The Karakoram Highway connecting Pakistan with China and built in 1978 with Chinese assistance runs through PoK. The KKH is about 1280 kms long and connects Havelian rail-head near Abbotabad in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan with Kashgar in the Xinjiang region of China. The Pakistani section of the KKH is about 800 kms long and much of it (about 580kms) runs through the Gilgit-Baltistan region of the PoK. China has taken special care to repair, renovate and upgrade it from time to time. The highway allegedly has been used for the clandestine transfer of nuclear material from China to Pakistan. That this has multiple strategic implications for regional security especially that of India has been underscored by many experts.
China has also been undertaking many developmental projects in PoK. Chinese Companies are working on a number of hydel projects in Pakistan, including Neelum-Jhelum, Gomal Zam and the raising of the height of the Mangla dam in PoK. During Zardari's visit to China in August 2009, both the countries signed MoUs on cooperation for development of hydel, thermal and solar energy projects, and for promotion of river fisheries and related technologies by cooperation between the Indus River Fresh Water Fisheries Research Institute and the Pearl River Fishery Research Institute of Guangzhou. It is believed that the Zhejiang Design Institute of Water Conservancy and Hydroelectric Power (Zhejiang province) has already carried out feasibility studies for building small and medium-sized dams in PoK. The media in Pakistan has reported that such deals between China and Pakistan are not transparent and often Chinese companies are awarded contracts without open bidding, “contrary to relevant government rules and regulations as well as basic norms of transparency”. Therefore, it is difficult to have a clear idea of the nature and extent of Chinese involvement in PoK in particular. It is well known that China's objective is to gain direct access to the Gulf through PoK by constructing highways, railways and ports.
Pakistan has ignored the resentment of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan against increasing Chinese penetration into their area. The people of PoK had registered their protest when Pakistan ceded the Trans Karakoram Tract to China in 1963. The people of the region fear that if the current pace of Chinese penetration is sustained then China may completely take over Gilgit Baltistan by the year 2020. Besides, there is even a suspicion that the Sunni majority state of Pakistan along with China may exterminate the Shia minority in Gilgit Baltistan in order to silence all opposition to their policies in future. This is not an alarmist proposition and such prospects have been hinted at in a New York Times article written by Selig Harrison. The article states that at least 7000-11000 Chinese troops have been stationed in the Gilgit Baltistan region of the PoK. IDSA's monthly newsletter PoK News Digest has also highlighted the rising presence of Chinese in Gilgit Baltistan time and again.
China has a strategic intent to dominate PoK in general and Gilgit Baltistan in particular. This area is contiguous to its own Xinjiang province where Muslim separatist feelings are strong. Along with Tibet, Xinjiang has become a particularly large belt of instability for China. Therefore, the Chinese authorities seem to be preparing themselves to take over strict control over Gilgit Baltistan, should the central authority in Pakistan become ineffective.
China, of late, is projecting the status of J&K as a disputed territory. In 2008, the Chinese government started issuing stapled visas to people travelling to China from J&K. In September 2010, China denied a visa to Lt General B S Jaswal, the GoC of the Indian army's northern command, for official talks in Beijing on the grounds that he was commanding troops in a disputed area. In this context, the Chinese plans for the development of Xinjiang, which demonstrate its increasing interest in the area, is likely to have considerable impact on Gilgit Baltistan in particular and the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in general. Enhanced Chinese presence in PoK also has security implications for India. Thus, there is need to sensitise international public opinion about Chinese forays into PoK.