As the second anniversary of Attabad landslide approaches, Gojalis have come to believe that a nationwide agitation is the only way they will be able to get the authorities’ attention.
The Attabad Lake formed when a massive landslide on January 4, 2010 struck the small hamlet of Attabad, killing 19 people. The lake has consumed at least four villages upstream since then and has expanded. The dam still threatens three dozen villages downstream if it is breached.
The government promised to have the 23-km-long lake drained by the summer of 2010, but two years later the lake is still as it was, with more than 25,000 people living in Upper Hunza Valley, or Gojal, cut off and Pak-China trade badly affected.
Aziz Ahmed, a member of the anniversary organising committee, said, “It appears that there is no end in sight to our miseries, so we plan to knock the door of everyone we can for the resolution of this critical issue.”
He said that they want the task of draining the lake to be assigned to a company other than the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO).
Ahmed claimed that the lake could be drained within two months if the task was given to a Chinese firm, but accordingly to FWO, a team of World Bank experts, Dr Richard Hughes, Dr David Petlay and Allessandro Palinieri, visited the site on March 11, 2010 to conduct a technical evaluation and suggest modalities to tackle the catastrophe. The team fully endorsed the plan proposed by Pakistan Army and NESPAK experts to tackle the catastrophe.
But Ahmed is still apprehensive. “The lake has crushed the local economy.”
Following the submerging of a 25 km patch of the KKH, Pakistan’s trade with China suffered, and whatever volume of trade continues is only taking place using boats. Traders load goods on to boats in Gulmit and offload them in Attabad. The goods are then delivered to other parts of the country.
With trade disrupted, China has twice provided consignments of relief goods to the victims of Attabad Lake since the tragedy, Ahmed said.
However, the situation in Gojal valley has deteriorated further since the temperature plummeted and the water turned into ice, making the voyage near impossible. “Just imagine the condition of the passengers, especially women and children and the sick and elderly, who are forced to travel in open boats in this freezing weather,” a passenger said.
Earlier this week, the district government placed a ban on boat travel through Attabad Lake, but local boat owners defied the ban, despite the threat to life and limb.
The people believe that by highlighting the issue on the second anniversary of the catastrophe, they will be able to pressure the government into having the lake drained. Success, or lack thereof, could define the region’s future.
Source (Gulfnews) Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has approved $90 million (Dh330 million) for the restoration of the strategic Karakoram Highway (KKH) linking Pakistan and China out of the financial help provided by the Chinese government, said an official statement yesterday.
The credit facility had been extended by Beijing as part of a larger concession facility for flood reconstruction activities in communication, energy and transport Sectors, it said.
“The operationalisation of Karakoram Highway has been a priority of the government due to its strategic significance and being an important means of communication for the people, as well as important trade route,” the statement said.
Also known as Friendship Highway, the 1,300km KKH connects China’s Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region through the Karakoram mountain range.
Some 200 Chinese workers and 810 Pakistanis lost their lives while building the KKH, mostly in landslides and falls.
The October 5, 2005 earthquake in Pakistan badly damaged some KKH sections and the road link between Pakistan and China was temporarily cut off until repaired by the Pakistan army engineers.
In view of the planned Diamir-Basha dam project in the region, realignment studies are underway with the help of the Chinese.
A 20km section of the KKIH was inundated and damaged last year when a massive landslide blocked the Hunza river and created a lake.
The government is pursing a plan to rebuild the damaged portion.
Source(Tribune)The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is a strategic road for Pakistan. It is used by national as well as international traffic since it provides for a land border between Pakistan and China. And for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, it provides a crucial land link to the rest of the country.
However, in recent years, it has suffered considerably from the elements. And while this is only to be expected, given the harsh terrain and unpredictable weather of the regions it traverses, what is worrying is that those in charge of its maintenance do not seem to be doing their job.
The highway is badly damaged in some places and the result is that while previously it would take between 15-16 hours to travel from Islamabad to Gilgit by bus, now it takes well above 20. Moreover, a large stretch of the highway between central Hunza and Upper Hunza remains blocked for the last 20 months because of the massive landslide at Attabad.
Because of this, people are suffering economically and even health wise, due to a shortage of medicines or because they cannot easily reach a hospital. Once travelling on the KKH was considered a thing not to miss out on, but now it is a positively painful experience. Of course, this cannot be good for one of the regional economy’s mainstays: Tourism.
Source (Dailytimes) Attabad Lake, which was formed by massive land sliding in January 2010, still poses immense problems for locals of the Hunza Valley and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).
It has not only affected trade between the valleys but also affected international trade between Pakistan and China.
People on both sides of the lake use boats to travel, to exchange grocery and for trade purposes.
Talking to Daily Times, residents of Hunza Valley showed their reservations and concerns about the delayed relief work at the spillway of the lake.
A local trader, Shahid Ali Jan, who used to buy different things from Sost, a border city with China, and sell them in GB and Punjab, told about the problems he and other traders were facing.
He said that most of the boats were without life jackets, which are essential in such crossings.
Shahid added that people of the community used to exchange goods and grocery on daily basis, but following the disaster at Attabad it had all been disturbed. “The service has been suspended for the past one and a half year,” he said, and urged the regional government to take appropriate measures to have it restored.
A resident of Gojal, Muhammad Ali, said that it was very hard to travel with family in the lake as his children and family members were afraid of travelling in a boat.
He said that his mother was a patient and for better treatment he had to travel several times across the lake.
About latest developments he said, “We are unaware about this new development. Why did it happen so abruptly?” He said that the government had, earlier, announced free boat service but later it started charging poor people, who had already faced a massive disaster.
He added that the role of government and other agencies in this calamity had been less than satisfactory.
“The federal government, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Force Command Northern Area (FCNA) responded well by showing presence at the scene earlier,” he said, adding, “They provided helicopter services for the evacuation and transportation of goods, but again the local administration misled the officials about realities on the ground.”
Principal Secretary to GB Governor, Hafeezur Rahman, is not much satisfied with the relief works of FWO at spillways.
Talking to Daily Times, he said that the Chinese engineers offered to work here with latest technology and more speed but GB chief minister while relying on FWO turned down the offer.
He said that now there was no relief work in the area which was causing troubles to the residents. Talking about alternate of the Karakoram Highway, he said that it cost more than Rs 80 million to build an alternate road.
He said that negotiations were underway with the Chinese engineers to construct a tunnel here.
A massive landslide struck Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan on January 4, 2010, which buried the village of Attabad, destroyed 26 homes and killed 20 people.
As weeks passed, the problems compounded because the landslide did more than destroying a village.
It also blocked the Hunza River, created a 25-kilometer long lake that inundated several villages and submerged the Karakoram Highway, which effected 173 families, 1,773 men, women and children.
The highway frequently blocked by rockfalls, most of which could be cleared in days, but work was still in progress at Attabad in mid-March 2010.
The water level in Attabad Lake later climbed up to about 400 feet and it submerged an area spreading to 25 kilometres area.
A spillway was also built by army engineers to avert a possible disaster, which diverted water back to its old route winding into the Gilgit River.
Efforts to expand the spillway at Attabad Lake have been under way since 2010. However, despite numerous attempts, which include controlled blasting, the lake has not been drained successfully.
This Attabad Lake also cut off the village of upper Hunza from rest of the world due to blockage of the Karakoram Highway.
Source(The Nation) Whether or not the elevation of the Federally Administered Northern Areas to provincial status, and renaming as Gilgit-Baltistan, has met the demands of the local population, it has certainly provided India a new battlefield on which it can fight Pakistan, with the added advantage that it also involves India taking on an anti-Chinese posture. This further involves the USA, which sees India as its future regional counterweight against China, in a position where it works against Pakistani interests. According to a report in this newspaper, Indian attention is already moving in this direction, intercepted messages have shown that the so-called Balwaristan National Front, or BNF, will attempt to disrupt the Pakistan-China trade, which is an important part of the economy of the area, through demonstrations.
Expatriates from the area in the USA are to play their role by supporting a certain Imtiaz who is playing a role for the independence of the area. This is evidence that the USA is involved in the Indian machinations, and wants to foment trouble in the area, where it fears the growth of Chinese influence. Apart from its opposition to China, India is also only too happy to involve the USA in a covert operation that puts it in opposition to Pakistan in the disputed territory of Kashmir, of which Gilgit-Baltistan is a part, the former Gilgit Wizarat of the old state, which broke away from Indian control in 1947.
Source (J.E. Dyer – Hotair)The Hudson Institute has an article this week that provides an excellent summary of disquieting events in Pakistan’s remote northern province of Gilgit-Baltistan. Why should we care? Chinese troops. Regional analysts fear Gilgit-Baltistan is becoming a gateway for China to exert military and political influence in Central Asia. Exhibit A in their assessment is the presence of up to 11,000 Chinese troops in the province. (This MEMRI summary has additional details.)
The Chinese military deployment is of concern for two principal reasons: its potential relevance to the coalition effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan (AfPak), and its importance to Beijing’s project of bisecting Asia with a Chinese-built, Chinese-controlled transport corridor. Such a corridor would benefit commerce and travel, but would also be of unique significance to the Asian balance of power.
China is very unlikely to take any overt military action against coalition forces in Afghanistan. But China and Pakistan could well make common cause there, backing or opposing local factions to induce an outcome they regard as favorable. The visit of a high-level Chinese military delegation to the AfPak border in October – sponsored by Pakistan – got little coverage in Western media, but raised hackles in the Asian press (see the MEMRI summary). Notably, NATO was kept well away from the event.
It would hardly be unprecedented for China to arm factions that are fighting the US or other foreign powers. The relative political concord between NATO and Russia in Central Asia is no doubt a motivating factor for the Chinese, who don’t want to see their Asian rival profiting from a NATO-guaranteed settlement. But Chinese objectives in Central Asia go beyond the disposition of Afghanistan. The troops in Gilgit-Baltistan have been engaged in tunneling projects and road- and rail-building. These efforts will certainly affect the opportunities for commerce through Central Asia, but they will also help China achieve the strategic advantage of spanning Asia’s temperate zone and major waterways, which neither Russia nor India does.
This advantage is useful beyond commerce, and even beyond the race for oil and mineral resources. Improved roads and rail into northern Pakistan, along with a series of mountain tunnels, constitute military assets, forged through a region sensitive for both India and Russia. Given China’s improvements to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, a project launched in 2007, this infrastructure, when completed, would give China a strategic land link with the Indian Ocean – on the other side of India. With a Pakistani alliance and an advantageous outcome in Afghanistan, China would be in a position to bypass and flank both her continental Asian rivals, trumping them or holding them at risk in multiple ways.
China’s Central Asian gambit is in an early stage at present. The mere idea of road and rail improvements is not something to be resisted, but the US must still take note that China, whose intentions may come into conflict with ours, has moved troops into Pakistan’s territory at a time when our relations with Islamabad are worsening. Failing to reckon with such interrelated developments was one of our chief vulnerabilities during the Johnson years of the Vietnam War.
Regarding China and strategic advantage in Asia, we might take a cue from the old strategy of Great Britain. It would be as problematic for the US to see one nation achieve ascendancy over Asia as it would have been for Britain to see one nation achieve it over Europe. Britain addressed that problem by two methods: promoting a balance of power on the continent and being a friend (if a selective one) to nationalist movements and the establishment of smaller nations. America has no wish for a career of conquest or occupation in Asia, but discouraging the consolidation of an empire there is both central to our security and consonant with the promotion of democracy.
Source (Anna Mahjar-Barducci – hudson-ny.org) China has been deploying thousands of soldiers in the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan, a mountainous area in northern Pakistan, and a region historically contested by Pakistan, India and its inhabitants.
Although cooperation between Pakistan and China is not new — it was China in the 1970s that supported Pakistan’s attempts to acquire its nuclear capability — the deployment of Chinese troops in Pakistan, however, indicates a worrying alliance for the US. The US would do well to monitor these developments before a catastrophic scenario, especially for its troops, takes place.
The presence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army [PLA] in the contested Gilgit-Baltistan region, where a nascent revolt against the Pakistani rule is taking place, constitutes the direct involvement of Beijing in the dispute over Kashmir, making any future understanding between Pakistan and India more difficult, and can only arouse a new and serious rift between New Delhi and Beijing.
According to Mumtaz Khan, director for the International Centre of Peace and Democracy in Toronto, many Western analysts who view China’s stance merely as a bargaining chip against India will unfortunately soon realize that China is redefining its priorities and interests in South Asia and beyond. “The current involvement of China in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan administered Kashmir consists of more than just providing military and diplomatic support to Pakistan. Soon, Pakistan will swap its role to take the backseat as China exerts itself as a major player in the Kashmir issue” and maybe also in Afghani one.
The Gilgit-Baltistan region borders Afghanistan to the north; China to the northeast; the Pakistani administrated state of Azad, Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) to the south, and the Indian-administered state of Jammu and Kashmir to the southeast. Recently, the New York Times reported that two major developments are taking place there: a rebellion against the Pakistani rule, and the influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the PLA.
China’s Grip on Pakistani Strategic Area
“China wants a grip on the strategic area to assure unfettered road and rail access to the Gulf through Pakistan,” stated the NYT. Beijing intends to create a corridor from the Indian Ocean up to the Chinese province of Xinjiang. The first cornerstone of this grandiose project has been the construction of the Gwadar Port, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and outside the Strait of Hormuz. It is near the key shipping routes used by the mainline vessels that have connections to Africa, Asia and Europe, and it enjoys a high commercial and strategic significance.
The port was financed and built by China and inaugurated in 2007 by the former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. At present, it takes a Chinese tanker about 16 to 25 days to reach the Gulf. Once high-speed rail and road links through Gilgit-Baltistan are completed, however, China will be able to transport cargo to and from Xinjiang to Gwadar and to other Pakistani port facilities, within 48 hours.
PLA’s soldiers in Gilgit-Baltistan are also expected to work on the infrastructure in the region. According to reports, China is planning the construction of roads and bridges; a high-speed rail system, and nearly two-dozen tunnels. As the whole area is closed to foreign observers, news can only be obtained through intelligence information, as well as satellite imagery that shows construction activities are underway throughout the region.
Many of the PLA soldiers are supposedly currently building the railroad. Others are extending the Karakoram Highway, which connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, and engaged in activities for constructing dams, expressways and other projects.
Their presence is also apparently meant to deter any possible disturbances from the local population, within which are simmering rebellious sentiments against the Pakistani rule.
China and Pakistan’s Common Interest is India
The presence of Chinese soldiers on Pakistani soil is not an ordinary matter. If all Pakistani governments have always objected to the deployment of U.S. troops in the country, why is there such openness towards the Chinese army?
The alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan appears to be becoming less and less sound. The U.S.-led war against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan is quickly deteriorating into a growing open conflict with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)., which represents the core of Pakistani military power and can also act independently from Pakistan’s government. The agency is responsible for the creation of the mujahiddin movement in Afghanistan during the war against the USSR; and later, for the movements for the “liberation” of Kashmir, as well as the first attack on World Trade Center, and the attacks on hotels and a Jewish Habad Cenmter in Mumbai. . The main ISI’s concern, however, is India’s rule in Kashmir. This is why the ISI, in order to confront New Delhi, is providing help and shelter to Islamist groups ready to fight for the “Muslim” Kashmir.
China and Pakistan share many common interests: both have territorial disputes with India. China and India, whose populations, combined, make up slightly less than 40% of the world population. They are also both striving for strategic regional supremacy. By linking its western province to the Indian Ocean, China will not gain just a strategic stronghold and access to the Persian Gulf, but also could significantly influence the geopolitics and trade in the Indian Ocean Region, as well as in Central Asia.
A Possible War Between Pakistan/China and the US
The possible scenarios coming out of the present situation are also dangerous. A deterioration of the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan over the war in Afghanistan could lead to a direct confrontation — in which event, the involvement of the giant China, as Pakistan’s ally, might be inevitable. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports that already a delegation of the Chinese Army visited the Pakistan-Afghan Border last October.
The same MEMRI’s analysis also predicts that in a possible war between Pakistan/China on the one hand and the US on the other, Russia would be on the side of the West. Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov, has said that Russia does not want the international troops to leave Afghanistan. Moscow, concerned about development in this region, has begun strengthening the Afghan police forces by supplying weapons and ammunition.
In the meantime, the relationship between Pakistan and Russia are marred by the Cold War legacy, and will take a long time to get normalized. MEMRI reports that the Urdu-language Pakistani daily Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt has warned that “another enemy of Pakistan” –. Russia – has been added to the list of the countries influencing Afghanistan; and that the presence of Russian troops in Afghan will reinforce anti-Pakistan forces in Afghanistan.
Before apocalyptic scenarios become a reality, it would help if Washington exerted exert maximum efforts — and firmness — to convince Pakistan not to continue on such a dangerous path. Two new war fronts seem rapidly to be opening: Afghanistan on one side, and Kashmir on the other.. The explosion of a possible war could involve both fronts, the Afghani and the Kashmiri, where the US ally, India, might pay a heavy price, finding itself between two enemies: Pakistan and China.
The US will admittedly have a hard role, given the fact that relations between the Washington and China are already fragile, especially since the “Star Wars arms race” launched by China in 2007, but it is urgent that serious efforts be made.
Source (ibtimes.com) China’s high-stake poker game in Gilgit-Baltistan, a mountainous area that is part of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, will have disastrous environmental consequences for the entire region and beyond. Reports in the local and international media indicate that, over the past few years, Beijing has been steadily undertaking many infrastructure projects in that ecologically fragile region.
Details of most of these works, some of them supervised by the People’s Liberation Army, remain sketchy, as both the Pakistani and Chinese sides are wary of disclosing information, presumably fearing local and international opposition.
Before 1947, Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas, was part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by the Dogras. While Islamabad considers it separate from the Kashmir under its control, New Delhi sees the region—which is roughly a third of the size of Jammu and Kashmir—part of the overall dispute and deems any Chinese activity there unacceptable. There is also a vibrant homegrown movement within Gilgit-Baltistan that is demanding absolute autonomy, and even independence from Pakistan.
Among the few projects that China and Pakistan have publicly disclosed is the building of a 7,000 megawatt dam, at the place called Bunji, which was announced in September 2009. China is also reportedly financing and supplying skilled labor to build the controversial Diamer-Bhasha dam, which is set to destroy tens of thousands of ancient rock carvings and other priceless archaeological artifacts.
Five years ago, the two sides had agreed to expand the width of the historic Karakoram Highway, which connects Gilgit-Baltistan with the neighboring Xinjiang region in China, from 10 meters to 30 meters and triple its transportation capacity. The official Chinese agency Xinhua reported at the time that the state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation would be in charge of the designing and reconstruction of the highway.
According to various reports, other projects China has undertaken in Gilgit-Baltistan include construction of roads and bridges; building of a high-speed rail system; and nearly two-dozen tunnels. It is also said to be involved in mineral exploratory activities by acquiring hundreds of mining leases from Islamabad. Satellite images reveal sporadic construction activities throughout the region.
A major reason behind these costly investment projects is commerce. Beijing has already built ports in Gwadar and Ormara, in southwestern Pakistan, for the purpose of transporting oil and gas from the Gulf and Africa through Xinjiang. The expansion of the Karakoram Highway and rail line could help cut down the time it takes to transport these resources from Gwadar to Xinjiang. China could also send its cheap manufacturing goods to the affluent Gulf market in express time through the same route.
