East and another 30% is sourced from Africa. This entire energy flow has to perforce pass through the naval choke point of the straits of Malacca, Lombok and Sunda. Any navy worth its name could seriously disrupt the Chinese energy supply lines via Malacca in a conflict. This is the Chinese energy security nightmare, and they are feverishly engaged in trying to create a bypass that will help them to overcome their Malacca choke point vulnerability.

Currently, the Chinese problem is the security concerns about this pipeline’s long passage through Baluchistan and then Pakistan’s jihadi mafia–infested territory.

In layman terms, the Malacca passage from Iran or Africa takes 16–25 days for the Chinese tankers to complete. Once the KKH, rail and energy pipeline corridor comes through, this could be done in just 48 hours from the port of Gwadar. This explains the tremendous significance of the emerging Gilgit–Gwadar corridor for China. China had completed the KKH as far back as 1978. The KKH, which traverses over the Khujerah Pass, now extends up to the rising port city of Gwadar. Since 2006, work is on to widen the KKH. This will increase its operating capacity for heavy vehicular traffic some threefold. This six-lane highway is being complemented by a railroad. The Kashgar-Havelian rail link will be constructed by the Chinese Dong Feng Electric Company and will traverse a distance of 700 kilometres, from the Khunjerab Pass to link with the Pakistan rail network at Havelian, near Rawalpindi. Kashgar is being made into a special economic zone (SEZ), and the Chinese plan to establish a consulate in Gilgit.

Gilgit Pipeline

The third leg of this energy/trade corridor will be completed by the construction of an oil pipeline. As far back as in 2008, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jeichi had proposed that China should join the India–Pakistan–Iran (IPI) pipeline project. U.S. pressure did not let this aspiration materialise. The Chinese now have plans for a 2,000-kilometre pipeline that will follow the KKH railroad alignment. It could have a pipeline 1 metre in diameter with a flow rate of 8 metres per second and a pumping station every 120 kilometres. This would give it a capacity of 590,000 barrels per day (bpd) or an ability to carry virtually 9.8% of China’s oil imports. This pipeline project from Gwadar to Xinjiang would cost around $12 billion. Currently, the Chinese problem is the security concerns about this pipeline’s long passage through Baluchistan and then Pakistan’s jihadi mafia–infested territory.

Once this triple energy-cum-trade corridor with its high-capacity rail and road link and oil pipeline is completed, it will shorten the oil/trade transit from Gwadar to just 48 hours instead of the 16–25 days passage via Malacca Straits. In real terms, the Persian Gulf passage will be reduced from 6,000 nautical miles (nm) via Malacca straits to just 680 nm to Gwadar. The African passage via Malacca will be reduced from 10,000 nm to just 3,000 nm. The most vital aspect is that the crucial naval choke point of Malacca Straits will be bypassed altogether. This is a choke point that the U.S., Japanese or even Indian navy could easily throttle in the event of a major conflict.

So far, some $248 million has been spent on Gwadar. Of this, some $198 million has been spent by China.

How to reduce/obviate the Malacca choke point threat to China’s energy flows has always been a primary concern for China. Her recent forays into the Gilgit–Baltistan region stem from this clearly articulated Malacca bypass strategy that is fast becoming a lynchpin of her overall grand strategic design in Asia. Unless we understand these larger Chinese concerns and compulsions, we will fail to read the designs behind the Chinese forays into the Gilgit–Baltistan region.

The Gwadar Terminal: Reaching the Critical Mass

The entire Gilgit–Baltistan energy corridor from Xinjiang funnels over the Khunjerab Pass and terminates on the seaports of Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara. Of these outlets, the China–Pakistan axis is working feverishly to develop Gwadar as the hub of a new land-cum-sea-based silk route to Xinjiang and western China. This fishing village of Gwadar had a population of some 5,000 as far back as in 2001. Today, it is emerging as a bustling city with a population of 125,000. An international airport and steel and cement plants are planned. Crucial are a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal and a massive oil refinery that are primarily being planned to cater to the Chinese energy inflows.

Work on the Gwadar port had commenced in 2002 and was completed in 2007. The port was operationalised in 2009.

