The Great Media Game

Published: October 4, 2010
The writer is a development sociologist, and a visiting scholar in the Center for South Asia Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

The writer is a development sociologist, and a visiting scholar in the Center for South Asia Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

In an article on August 27 in The New York Times titled “China’s Discreet Hold on Pakistan’s Northern Borderlands” and a subsequent rejoinder published on September 9, Selig Harrison paints an astoundingly imaginative picture of Gilgit-Baltistan. He claims that this region is witnessing a creeping Chinese occupation at the hands of 7,000-11,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army, as well as a simmering local rebellion against Chinese and Pakistani control. Here are the facts.

Gilgit-Baltistan is a Pakistan-governed territory bordering China, and is internationally considered as part of disputed Kashmir. In the 1970s, Chinese labourers and engineers had worked with Pakistan’s Frontier Works Organization to build the Karakoram Highway (KKH) – a high-mountain road that connects China, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. Like the rest of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan has recently suffered severe devastation as a result of natural disasters, and the KKH has been damaged at many points. The Chinese, who had already been working on expanding the KKH over the last few years, are now active in repairing and rebuilding the road. This work is being undertaken by the China Road and Bridge Corporation.

The Times’ article portrays this construction activity as a military manoeuvre by the Chinese army, even suggesting that tunnels created as part of a proposed gas pipeline in the region can be used for storing missiles. This is an exercise in sheer myth-making, and both the Chinese and Pakistani governments have issued statements to this effect. Perpetuating such fear-mongering narratives is particularly deplorable at a time when Pakistan is faced with the worst natural disaster in its history, with over twenty million people in urgent need of humanitarian relief. As if the reductive image of a nuclear-armed Pakistan in the throes of Taliban militancy is not enough of an impediment to the flow of aid, Mr Harrison now adds “de facto Chinese control” of Gilgit-Baltistan to the mix and openly suggests that Pakistan cannot be a trusted US ally under these circumstances.

His assertion that local activists are revolting against an imaginary PLA presence is equally misguided.  Activists in Gilgit-Baltistan have in fact reprimanded the Pakistani government for not involving the Chinese earlier in relief work, due to the latter’s stronger technical competency. More generally, ordinary people in Gilgit-Baltistan respect the Chinese labourers for their efforts, and favour stronger economic ties with China.

Perhaps most shocking is Mr Harrison’s critique of Pakistani policies in the territories of Kashmir it governs, as compared to his praise for supposedly democratic elections and free media in Indian-ruled Kashmir. While Pakistan undoubtedly suppresses the parts of Kashmir under its control – and local activists rightly contest this suppression – there is simply no comparison between the state of militarisation and misery in Indian Kashmir compared to its Pakistani counterpart. The writer fails to mention the brutalities of the 500,000 Indian soldiers that occupy Indian-ruled Kashmir, and the incidents of rape, disappearances, civilian killings, and Abu-Ghraib style parading of naked Kashmiris that have occurred there in the recent past. He also fails to mention that the PPP government in Pakistan passed the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order last year, which introduced several positive reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan such as the establishment of an elected local assembly as well as a public service commission.

If Mr Harrison were to visit Gilgit-Baltistan, he would surely be disappointed in the extent to which the realities on the ground contradict his views. He would also be surprised at the perceptiveness of local activists, on whose behalf he so strongly speaks. They have no trouble seeing the obvious – that the Times article is motivated by a sense of competitiveness against China, instead of a real concern with the political conditions in Kashmir. It is such disingenuous reporting that makes Pakistanis suspicious of American interests, which in turn affects their views on the US and hinders the possibilities of further US-Pakistan collaboration.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (21)

  • faraz
    Oct 5, 2010 - 12:48AM

    Out of hundreds of articles published each day, how does a single unnoticed article constitute a “Great Game”? Why do we feel threatened by every ridiculous article published any where in the world?

    We are still stuck in the Cold war; China and US are not enemies any more. US is China’s largest trade partner and their bilateral trade in 2008 totalled 433 billion dollors. US trade deficit with China was 262 billion dollors in 2008. While Pakistan and China have a total trade volume of 6 billion dollors. Chinese and US economies are completely dependent one each other and a bankrupt country like Pakistan cannot influence their policies. Chinese foreign policy is mainly guided by their economic policy; their relation with Pakistan is not meant to counter US!

