WASHINGTON: Seeking to fortify its strategic ties with China amid strains in relations with US, Pakistan is considering a proposal to lease the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region to Beijing for 50 years, an eminent US-based think tank has claimed, citing local media.
The Pakistani move is aimed at cementing its all-weather relations with China amid the irreparable rupture in US-Pak ties over the past year, said Middle East Media Research Institute in a report released yesterday, which was based on news reports in this regard in local Urdu newspapers. The decision to launch the Pakistan-China Strategic Programme for Gilgit-Baltistan was probably taken during army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's visit to China in January 2012, it said.
A report, titled "Pakistan's Deteriorating Situation, Strained Relations with America: Deliberation on Leasing Gilgit Baltistan to China for 50 years," which was published in the Urdu daily 'Roznama Bang-e-Sahar', had said: "In the backdrop of the deteriorating situation in Pakistan and strained relations with America, deliberations have begun (on a proposal) to hand over Gilgit-Baltistan to China on a 50-year lease."
"A Chinese think tank has also given the green light for this move," said the Urdu daily, which was distributed in Gilgit Baltistan on December 13, 2011, less than three weeks after the November 26, 2011 NATO raid on a Pakistani border post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, according to the US think tank, which is headed by a former FBI official.
The Urdu daily said the think tanks of China and Pakistan have begun discussions to hand over Gilgit-Baltistan region to the control of China on lease. "In the first stage of this plan, China will formulate a strategy for development projects and in the name of working on them will gradually take over the control of this region. In the next stage, China will take over Gilgit-Baltistan under its total control for 50 years and deploy its troops there," it said.
The Roznama Bang-e-Sahar report acquires importance in view of the five-day visit of China by Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani on January 4-8, 2012, the US think tank said. During a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Beijing, General Kayani had said that development of ChinaPakistan strategic partnership is the "cornerstone of the two countries' policies".
In his remarks, the Chinese Premier had said that "the Chinese government and the PLA (People's Liberation Army) would continue to strengthen defence cooperation between the two countries and more frequent military-to-military exchanges".
Based on news reports published in the local Urdu press, the Washington-based think tank said that Pakistani and Chinese militaries are moving in the direction of a joint military management of Gilgit Baltistan. The two militaries will cooperate under a specific plan designated by Pakistan as the Pak-China Strategic Programme for Gilgit Baltistan, it said.
As part of this plan, officials from Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry (NLI) and People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China would "undergo joint trainings and exchange of expertise". According to a Pakistani newspaper, the Pak-China Strategic Programme for Gilgit-Baltistan will come into force in June 2012, the think tank said.