  • It has a 12.6-metre dredged channel and three multipurpose berths that give it a wharfage of 6.2 metres.
  • In Phase II, the Chinese will add nine additional deep-water berths.
  • So far, some $248 million has been spent on Gwadar. Of this, some $198 million has been spent by China.
  • Pakistan’s defence minister, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, recently invited China to establish a naval base in Gwadar. The Chinese were understandably coy about acknowledging this fact so brazenly.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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Maj Gen GD Bakshi

 Maj Gen GD Bakshi

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16 thoughts on “J&K: Theatre of the Next War

  1. Dear Gen Baskhi,

    I didn’t read the entire article above and just went through some initial paragraphs. My only motive to comment here was to convey you my message.

    I saw you in a debate today with some Pakistani spokespersons on IBN7. We debated on lots of things today with them and I agree with all the points/allegations you put on them except one time when you said “batware ke time pe 10 millions refugees aapne hindustan ke gale taang diye.”.

    I want to say on this that, my parents and I were born in Hidustan after the partition, but my grandparents were from Multan which was a part of Hindustan before partition. And I believe that, out of so many other reasons giving Muslims a separate piece of land for their own country was the primary reason for this partition. So if during partition, leaders of that time (Hidustan’s or Pakistan’s) couldn’t maintain a peaceful exchange of people or didn’t think about the hindu families which came under Pakistan’s territory then its not our mistake.. Or kisi ne hame Hindustan ke gale bandhe nhi.. hum hamare khoon se hindustani the or hundastani rahege. We were Hindustani but are called refugees because unluckily our home land came under the Pakistan’s territory. It was not easy for our grandparents to leave our home and everything out there and live like refuees here in Hindustan. We didn’t decide to be a refugee ourselves, there were people who marked/decided India-Pakistan territory time time. I wish that your own home should have come under the Pakistan’s territory then you would have understand How it feels to be called a Refugee even after 67 years of partition.

    We are still called Refugees just because of people/leaders like you, who believe that ‘Humko India ke gale taang diya gaya”. Agar nhi taangna the gale toh hum refuees ko bhi ek alag country kyu nhi di gayi.

    We are Hidustani and we will be. stop this fucking mentality and look for peace. We have only one planet. Think people like human and do not name them after their country or piece of land where they belong to. Neither people of Pakistan or Hindustan or any other country want war… its the leaders who think like that.

  2. Sir. While I agree with your assessment that India faces a combined Sino-Pak threat in Kashmir, I would like to offer a different prognosis. While warding off the threat from Gilgit-Baltistan is important and India must safeguard against this, Kashmir should not become the arena for India’s counter. If Pakistan has experimented by proxy war and kept Kashmir on the boil for decades, they can be paid back in the same coin – Balawaristan and Baluchistan being potential areas. At the same time, India’s strength is in terms of air power, navy and mechanised forces, these need to be leveraged to maintain the upper hand. This implies that if need be, the battle for Kashmir needs to be fought beyond Kashmir. I have dilated on the issue in my book The Crimson Chinar-The Kashmir Conflict: A Politico-Military Perspective. Notwithstanding, Kudos for highlighting the emerging threat. Regards

  3. Beautifully explained the ground situation. Will defensive tactic keep control of J&K ? A big question mark. Should their be J&K flash point for war . Will people like war in J& K …..yes. The reason is common people are fed up with the activities of seperatists and want peace . They are ready to suffer losses to finish once for all this problem this time and want to see complete J& K. Secondly, I have different view on AFSPA…it should be withdrawn and forces to return to barracks for rest and training. Let the para military control the law & order along with the state police. Politician & buraucrate making much of noise must feel the pinch after sending the troops to barrack. Taking a chance is worth setting an example that forces are in favour of public and withdrawal of AFSPA.. Calling back forces in a short time for redeployment for IS duty is possible. Thirdly, China will not like to have direct conflect with India on J&K as he is aware fight with India will weaken his position….India is not like 1962.

  4. Sir,

    What do you think would be an ideal Indian reaction? Should India do another Bangladesh in Balochistan?

    An independent Balochistan would ensure that China does not have access to Arabian sea (Gawadar) through Pakistan and hence will remain dependent on the straits of Malacca.

    This will also ensure that Indian navy can easily block straits of Malacca in case of a war.