    Perhaps the only benifit they gain from Pakistan is the low standard products which they sell in our country, surely no other country would be pay dollors for their toothpicks.Recommend

  • Ali Hunzai
    Oct 5, 2010 - 1:19AM

    “Selig Harrison” is really a western ignorant or an outlet of spay agency who are continuously spreading anti-islamic and anti Pakistani news ( unfortunately we call these false stories also news , we need some new terms for this type of journalists and their writings) , since last 10 years or more. Indeed Taliban , Al-Qaida and xyz of war on terror are all almost media war fronts and we are losing on all these fronts from western media like Fox, BBC ,CNN etc .

    When I first time read the beautifully fabricated story of “Selig Harrison” on Chines holding over Gilgit-Baltistan , a term popped up in my mind for him , and I think our media should not hesitate to use this term to refer to people who are killing innocent people in our country. Yes , the term is “American Taliban” and another good one is “Indian Taliban” . so here is complete list :

    American Taliban e.g “Selig Harrison” , Suicide bomber killing innocent Pakistanis
    “Indian Taliban” , a subset of American Taliban
    Pakistani Taliban e.g all people of Pakistan , defending there country from tyranny of American and Indian Taliban ( Hire assassin , disguised like Taliban to kill Pakistani people to hide their professional incompetency in Afghanistan and Iraq , living on drugs 24/7)

    I love my country , of whatever shape and color its , its mullahs , its scholar , its talibs , its moderate people, its modern people and everything bad and good we have got in inheritance.
    And I think we will gradually fix these issues by OURSELVES not by US and we need sth to fix this “US” think first ;)Recommend

  • Ali Hunzai
    Oct 5, 2010 - 1:24AM

    for “faraz”

    we are not stuck in cold war but the big bull’s (US) horn is stuck in Afghanistan and we are riding it , either we have to cut the horn or …. the bull to bring peace to this country and region.
    I think we are not talking about PAK-China friendship dynamics but US and Internations Media and spy dynamics Recommend

  • Riaz
    Oct 5, 2010 - 7:09AM

    The piece reflects the mind set of a scholar residing in California.Can we blame ordinary Pakistanis for believing in conspiracy theories?Well said Faraz Recommend

  • mnkhan
    Oct 5, 2010 - 7:30AM

    i can not side with the views expressed by faraz, as it is the self assumed responsibility
    of every pakistan loving person to negate and counter all the misleading writtings,speeches.
    actions,where ever we find them, ali deserve all the commendations for this article, and hope
    she keeps it up.Recommend

  • Oct 5, 2010 - 1:36PM

    Lots Of things thing to say but 1st Our insid Home is totally disorder how can we influence in any thing in global world scnario , 1st right is the Pakistani nation on Pakistani stuff due to our regime We have last right in our every thing .. So better we order our inside mis-management then go for big task ,,, ,otherwise we would be infront of us pale and back side flood .. no way out for us .Recommend

  • Kamran Ashraf
    Oct 5, 2010 - 2:05PM

    The confusing comments from Riaz not withstanding, it is the article by the california based scholar that hints at a conspiracy if any. Faraz seems to be making a case for unfounded paranoia on our {pakistan’s} part, so with all due respect i dont know what Riaz is trying to say.
    Speaking of the article, i dont think the writer is overreacting. It may be an obscure article in this instance but many more such pieces, written or spoken on the electronic mrdia go unanswered. They are full of inuendo, misinformation, distortion of context and even outright falsehoods. just watch fox news for instance. I think Pakistanis like Ms ali are fighting the good fight and one certainly worth fighting. For all their global domination, cultural or otherwise, the fact remains that a large number of americans are extremely oblivious to what goes on in the rest of the world, let alone ” a bankrupt country” like pakistan, as faraz puts it. It is important not to let articles like this new york times piece be the dominant tools that shape american opinion about us. So keep up the good work Ms Ali because if you dont try and put things in their proper context, rest assured the spin doctors in the american media will not.Recommend

  • Fakhir
    Oct 5, 2010 - 2:13PM

    “While Pakistan undoubtedly suppresses the parts of Kashmir under its control” – what evidence is there for that? The billions of rupees just given to AJK govt to bail them out? The massive reconstruction done there? AJK parliament?

    Why do writers feel the need to criticise the Pakistani govt when they write a piece which does not pander to the US? Is it to show balance?

    the critique of Selig is well written and incisive. This academic has a history of scare mongering against China. Recommend

  • Anna
    Oct 5, 2010 - 2:14PM

    @Faraz – can you read English? The title says the “Great Media Game” not the Great game.Recommend

  • Mani
    Oct 5, 2010 - 2:14PM

    Very informative article. Good analysis.Recommend

  • eraj danish
    Oct 5, 2010 - 2:29PM

    The media must play a crucial role in this time. I am all for media freedom and the citizens must be more active in urging it for more responsibility.Recommend

  • Rashid Saleem
    Oct 5, 2010 - 2:30PM

    I believe the quoted article in this opinion was more of a conspiracy theory. If it creates a panic that we get worried about it then what’s the point of having so many think tanks. We must not let such things affect us and must educate the people about it as well.Recommend

  • Shah
    Oct 5, 2010 - 3:44PM

    The article of Ms. Nosheen represents the people of GB. US media is on a campaign which indicates that few chinese labour seen working along KKH are itching some eys. Recommend

  • haris
    Oct 5, 2010 - 3:55PM

    The situation in Gilgit-Baltisitan is still vague for most of the Pakistanis. I haven’t heard any news about this region in our local media ever since my understanding of politics began. so i myself, as an ordinary Pakistani cannot justify the claims made by either Selig Harrison or counter arguments from Ms.Nosheen Ali. but one thing I strongly believe, and I urge my people to realize, that, the amount of pain suffered by the Kashmiris from the hands of Pakistanis (who they believe are their True Friends) is difficult to comprehend. Please accept this first and if you really want to help them then make efforts to eradicate this.

    I conclude my comments in support of one of our fellow commentator, that, as long as the internal situation of Pakistan remains wretched the outsiders would project the image of our country without taking too much care about true research and real findings.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Oct 5, 2010 - 4:40PM

    Nosheen and Harris,

    My aim is not to create animosity in two of us. It is to find out the fact and make you understand the view point of the other side. We may have differences in approach and for that please do not misunderstand me. For you I may be a devil’s advocate … ??

    Please see Pakistan’s admission for fomenting militancy in Kashmir and direct involvement in Kargil mis-adventure. It is an admission not less than by your Ex-President Hon’ble Musharraf to International Media only yesterday. Link –,1518,721110,00.html

    This interview by this time is reported world over.

  • Taimoor hassan
    Oct 5, 2010 - 7:24PM

    Wonderful Title…….Recommend

  • Anoop
    Oct 5, 2010 - 9:10PM

    “The writer fails to mention the brutalities of the 500,000 Indian soldiers that occupy Indian-ruled Kashmir, and the incidents of rape, disappearances, civilian killings, and Abu-Ghraib style parading of naked Kashmiris that have occurred there in the recent past.”

    Humm.. Lets see. I know one wrong doesn’t make another right but I would like to point out the mind-numbing video of Pakistani military killing its own citizens. In contrast Indian Kashmir which also includes Jammu and Ladakh are relatively free and open to the press.

    Jammu and Ladakh are popular tourist destinations in India and many people from around the world come for adventure sports here. Its a pity that Kashmir which was prosperous and happy till the rigged elections of 1987 has become a little dull. Things will change I am sure. Recommend

  • Riaz
    Oct 5, 2010 - 10:23PM

    @Kamran Ashraf,you were the ordinary Pakistani,i was referring to.Recommend

  • Oct 6, 2010 - 9:41AM

    Go read the history of Tibet and what happened there before you fool yourself and others that all is nice and dandy. Just wait until the Chinese cross the Himalayan barrier as they just did and start mongrelizing the heck out of Pakistani women. They absolutely can and they will. Just so you know — Chinese men love Pakistani women! The portrait posted above would look more like a Burmese woman within a few decades. And that’s an all-weather promise~!Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Oct 6, 2010 - 2:14PM

    @ Harris and Nosheen,

    Hay ……… So we have seen and understood very well “THE GREAT MEDIA GAME”.Recommend

  • israr_hussain
    Oct 6, 2010 - 3:07PM

    although most of the facts mentioned in the new york time’s article are baseless, however a question arises why writer was motivated to write so. It because yes, the people of gilgit baltistan are deprived of fundamental rights. they are not given their right of self determination. pakistan has practically occupied gilgit baltistan for the last 63 years. the so called giglit baltistan self governance order is an eye wash. ministry of kashmir affairs is in control of the whole affairs. as far as militarisation is concerned, yes brutal forces in the form of punjab rangers are commting extra judicial killings, harassments and tortures almost frequently in gilgit. why to weep on babary mosque the punjab rangers, did not spare central jamia mosque of gilgit from their attrocities on october 13, 2005.There are scores of other incidents that can be quotted. if mr harrison has not visited gilgit, yuo the wtiter of this article visited gilgit and assesed the ground realities ever??? both of you live in united states? so think before writing against some one or in favour of some one.Recommend

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