China’s Kashmir Gambit Raises Stakes in India-Pakistan Dispute

China’s Kashmir Gambit Raises Stakes in India-Pakistan Dispute

Strategic encirclement is a term that haunts Indian analysts quite a bit these days. So when noted Subcontinent watcher Selig S. Harrison reported in late August that 7,000-11,000 Chinese troops had poured into the northern part of Pakistani-administered Kashmir known as the Gilgit-Baltistan region, the feeling that India was being systematically "surrounded" by Beijing was loudly echoed in the Indian media. The revelations follow a recent controversy triggered by China's refusal to issue a visa to an Indian general on the grounds that his area of responsibility falls in the disputed Kashmir region; Beijing will only issue "stapled visas" to visitors from the area. Together, the two incidents highlight the fact that the geostrategic struggle between India and Pakistan for Kashmir has a third direct player: China.

The Indians have officially conveyed their concern to China over Chinese "activity and presence" in the region and say that they are "monitoring the situation." Indian military sources also apparently confirmed that a Chinese infantry battalion, or about 1,000 soldiers, has been deployed this month in Gilgit-Baltistan at the Khunjerab Pass, to provide security for Chinese workers engaged in widening the Karakoram highway and building a railroad.

The Gilgit-Baltistan region, also known as the "Northern Areas," is kept distinct from the so-called Azad Kashmir (or Pakistani-controlled "Free Kashmir") in terms of its administrative status. However, despite recent moves to give the region a legislative assembly and a chief minister, for all practical purposes it is governed directly by the Pakistani army, whose sizeable presence there serves both to deter India as well as to quell the region's restive Shiite population.

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