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Now, Pak to ‘transfer’ 2 strategic islands near Karachi to China

Virendra Pandit 

New Delhi: After forcing Islamabad to ‘transfer’ a large chunk of land in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) for the upcoming China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing is pushing its “all-weather ally” to cede control of two strategically-important islands south of Karachi in the Arabian Sea.

China wants these two islands—Bundal and Bhuddo, previously under the regional government of Sindh province, to be made a “component” of CPEC.

With the Opposition up in arms against the Army-propped government headed by Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi for its failures on all fronts, the issue has gained currency. These parties have accused the Imran government of planning to sell or hand over these islands to China.

Pakistan’s titular President Arif Alvi had signed the Pakistan Island Development Authority (PIDA) Ordinance in September to facilitate reclamation and urban planning on these two largest islands along the Sindh coast, effectively snatching them from Sindh and transferring their control to the federal government, media reports said.

The ordinance triggered a huge political uproar in Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Ruling Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari called the ordinance an “illegal annexation”. Sindhi ethnic nationalist politicians oppose PIDA because it could hand over the islands to China.

“We will not allow you to sell our lands to China Communist Party,” tweeted Zafar Sahito, vice president of the Jeay Sindh Thinkers Forum, which advocates for the independence of Sindh.

The CPEC, despite support from the Pakistan Army and the government, has faced opposition from the people of PoK and Balochistan, which accused Beijing of invading their land. The Pakistan government has suppressed these people.

In May, Islamabad had banned Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz-Arisar for its hostility to the CPEC. Some fishermen have also launched a drive against the move and their apex body is set to organize a protest off Bundal on October 15 as it fears a loss of lakhs of jobs.

To expand China’s control of the business in Pakistan, Beijing nominated Nong Rang, a political appointee expert in commerce and trade, as its Ambassador to Islamabad in September.

According to Senator Muhammad Shahi, the ordinance is part of a bigger scheme to bring the coasts of Sindh and Balochistan under federal control. “Gwadar port and other key components of CPEC are in the coastal belt, and by putting them under federal control, provincial governments will be completely thrown out of CPEC.”