State-Owned China Telecom Global to Build Fiber Optic Cable Linking China to Pakistan – through Disputed Territory

On March 8, China’s state-owned China Telecom Global (CTG) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Pakistan Telecommunications Company (PTCL) to jointly construct an optical fiber cable connecting China and Pakistan that is to traverse disputed areas of Gilgit-Baltistan in Kashmir.  The MoU is part of the 820 km Pakistan-China Fiber Optic Cable — a $44 million undertaking that aims to establish direct telecom connectivity between Pakistan and China.  Pakistan’s government-run Special Communications Organization (SCO) is overseeing the project.

This specific MoU is to connect China to PTCL’s national optical fiber backbone in Peshawar and Rawalpindi (where Pakistan’s military headquarters is located).  China, in turn, would extend carrier connectivity to Pakistan and unspecified “neighboring countries” (most likely other Silk Road countries in Central Asia).  The entire network is projected to be completed by June 2018.

The fiber optic cable project is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a $46 billion multilayer infrastructure development initiative that involves China gaining access to Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.  The initiative has a range of dual-use commercial, strategic and military implications in the region.  The picture to the right shows the growing number of active investments by China in Pakistan.

Active Chinese Transactions in Pakistan

Active Chinese Transactions in Pakistan

In March 2016, Indian media indicated the presence of Chinese troops positioned along the 3,000 km CPEC route across Pakistan and a 2010 New York Times report revealed that an influx into the area of 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers from China’s People’s Liberation Army had been tasked with construction jobs, ranging from early work on CPEC to other more potentially militarily-relevant work (like building barracks).  At the time, it was reported that China reportedly maintained such a high level of secrecy in Gilgit that even Pakistan was barred from some of its activities.