By Bharti Jain, Et Bureau
29 OCT, 2010,
NEW DELHI: It is not only the presence of Chinese troops in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan region that New Delhi is worried about. The growing economic interest of Chinese companies, particularly in key infrastructure projects located in these areas, is an equal cause for concern among the security establishment here, which fears that Pakistan is encouraging Chinese investment to dilute India’s claim over PoK.
The growing Chinese presence in PoK is likely to be raised when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday in Hanoi. Also, India is likely to draw US’ attention to the issue when President Barack Obama visits India early next month.
According to intelligence reports, about 122 Chinese companies are operating in Pakistan at present, employing approximately 11,000 Chinese engineers and workers. In fact, China is involved in a big way in infrastructure projects — right from construction of roads and bridges, telecommunication, mineral exploration, construction of dams, hydro-power projects to water diversion channels — in PoK and the northern area of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The most strategic of the projects is the Karakoram highway upgradation project. Being implemented under an agreement signed between China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) and the National Highway Authority of Pakistan in December 2007, it is being largely funded with preferential buyer’s credit from China’s Exim Bank. In July 2010, during the visit of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to China, NHA signed MoUs with CRBC for widening of Karakoram highway project Phase-2, connecting Thakot Bridge to Sazin and with the China Gezhouba Group International Engineering Company Ltd for widening the Jaglot-Skardu road.
China and Pakistan are also working on a 750-km-long Pakistan-China rail link between Havellian and Khujerab Pass along the Karakoram highway. A joint venture between Pakistan Railways and China’s Dongfang Electric Corporation is also proposed to run freight train service on the route.
Chinese companies have bagged contracts to construct bridges in PoK. These include a Rs 1.012-billion bridge to be built by Chinese firm CWE on the Jhelum river in Mirpur and five permanent bridges to be constructed by Xinjiang Road and Bridge Construction Company.
The mineralised metallogenic zones in PoK are up for exploration and exploitation by Xinjiang Surpass Mining Company Ltd, which has submitted to the Gilgit-Baltistan government a mining proposal worth $6 million. Besides, the MCC Resources Development Company of China will explore mineral resources in Satpara district.
Chinese telecom company, China Mobile, is a player in PoK and parts of Gilgit-Baltistan and is now planning to maximise its coverage by setting up more cell towers and sites.
Dams are another area where Chinese firms have bagged high-value contracts in PoK and northern areas. Pakistan government plans to begin construction work on the 4,500 MW Diamer-Bhasha dam project, to be completed over 8-10 years, with Chinese finance and using the services of China Three Gorges Project Corporation. Not only has China been involved in construction of Mangla Dam, but a consortium of China Gezhouba Water & Power Company and China National Machinery and Equipment Import & Export is also implementing the 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project at a cost of $2.16 billion. In fact, the Water and Power Development Authority of Pakistan has decided to use tunnel boring machines so as to complete the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project before India’s Kishanganga project.
Other hydropower projects being implemented with Chinese investment are the 7,000 MW Bunji Dam in Astore district of Gilgit-Baltistan and the Kohala project on Jhelum river.
A joint venture named Pakistan-China Sust Port Company is managing the Sust dry port, some 200 km from Gilgit on Karakoram highway along China border. The port was opened in July 2006 to promote trade between the two countries.
Chinese companies Xinjiang Beixin Construction and Engineering Company and CWE are also engaged in reconstruction work in Muzaffarabad, Bagh and Rawalkote areas of PoK after they were hit by an earthquake in 2005.
To promote Chinese investments in PoK, Pakistan is even extending security cover to Chinese engineers and workers, executing mega development projects in PoK. A high-level meeting chaired by Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik in May had reviewed the security of Chinese personnel working in Pakistan and decided to deploy additional force to protect them. The Chinese ambassador to Pakistan and senior government officials from PoK and Northern Areas were present at the meeting.