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Beijing starts construction of strategic Xinjiang-Tibet highway, which will bring the greatest strategic change for India since the 1950s, as it will be an alternate artery for the Dragon to fortify its presence along the LAC.

Claude Arpi



On 27 May 1951, the Ashi Shan (mountain) volcano erupted in the Xinjiang province of China. It began with a loud detonation, followed by the ejection of large blocks of lava, emitting thick black smoke, and lasted for a number of days.

The Ashi volcano, the highest volcano in the northern hemisphere, is part of a group of about 70 cinder cones in the Kunlun range, at the border of Tibet’s Northern Plain (Changthang). The 1951 eruption remains the most recent volcanic activity in China. What is unknown is the other story behind the eruption in this most desolate area.

In the early 1950s, Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was desperate to link its two recently acquired provinces of Sinkiang (today Xinjiang) and Tibet. The country of the Uighurs, also known as Eastern Turkestan, had been annexed in December 1949, while Eastern Tibet was invaded in October 1950. It was a matter of national priority to discover a route between Xinjiang and Tibet.

In 1951, when the PLA decided to cross the massive Kunlun range along the Keryia Ancient Road in Hotan County, it encountered the Ashi Shan. It is then that the volcano erupted. Many road workers were killed in the mishap, and the plan to build a road through the Keryia route was abandoned. Mao had no choice but to find an alternative.

It is how the G219 National Highway Xinjiang-Tibet Road, as we know it today, was selected. The road crossed through Indian territory in the Aksai Chin, but this was not an issue which bothered the Great Helmsman.

Chinese leaders never forget the dreams of their predecessors. Today, one of the most secret projects of President Xi Jinping is to open a new link between Xinjiang and Tibet, the two restive autonomous regions bordering India.

It appears that China has recently started the construction of the National Highway 216 (known as G216), linking northern Xinjiang to Kyirong County in Tibet (the border town with Nepal). But for India, the G216 will bring the greatest strategic change since the 1950s, as it will be an alternate artery for China to reinforce the northern India front.

According to the ‘National Highway Network Planning (2013-2030)’, the G216 runs from Hongshanzui Port (in Altay County, north of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or XUAR) in direction of Baluntai in Hejing County, where it joins China National Highway 218, then moves to Luntai County entering the Taklamakan desert till Minfeng County. It then proceeds to Garze County in Tibet, to finally reach Kyirong.

For obvious reasons, Beijing does not want to announce as yet that it has started the construction of the highly-strategic road-link. For Beijing, it is also an important part of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) between Central and South Asia, and in case of a conflict with India, it will be a great boon for the PLA.

The crossing of the Kunlun range is still the trickiest part of the project. How will the Chinese engineers manage to cross the mountainous range? Once on the plateau, the terrain (via Gerze County) will be easier. But old dreams of megalomaniac rulers cannot be dropped.

Today, there is little information on the G216. However, a Chinese website provides some details on the history of the road. It says: “Xinjiang and Tibet are two giant autonomous regions occupying nearly one-third of China’s landmass; the boundary between the two autonomous regions is more than 1,300 kilometres.”

The main issue for Beijing is that, “due to the barrier of the Kunlun Mountains and the harsh natural environment of the northern Tibet Plateau, the number of practical passages is limited… Therefore, in history, the Western Regions and the Tibetan Plateau were relatively independent geographical areas, and they did not communicate closely with each other”.

It then makes an interesting remark: “The boundary between Tibet and Xinjiang is not divided according to the boundary of the plateau, but roughly the southern foot of the main Kunlun Mountains is Tibet.” It practically means that the Kunlun range is still the natural frontier between India and China. The crossing of the Kunlun range is clearly the passage between two worlds.

There were several ancient routes to Tibet crossing the Kunlun mountains. In the early days, there were several passages: The Keliyang trail, southwest of Hotan, leading to Aksai Chin, the Sanju ancient trade road, which is now being revived, and the Keriya Trail, which was abandoned due to the 1951 volcano eruption, but is still “the shortest of several ancient roads and also the most difficult and dangerous one”.

The Keliyang and the Sanju ancient roads end up in Shahidullah (‘martyr’ in Uighur). In 1949, it continued to be a main hub in the region after “the actual control of the two places returned to the central government [Beijing].” The conclusion is: “to strengthen the communication and ties between the two regions, the linking of the highways is urgently needed to be put on the agenda.”

The article further confirms that according to the national highway network plan, during the period 2013-2030, two new corridors will be built to connect Xinjiang with Tibet. The G216 National Highway is one of them: “Its main section is almost parallel to the ancient Keryia Road and is located on the east side of the ancient road, creating a closest connection line from Urumqi to Lhasa.”

The author adds: “In addition, the Hotan area also has a local road network ‘three horizontal and three vertical’ plans, and these ‘three verticals’ are all related to crossing the Kunlun Mountains.”

One of the verticals is the G580 National Highway, the second vertical is the Keryia Highway (G216) which enters Tibet near Heishi Lake, and the third vertical is the Sanju Highway constructed almost along the route of the Sanju ancient road in Pishan County. “As a result, the highway across the Kunlun Mountains will become a network,” concludes the article.

