Tehseen Poonawalla’s open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to counter Chinese armed presence and construction activity in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, has triggered a mixed reaction. While the government and the BJP top brass maintained a studied silence, several second-ranking leaders of the party and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies welcomed the letter.
In his letter dated April 17, Tehseen threatened to take Centre to Supreme Court if the concern over illegal Chinese construction in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) wasn’t resolved. Tehseen is the brother of Congress’ Maharashtra state secretary Shehzad Poonawalla.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a major flagship infrastructure initiative of the Chinese government. The $62-billion trade corridor, involving a network or roads, railway lines, power plants and other infrastructure projects, is aimed at boosting connectivity for faster movement of goods between Xinjiang in eastern China to the port of Gwadar in the restive Balochistan province of Pakistan. The 3,200-kilometre CPEC is part of Beijing-backed ‘One Belt One Road (OBOR)’ initiative that envisages to link Asia to Europe and the Middle East through land and sea routes.
The China-Pakistan Corridor passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is administered by Islamabad but claimed by India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi dubbed Beijing’s plan to invest in the project as “unacceptable” during a bilateral meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping in January 2015.
However, both China and Pakistan have continued to dismiss India’s protests as Beijing continues to ramp up its infrastructure spending on the project.
At the time when the CPEC was announced in November 2014, China had said that it intended on investing $46 billion in the enterprise, an amount that shot up to $62 billion this year.
India sees Pakistan as an illegal occupier in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, a part of a larger Pakistan-controlled territory which also includes Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Last month, a proposal by Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaz Aziz to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as Pakistan’s fifth province drew strong reactions from India.
According to security experts quoted in Pakistan media, the proposal to integrate Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan was being carried out to assuage China’s concerns stemming from India’s protests over the CPEC. Approximately 400 kms of CPEC passed through Gilgit-Baltistan, according to reports in Pakistani media.
An article in Pakistan’s English daily Dawn noted that “Gilgit-Baltistan is strategically located at the entry point of the CPEC route.”
Gita S Kapoor, a vice-president at BJP’s Mahila Morcha in Mumbai, said in response to Poonawalla’s letter:
A student leader at BJP’s ally Shiv Sena, Ramesh Solanki, reacted thus:
The reactions from pro-BJP Twitter handles came on top of similar reactions from other Twitter users, many of who questioned the Modi government’s silence on the matter.
Vinay Kumar Dokania, a Congress party member wrote: