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From the Great Game to the game-changer

26 8 0

Gilgit-Baltistan has historically remained at the peripheries of the power centres of Central Asia and South Asia. This relative isolation enabled local communities to develop indigenous social, state and economic structures that allowed small principalities to remain autonomous in decision-making.

Despite its political marginality and geographic inaccessibility, GB managed to develop trade routes with Central Asia and South Asia. This helped the region to develop trans-mountainous trade links with the famed Silk Route that stretched through various roads crisscrossing Central Asia, Asia Minor, South Asia and Europe. Although the trade volumes on the route of GB were minuscule as compared to other major trade centres, the region was part of an extensive network of roads that formed the Silk Route.

The trans-mountain trade routes in “the Hindukush, Karakoram-Himalayan arc” were disrupted in the second half of the 19th century when the Russian and the British empires penetrated Inner and High Asia, respectively. Despite the changes in borders and trade routes in the Great Game, Gilgit remained a main conduit for the British to maintain communication and routes to Central Asia.

In addition to its strategic location, the British realised Gilgit’s potential in becoming a major and trade and commercial central in High Asia. It prompted the British to find alternative routes to the existing ones. Chad Haines, in his book ‘Nation, Territory, and Globalization in Pakistan’, states that in the 1920s “the British envisioned a third route, along the Indus River through Kohistan. By the time of independence, the Indus Valley road remained a mere idea.” The plan to build this route was shelved because of financial constraints.

With the Russian and Chinese revolutions and the partition of India, GB was disconnected from historical trade routes and once again plunged into isolation. This ended with the opening of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in the 1970s. Unlike previous trade arteries, the KKH was a highway that facilitated the flow of people and goods between GB with Mainland Pakistan and Western China.

When the KKH was opened, the region lacked basic infrastructure and was reeling under........

© The News International