Interestingly, the article mentions the proposed Tibet-Xinjiang railway running via the Aksai Chin: “Since the final route plan of the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway has not yet been released, Yecheng Station, which is temporarily regarded as the starting point of the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway, will also be continuously improved for the Xinjiang-Tibet highway network. If the Yecheng Station is not really where the train arrives, Moyu (Karakash) Station or Hotan Stations might be the starting point.”

All this is worrying. Will the Indian government follow its usual ostrich-like policy or will it react? If it does not, it will have implications for several decades for India, like the Aksai Chin blunder in the 1950s.

The writer is a French-born author, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.

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KABUL: Pakistan’s envoy to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmad Khan met Taliban acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and discussed bilateral cooperation between both countries.

“Pakistan Ambassador Mansoor Ahmad Khan met with acting FM Amir Khan Muttaqi and discussed bilateral cooperation, Khan said.

Pakistan has decided that wheat and emergency medicine provided by India can be transported from Wagah port in Pakistan on Afghan trucks to Afghanistan,” Tolo News reported.

Earlier, Pakistan’s envoy and the Taliban acting foreign minister met in the month of September where both sides discussed strengthening bilateral cooperation particularly facilitating humanitarian, economic and people-to-people exchange.

Pakistan, along with China were among the first countries that began engaging with Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August this year.

The meeting came amid the Taliban’s repeated appeal for wider international recognition. Pakistan is among the very few which seem to have started engaging with the outfit. Other members of the international community are taking a wait and watch approach.

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TLP expanding after release of its leader Saad Hussain Rizvi



Formerly banned organisation Tehreek-E-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is on a surge after the release of its leader Saad Hussain Rizvi and revoking of its ban by the Imran Khan government.

According to the International Forum for Rights and Security (IFFRAS), there was a rather secret deal between TLP and the Imran Khan government reached on October 31 to end the latest round of protests. The deal was not made public and on November 7, Khan’s cabinet revoked the declaration of the TLP as a banned group. The TLP benefitted mainly from the divisions between the PML-Nawaz government and the military establishment deep state’, IFFRAS said, adding that Pakistan military establishment’s effort to prop up different religious groups to deteriorate the PML-Nawaz government permitted the TLP to increase greater political space. Earlier, Rizvi was released on the eve of his father, Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s death anniversary on November 19 who was the founder of TLP.

Further, the TLP capable of mobilising thousands of supporters, was born in the year 2015 out of a remonstration movement to the Barelvi movement.

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US ready to support Ukraine, help Kiev with defence



US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says Washington is concerned about the situation in Ukraine and is ready to support Kiev.

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Over the past several weeks, Ukraine and some Western countries have expressed concern about the alleged increase in what they characterise as “aggressive actions” by Russia on their border. However, Russia has refuted the accusations by saying it is moving troops within its own territory and at its own discretion.

US President Joe Biden plans to discuss the issue of Ukraine, as well as other topics, during the upcoming video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, December 7.

Biden told reporters earlier this week, answering a question about the issue of Ukraine, that he expected a “long discussion” with the Russian President.

Russia has repeatedly said that it stands by its right to move armed forces freely within its territory. On November 23, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated that Russia does not have any aggressive plans with regard to Ukraine. The Kremlin has also expressed concerns about Kiev having aggregated almost half of all its armed forces on the contact line with the Donbas region in the east of the country.

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Explosions were heard on Sunday inside a US military base in Syria, state news agency SANA reported.

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As Western powers continue to retreat from Africa, China is busy creating an atmosphere that emboldens generals and military cliques to seize power in one of the largest continent in the world, said a media report.

In an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, Harvard University lecturer Christopher Rhodes said that “backsliding on the part of Western powers, the rise of autocrat-friendly China, have created an atmosphere in Africa that emboldens generals and military cliques to seize power.” Rhodes further wrote that the coup, which had been widely rumoured in Sudan but still managed to blindside the United States, remains a source of outrage for Sudanese citizens. But Washington is yet to take a clear stance on the issue, Rhodes said.

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A protest was held outside Pakistan High Commission in Colombo on Sunday by a large crowd, including a group of monks, against the killing of a Sri Lankan national in Sialkot city of Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan executive of a garment factory was lynched and his body burnt by angry supporters of a hardline Islamist party that attacked the facility in Sialkot over blasphemy allegations on Friday.

A police official alleged that Kumara tore a poster of the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in which Quranic verses were inscribed and threw it in the dustbin. A mob enraged over the alleged blasphemy incident, started gathering outside the factory from adjoining areas, most of them activists and supporters of the TLP.

They dragged the Sri Lankan executive, who was in his 40s, from the factory and severely tortured him. After he succumbed to his wounds, the mob burnt his body before police reached the crime spot. Late on Friday, Punjab police said they have arrested 100 suspects, after identifying them through video footage that went viral on social media.

Expressing grief over the lynching of his country’s citizen in Pakistan, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksha said that he was “shocked to see the brutal and fatal attack” on Priyantha Diyawadana by “extremist mobs in Pakistan”.

“My heart goes out to his wife and family”, Rajapaksha said in a tweet.

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