China’s development activities spell human misery in Tibet, Pakistan administered Kashmir and Baluchistan ….writes Dr Rifan Ahmed Khan
China’s development activities in Tibet, Pakistan administered Kashmir and Baluchistan are adversely affecting humans and their environment. Reports from Tibet, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, and Baluchistan say that construction work, indiscriminate mining and dislocating people from their homes and environment are some of the causes of this disaster. It is to be noted that most harm is caused in territories occupied against the will of the inhabitants either by China or Pakistan. These territories include Tibet, occupied Kashmir and Baluchistan.
Tibet, called the roof of the world because of its chain of the world’s highest mountains, is spread over an area of 12,21,6000 sq.km. In 1950 Communist China involved and occupied Buddhist Tibet and has since kept them under suppression. A major motive behind development and construction activities in Tibet could be for strengthening the Chinese Army and police presence to keep often revolting Tibetans under the leash and for keeping an eye on India.
The Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamshala rubbishes the Chinese government’s claim that in its development programme it gave top priority to the ecological conversation. The government-in-exile, which calls itself “the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)” accuses China of following “weak environmental policies” and of “lack of sincere efforts” which have further exacerbated Tibet, fragile ecosystem. A white paper China produced in July, to say that it regarded the Tibetan plateau’s protection vital for its (China’s) survival and development, was dismissed by the CTA as a document containing too many lies, factual errors, and contradictions between policies and implementation.
The CTA talked of the impact of climate change, mining, “irresponsible damning, forcible removal of Tibetan nomads and littering on the environment of Tibet”. It asked China to respect Tibetan cultural beliefs in the sanctity of the sacred mountains, lakes and rivers to tackle the environmental issues. Tibetan, allege that increasing mining and dam construction are aggravating the environmental crisis. After occupying Tibet in 1950, China had given autonomy with a pledge to honour its inhabitants’ religious beliefs and culture. But it is history how China flouted this pledge before its ink could dry. Tibetans are not comfortable with their post-1950 nomenclature of “South West China’s Tibet Autonomous Region” because, as Dalai Lama asserts, they consider Tibet as their independent country and its natural wealth their own. Such dissenters are called separatists and punished accordingly.
Chinese are also causing environmental havoc in Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan in the name of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which connects China’s Xinjiang to Pakistan’s Gwadar in Baluchistan and which China calls the flagship project of its Belt and Road Initiative. Gilgit-Baltistan and Baluchistan bear the brunt of the CPEC. In the former, there has been massive displacement of population to make way for four tract roads, railway line and housing colonies for Chinese engineers and workers. One can imagine how much land it has taken away from the locals. Thousands of families have been uprooted their agricultural land has been acquired and their orchids cut down. That killed one vibrant economic activity and rendered the people dependent on fruit trade without any source of income. They were reduced to doing menial jobs for the Chinese occupiers of their land. Any protests against this state of affairs invite jail term under Pakistan’s Anti-terrorism act 1997.
Members of Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly dare not raise their voice because they belong to Pakistan-based political parties. For journalists it is safe and honorable to ignore the misery of CPEC-smitten people, who have lost their traditional livelihood Denuding the areas, that come in the way of the CPEC, of trees and greenery and massive digging of land and excessive mining of gold, copper, and marble have adversely affected the environment-rain cycle- and causing avalanches. All these further harass the uprooted population of Gilgit-Baltistan. From here a four-track road goes miles down to Baluchistan’s Gwadar having trees on the way. The road building of this length requires a lot of water. That starves the people of water deficit Baluchistan of water, especially during summer.
Water consumption is very high in Gwadar where the Chinese are building the deepwater port. During summer the people of Gwadar villages hold a demonstration against Chinese taking away their water for Gwadar-related projects. It is not only the water: the very livelihood of Baluch fishermen is at stake threatening the bread and butter of thousands of people. The fishermen are agitated because the construction of East by expressway in Gwadar has blocked their way to the Arabian Sea where they have been catching fish for generations.
Affected also are the people who are engaged in business associated with fishing like boat making and repairing net making and repairing packing and transport and many other jobs like electrical work and food catering. One can see the extent of apathy of those who clocked the fishermen’s access to the sea thus harming the country’s economy. The fishermen’s agitations are against basically Chinese activities in Gwadar Occasionally killing or kidnapping of Chinese engineers and workers reflect Baluch frustration and anger at China’s virtual occupation of Gwadar amid reports that it would eventually turn it (Gwadar) into its naval base.
In Azad Kashmir, a CPEC-related 82.5 billion power project was forced suspended by the people project was forcefully suspended by the people who protested against its adverse ecological effects if it was allowed to be compelled. The suspended projects, 1124 MW Kohala Hydro Power Project, on the Jhelum River was to be constructed by a Chinese company called “China Three Gorges Corporation”. The entire population of the Muzaffarabad district rose up against it saying it would dry up River Neelum, the lifeline of half a million population.
As a result of the Kohala project, River Neelum dried up because 90 percent of its water was diverted into the 54 km long tunnel for the Kohala project. The temperature soared up and hundreds of natural water resources dried up. As a result, 30,000 people moved out from 23 villages of Muzaffarabad district with their families to Muzaffarabad city causing housing problem there.
Point to be noted here is that the Chinese engineers who designed this tunnel did not bother about its adverse effects on the environment and the people who considered the River Neelum their lifeline. We notice the same callous attitude of Chinese engineers who designed the East Bay Expressway in Gwadar blocking Baluch fishermen’s access to the sea.