Writing in The New York Times last August, U.S. scholar and journalist Selig Harrison described the economic rationale for the increased Chinese presence in Gilgit-Baltistan. “It takes 16 to 25 days for Chinese oil tankers to reach the Gulf,” he wrote. “When high-speed rail and road links through Gilgit and Baltistan are completed, China will be able to transport cargo from Eastern China to the newly Chinese-built Pakistani naval bases at Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara, just east of the Gulf, within 48 hours.”
For China, with its global ambitions, the geopolitical importance of gaining access to an Arabian Sea port close to the Straits of Hormuz can never be overstated. Of course, there is also another strong, unstated, but highly apparent objective: weakening India’s position on Kashmir and in the entire region by denying it a strategic depth.
Whatever maybe their motive, the Chinese construction activities in the area have huge environmental implications for the whole of South and Southeast Asia. Gilgit-Baltistan is on the western edge of the Karakorum mountains and Tibetan plateau, which is critical to water and food security of a large share of Pakistan’s population. The area has dozens of peaks that tower above 5,000 meters, including K-2 and Nanga Parbat—respectively, the second highest and ninth highest peak in the world—and countless glaciers, among them, Baltoro, Batura and Biafo, three of the longest glaciers outside of the polar region.
Construction of mega dams and building of roads and tunnels in this mountainous area is an invitation to disaster. They are likely to lead to increased seismic activities and intensify the glacial melt, the two phenomena that are already occurring in the region.
In 2005, an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.6 had killed as many as 86,000 people in the Pakistani-occupied Kashmir just to the south of Gilgit-Baltistan. The epicenter of that earthquake was on the border of Gilgit and Pakistan, where the Diamer-Bhasha Dam is currently being built. Diamer-Bhasha will be a huge water reservoir inundating more than 100 miles of mountainous ravines. Such new dams will make earthquakes more probable, as the still water induces increased seismic activities. One can only shudder at the thought of what an earthquake similar to the 2005 tremor could do to the dams and the potential damage it could cause in the entire region.
The construction of mega dams in Gilgit-Baltistan is also unwise for another reason. The source of all the water in the region’s rivers and rivulets is snow and glacial melt. As the melt is dependent on temperature, there is constant fluctuation in water-level. There is a danger that, when a glacier lake bursts out due to excessive glacier melt, or seismic activity, dam water could be over-tapped. When that happens, usually a huge flood wave is generated, resulting in large amount of debris and sediments getting deposited in the dam, which threatens its long-term stability.
The widening of Karakoram Highway and construction of rail line and tunnels will, no doubt, intensify the glacial melting and endanger the infrastructure of the region. The de-glaciation rate is already high in the western Himalayas because of the presence of black carbon, a result of increased human activities, including heavy movement of military. (Black carbon is seen as the second leading contributor to the climate change.)
Then there are other human costs. According to news reports, Diamer-Bhasha, with a proposed height of more than 250 meters, will displace tens of thousands of people and submerge habitable areas and thousands of acres of agricultural land. Another tragic consequence of this gargantuan project is the loss of countless archaeological relics, around fifty thousands in number, and dating back to more than ten-thousand years.
It is clear that the risks that some of these behemoth Chinese projects pose far outweigh any potential economic benefit they are likely to bring to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. In fact, all indications are that the sides that stand to gain the most economic benefits are the Chinese and other provinces of Pakistan, but not the local people.
Even the Pakistani gains may be short-term, when one considers the long-term environmental consequences of some of these projects. Pakistan, especially, the country’s military that has historically called the shot, should rethink its policy of giving the Chinese a carte blanche to build, whatever it wants to, in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Author: Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a glaciologist, is a Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center, in Washington, DC. He is the member of several high-level committees, including the United Nations Environment Program Committee on Global Assessment of Black Carbon and Troposphere Ozone.