Gilgit Baltistan is the starting point for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the centerpiece project of China’s crucial Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI). CPEC provides an alternate route for China’s exports and imports, allowing it to avoid the chokepoint that has developed in the Malacca Strait near the South China Sea as a result of the United States’ growing influence there.
China has adopted a policy to enter Central Asia and Afghanistan from where the U.S. retreated, in an attempt to avoid the Indo-Pacific bottlenecks where the Americans have enhanced their position in recent years.
Indeed, Afghanistan has been a missing element in China’s BRI policy toward Central Asia, but that, too, has been addressed now as the US has departed, allowing China to enter the game. Pakistan, particularly the GB area bordering China’s Xinjiang province, has a lot to gain from this altered geopolitical position.
In the current geopolitical environment, Asia demonstrates the importance of a variety of geostrategic and geo-economic reasons. Gilgit region is bordered on the west by KPK province, on the north by Afghanistan’s important Wakhan Corridor, on the northeast by China’s increasing global power, on the southwest by Azad Kashmir, and on the southeast by Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
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The Wakhan corridor, which runs across the north, is South Asia’s only land-based connection to Central Asia, an area that analysts see as the future of energy security for the region’s fast-developing economy.
The area is situated at the crossroads of three strategically vital regions: Central Asia, South Asia, and China. This emphasizes the importance of GB in providing Pakistan with a link to China and Central Asia, which is critical for Pakistan’s geo-economic future. On the basis of its historic and cultural ties with the area, Pakistan has recently stepped up its game in Central Asia. In the aftermath of the Afghan fiasco, the current administration has expanded its involvement with Central Asian states, as well as increasing Indian interest in the area.
In the case of the landlocked Central Asian republics and Afghanistan, GB offers the quickest access to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan’s warm-water ports, particularly Gwadar. Both Central Asian countries and Afghanistan can benefit greatly from the connectivity provided by the CPEC and BRI. Central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan produce a lot of hydropower which can be further traded with regional countries using the GB corridor.
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The success of the 1.6 bn dollar Central Asia-South Asia 1000 electricity transmission project and the Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement between Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is dependent on the success of connectivity between these three countries, with GB at its heart. GB also gives Afghanistan, a landlocked, terrorism-plagued, and militancy-prone country, the opportunity to improve its infrastructure and diversify its economy by growing and diversifying its trading base.
This is the reason Indian forces in their strategy have kept a lot of military presence in the region. Pakistan is building up its international reputation as a country to attract foreign investment. It is also increasingly focusing on improving tourism and security in the area. The GB region holds significance for not only natural scenic beauty but also has the potential to connect the region at a single point.
Pakistan along with help from China can not only counter India but also can make this region more secure and stable. Gilgit Baltistan region is the jugular vein for the continued cooperation of Pakistan and China.
Author: Syed Ali Abbas
The author has graduated in International Relations from NUML, Islamabad, and is the managing editor of Global Defense Insight. He also works as an Associate editor at Indus News, Islamabad. Previously he worked as a sub-editor at Pakistan Strategic Forum and Junior editor at Global Village Space Magazine. He tweets @smalinaqvi05. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.