-Says I have buried friends for the Karakorum Highway
-Recalls extraordinary events in the construction of the Karakoram Highway
-Terms KKH as a marvel of civil engineering filled with bittersweet memories
BEIJING: “More than 23 years of my life was tied with Pakistan, during which I buried friends for the Karakorum Highway, went through the 2005 Kashmir earthquake with the Pakistani people and dealt with many unexpected events.” This was stated by Zhang Chunxiang, former Chinese ambassador to Pakistan in an interview on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Pak diplomatic relations.
In a nearly 3-hour interview, Zhang shared his detailed memories and stories of his days in Pakistan as a liaison officer and a diplomat. The reporter believes that his 23-year experience bears testimony to the relationships between China and Pakistan.
“My stories about Pakistan begin at the construction site of the Karakoram Highway. This part of my life shaped my understanding of the relationship between Pakistan and China, and encouraged me to become a diplomat.” Zhang stated.
The Karakoram Highway, also known as the Friendship Highway between Pakistan and China, was built by the governments of Pakistan and China. Traversing mountains above the height of four thousand meters, KKH is often declared as a “road to paradise” which redefined trade activities among Hindukush, Karakoram, Pamir & Himalaya mountains. To Zhang, KKH is a marvel of civil engineering filled with bittersweet memories. “Initially, I worked as a liaison officer to help Chinese scientists conduct research on road hazards at Batura Glacier, and collect scientific data for the 2nd phase construction of KKH. We nestled at an elevation of 5300 meters above sea level, even though the water will not boil at that altitude. Heard that we do not have access to vegetables, Pakistani villagers voluntarily sent us apricots.” Zhang said. Facing stones, rockfall, floods and earthquakes, climbing the Batura Glacier and conducting research is not for the faint-hearted, Zhang remembered: “Pakistani people are the kindest. On hearing that we needed to climb the peaks at Batura Glacier, elders who lived beneath the mountain worried deeply, they insisted on travelling with us… 1 time, they followed us for 2 hours.” From then on, the idea of “ironclad brothers” has deeply rooted in Zhang’s heart.
Owing largely to the brutal working condition, many Chinese and Pakistani workers and engineers rested forever between the mountains.
Zhang recalled the death of a Chinese senior officer, Wu Zhiye, “Wu was trying to stop the Pakistani villagers from entering the danger zone as the road section had just been blasted, he got hit by a rockfall and died. The villagers who were saved were devastated. Their cries filled the mountains. Wu and I are from the same province in China. No words can express my sorrow for the loss of a diligent and brave young man, and I salute him for contributing his own life to others.”
The days spent at the KKH shaped Zhang’s character. He described himself as “not afraid of death, only fear of being incompetent”, claimed that there were no other professions that he would rather choose, except for devoting his life to the Pakistan and China relationship.
“I have witnessed how the Pakistani and Chinese workers fought side by side against the cruel environment.
Based on mutual trust, they united regardless of their nationalities and beliefs, all to secure the well-being of the two people.” Before Zhang went for his appointment at the embassy, he promised his Commissar that he would come back to visit the villagers, and pay tributes to those who had perished.
“The KKH brought tremendous changes to the people who live in northern Pakistan. When I visited the villagers who had helped us, I noticed that their children were able to play cricket nowadays—before the construction of the KKH, it took many days for a child to go to school, let alone purchase cricket equipment!”