By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: India today forcefully condemned Pakistan‘s continuous attempts to carry out China-backed construction projects in the Indian territories illegally occupied by it such as Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Indian response came after Pakistan started construction activity at the Diamer-Bhasha dam in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan region of India’s Union Territory of Ladakh. India has questioned the legal status of the China-funded projects in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir regions illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947-48.
In May, India had objected to Pakistan awarding the 4,500 MW mega dam project backed by China with whom India is locked in a bitter territorial battle for the last 70 days and is now overseeing a military disengagement along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.
“The entire UT (Union Territory) of J&K and Ladakh have been ours and will be an integral and inalienable part of India. We have protested strongly against construction of this dam to the Pakistan government. This dam will lead to submergence of a large part of land in Indian UTs of J&K and Ladakh,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said at a media briefing.
“We condemn the continuous attempts by Pakistan to bring about material changes in Indian territories under its illegal occupation. We have also consistently conveyed our protest and shared our concern with both China and Pakistan on all such projects in Indian territories under Pakistan’s illegal occupation where it (Islamabad) has no locus standi,” Srivastava said.
The multi-billion-dollar Diamer-Bhasha project is being executed by a Chinese state-owned firm China Power and a commercial arm of the Pakistan Army, Frontier Works Organisation. China has been pushing for the dam project despite knowing India’s strong and age-old assertion of sovereignty over the Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan regions illegally occupied by Pakistan.
Another example of growing Chinese influence to sideline India is the ambitious rail link project from the Iranian port of Chabahar to Afghanistan. State-owned Indian Railway construction technology companies, IRCON International Limited and RITES, have been given contract to develop the second phase of the project and were to develop the rail link connecting the south-eastern port city of Chabahar to Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchestan region, and from Zahedan to Sarakhs at the border with Turkmenistan.
As China and Iran inch closer to a 25-year trade deal recently, the West Asian country is said to have kept India out of the Chabahar rail link project to Zahedan in Afghanistan, ostensibly at China’s behest. But such media reports have been vehemently denied by both Iran and India.
Srivastava said the IRCON had done a feasibility study of the said rail link and had discussed in detail the financial challenges being faced by Iran. The matter was subsequently reviewed in Dec. 2019 at the 19th India-Iran joint meeting and it was agreed that Iran would nominate an authorised entity to finalise all outstanding technical and financial issues.
“It is still awaited,” said Srivastava, as he highlighted the crucial role being played by India in the Chabahar port operations. According to him, the port was operationalised in 2016 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Iran, as part of India’s commitment to the project since 2003. An Indian company has been operating the port since 2018 and has been scaling up traffic there.
“The port has handled 82 vessels since Dec. 2018, 12 lakh tones worth bulk cargo and 8002 containers,” the Indian spokesperson said, adding that proactive measures are in progress so that the port may be used to serve areas in Afghanistan and Central Asian regions.
India also noted with concern that its cooperation with Iran on the Farzad gas field project, where Indian state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited had been involved in the discovery stage, has been impacted as the Iranian side had informed the Indian government in Jan. 2020 that it would like to involve ONGC at a later stage and would prefer to go solo now. “The matter is at a discussion stage,” said Srivastva, trying to downplay the issue.
Without naming Pakistan over its alleged backing to terrorist elements in Afghanistan, where India is the biggest development stake-holder, India also pointed out that as part of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, Pakistan is not allowing Afghan trucks and is restricting products from India as well as denying Indian wheat from reaching Afghanistan for humanitarian assistance.