IT was apparently a little step forward when Pakistan and China had established their diplomatic relations in 1951.
That time, no one would have imagined that the accord of establishing diplomatic ties, signed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Chinese Zhou Enlai in 1956, would one day be turned into a strategic partnership. No one would have imagined that the ties between Karachi and Beijing would lead to the permanent resolution of the border dispute in 1963. And no one would have imagined that these small steps would turn their diplomatic relations into ‘all weather’ friendship.
Today, the officials and public of both countries describe their relationship as ‘higher than the mountains’, ‘deeper than the oceans’, ‘sweater than honey’, and now ‘stronger than steel’. If we look at the history of their relationship, there is a tangible philosophy behind these phrases. If they say, ‘higher than the mountains’, the thing which immediately comes in mind is the Karakoram Highway, said to be the eighth wonder of the world, was not possible if their friendship didn’t have courage taller than the dangerous mountain ranges of Himalaya and Karakoram.
If they call ‘deeper than the oceans’, construction of Gwadar Port immediately comes in mind because construction of an international port in the restive Balochistan province was not possible if their friendship would not have depth more than the oceans. The Pak-China relationship is not limited to the governments of both the countries. Their relationship has established its space in the hearts of their people. When the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao arrived in Islamabad in 2005, they were the “people’s” who welcomed and he was moved to add ‘sweeter than honey’ to the usual frothy allusion to mountains and oceans.
These days, a commercial for a masala brand is viral on media. The advertisement showed a Chinese couple in Karachi. The husband telling the depressed-looking wife that she should make friends in the neighborhood. The wife then makes biryani, using the masala brand, and takes it across to the neighbors where she is received like a long-lost family member. The advertisement is, in fact, depicting Pakistani nation as being emotional about their relationship with Chinese people. The advertisement well adds a relationship ‘deeper than soul’. And now, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, with its finance, information technology, communications components, along with security and political dimensions, has laid the foundation to build their friendship ‘stronger than steel’. The relationship between Pakistan and China has endured over seven decades of changes in geostrategic and geopolitical interests. Pak-China friendship is the only relationship, in which, both the countries support each other in political, diplomatic, economic and security matters.
Behind their ‘all-weather’ friendship, there is a layer of stories of several highs and lows; however, similarities in their national interests have been keeping them united. China’s border dispute with India is said to be a motive that pushed Beijing to provide tactical support to Pakistan in the 1965 war against India. There was a perception that China’s cordial relations with Pakistan are important to contain India. Later on, Beijing support in the building of six nuclear reactors vetoed India’s membership to the Nuclear Supply Group (NSG) and assistance in the preparation of JF-17 thunder fighter jets were some major positive moves that played important role in bringing both the countries closer. Another greater moment came in their friendship when Pakistan facilitated Henry Kissinger’s secret ice-breaking visit to Beijing in 1971.
The facilitation laid the ground for a visit of President Richard Nixon to China in the following year. In this way, Pakistan played leading role in establishing Beijing and Washington relations. Pakistan also acted as the bridge between Beijing and the Middle East states, starting with Saudi Arabia. Islamabad sees Beijing as a far more reliable ally because it always pays respect to its relations with Pakistan, contrary to the United States which has been using Pakistan as an option to achieve its strategic goals over the years. As it achieved its goal, starts ditching Pakistan, ignoring its contribution and sacrifices in protecting the United States’ national interests. Pakistan’s contribution in the war against former USSR in 1979 and later on, its sacrifices and infrastructure damages, as a non-NATO ally in the war against terrorism, are not hidden any more. But still, the United States is constantly demanding to do more, besides humiliating Pakistan over terror factors publically. These might be the factors that uncertainty and lack of trust between the governments and the people of both the countries dominating their relationship.
The CPEC didn’t come about overnight; the first bit of brickwork was perhaps laid by the Pak-China accord in 1963 when Pakistan recognised Chinese sovereignty over thousands of square kilometers in northern Kashmir and Ladakh, then in 2015, when Pakistan offered strategic geography to China to materialise its long-term ambition of “One Belt One Road”. This ‘all-weather’ friendship has now created its space in the hearts of the public of both the countries. They had proved that both the countries leadership and people have courage to beat all kinds of ups and lows. Their ‘all-weather’ friendship has also proved that absence of cultural bonds and different modes of governments are nothing before their love for each. Now, CPEC might well add another phrase: a relationship ‘stronger than steel’.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.