Locals in Gilgit-Baltistan — bigger of the two parts of the Kashmir region occupied by Pakistan — are protesting against Islamabad grabbing large tracts of their land and handing it over to Chinese companies and the Red Army.
Information and interviews exclusively accessed by CNN-News18 showed that the land was procured mostly by force by Pakistani generals for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and those resisting are either killed off or incarcerated without a trial.
"Thousands had their land snatched and occupied by the military authorities and their agencies. Under this black draconian rule, nobody can raise their voices against the CPEC," Wajahat Hasan, Chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum (GBTF), told CNN-News18.
Many there fear that the next step in the land grab is the posting of Pakistani and Chinese troops in the disputed land that was snatched from India immediately after Partition.
"They have to build many cantonments in Gilgit-Baltistan and both China and Pakistan will station their huge divisions of army," said Abdul Hamid Khan, Chairman of the Balawaristan National Front (BNF).
Gilgit-Baltistan, often referred to as the 'Forgotten Kashmir', is an area six times the size of remaining Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It used to be the northern-most part of the undivided kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, and post Partition, the Congress government of the time could not stop Pakistani raiders from taking over the land. The next 70 years of Islamabad's iron rule saw forced resettlements and genocides reducing the original Shia Kashmiri population to a minority.
The area was back in focus last year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech, hit out against the atrocities committed by Pakistan in that area. The reference gave renewed hope to the people of the region.
Plans are also afoot in Pakistan to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as the country’s fifth province after Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh, raising concerns in India. It is believed that China's concerns about the unsettled status of Gilgit-Baltistan prompted Pakistan to mull the move.
According to an earlier report in Dawn newspaper, Pakistan was mulling to elevate the constitutional status of the region in a bid to provide legal cover to the CPEC.
Gilgit-Baltistan is treated as a separate geographical entity by Pakistan. It has a regional assembly and an elected Chief Minister.