  5. Dear Gen Bakshi

    Can you give an accurate source of the claim that Musharraf had a role in sectarian tensions in Gilgit back in 1989 (some sources say 1988 also)? Problem is, Musharraf’s own autobiography “In the Line of Fire” says he was commander artillery at the Kharian armoured division near Sialkot in 1987, then commanded an infantry brigade in Bahawalpur for first half of 1988, before becoming Deputy MS in GHQ where he remained till late 1989.

    I have yet to see proper claims of his role in late 1980s Gilgit-Baltistan backed by evidence.

  6. Mr. Bakshi’s forewarning is foreboding to the ongoing negotiations between India and Pakistan and between India and China. The desire to settle matters amiably without war is real and must be pursued but with the knowledge of hazards along the way. Lofty characterization of future good behavior of the enemy based on smiles and handshakes often results in disappointment. This has been the genesis of most wars in the history. In today’s context of nuclear threats, the most important deterrent will be India’s readiness to inflict devastation in kind, conventional or nuclear, upon the first striker whether Pakistan or China. To make the threat credible, field trials of the triad system of defense, covering land, water and air, must be made operational with utmost urgency. India’s capability to inflict irreversible damage on a large scale against any enemy entertaining the idea of a first strike advantage, will be the best insurance policy.

  7. 1. Pakistans military establishment has the sense of military adventurism which is uncontrollable. The nation suffers from mass hesteria and that is India. Its rerason for existance now it seem is Kashmir when its own walls are crumbling. The Nation is mentally and ethically broke and has been part of sinister American game play which boomeranged against both.
    2. We Indians are pacifists and only react when pressed hard. We have the third largest army in the world which is a big defensive force without a strategic nose. We should bleed Pakistan by prolonging their military deployments. The Line of Control should be kept activated. Within a few months it will start hurting them. The strike corps should be deployed in Rajasthan in a permnanent KLP about 100 km from the Pak border in Rajasthan.
    3. Withdraw the Army from the Valley only and let the state government handle the place. The SWAT will happen to them soon.
    4. As far as the Chinese are concerned the Gwadar Gilgit route can be interdicted in a few hours in case of hostilities. We have the Shyok river in our hands. If they lease the Area to the Chinese, as a counter measure we should dam the shyok river. The whole communication system will be wiped out in a matters of hours in the Northern Areas.
    5. What we Indians need is guts and hard measures.

  8. A well researched article by Maj Gen GD Bakshi. He has carried out a rational threat analysis of the next possible war between the two neighbours, India and Pakistan, with the most likely collusion of China with the latter. Since we have a new government at the helm now, it would be prudent for the authorities to take serious note of this ever-existent possibility and create resources in time and space to meet the likely threat. Merely extending an olive branch to either Pakistan or China is not the way forward. We have to understand the reality and take suitable measures to defeat the designs of both Pakistan and China.

  9. as I got point from this essay is>Indian Hindus and Americans will take decisions for the development of other nations. in Simple world Indian Hindus will order others nations don’t make this road and dam and take this kind of food we suggest. Every nation has right for development .Pakistan has right for development of Pakistani people. Great blessing china has common border with Pakistan< chine is next super and economic power and true friend of Pakistani people making great roads and dams and great pots for Pakistan. after completion of this projects Pakistan will be rich and develop country and every Pakistan will eat gold bread. Foreigners have no right to raise points on these developments as all these resources and land of Pakistan owned by us how many innocent Kashmiri girls and even old women were raped by barbaric Indian kafir Hindu army? and how many graves of innocent Kashmiris brutally killed by Indian invaders? final result> mouin mein ram ram baghal mein churey

  10. In the context of Kashmir and Pakistan, what Sardar Patel Said on 6th January 1948 is telling. He said: “I am a true friend of Muslims… I believe in plain speaking… I want to tell them that mere declaration of loyalty to the Indian Union will not help… They must give practical proof… I asked them why they did not equivocally denounced Pakistan for attacking Indian Territory with the connivance of Frontier Tribesmen. Is it not the duty to condemn all acts of aggression against India? I want to ask the Indian Muslims only one question. In the recent All India Muslim Conference, why did you not open your mouth on Kashmir? Why did you not condemned the action of Pakistan?”

  11. The Indian-union, abomination, need not fear if it allows, or rather conduct a UN-sperwised referendum on the Kashmiris right to self determination. While enslaving many nations like this, this Ghandian abomination has no moral right to exit in the new world, and if greater power like the Chinese take initiatives to free the masses, it would be good cause and should supported from all over the world.

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