Blossoming of time-tested friendship

No doubt the Pak-China friendship is time-tested and defying ferocity of mercurial international order it has smilingly endured many a tough challenge. But how much ‘higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the deepest ocean and sweeter than honey’ it is, we get to know now as it blossoms out in the wake of President Xi Jinping’s two-day state visit of Pakistan. During his stay the two countries signed as many as 51 agreements and MoUs that envisage Chinese investment in projects worth $45 billion. This is no small money – this is a huge investment with potential to turn Pakistan into an ‘Asian Tiger’, which President said is his desire. Considering its size and the Beijing’s commitment to make it work, all that Pakistan has been receiving in return for agreeing to walk to the altar appear to be peanuts. Staggered over a decade and a half these projects are expected to turn the page on Pakistan’s resilient underdevelopment, polish its people’s inherent capabilities and put it on the road of sustained progress and prosperity. China is going to invest in projects that help Pakistan improve its energy sector, construct its infrastructure, modernise its industry and secure peace in the region by eradicating terrorism.

The flagship of the Chinese investment is the Pak-China Economic Corridor, which will connect the Silk Road Economic Belt in Central Asia with 21st Century Maritime Silk Road with Gwadar seaport. If India is upset over this as its dream of dominating the Indian Ocean has gone sour and its strategic interest in modernising Iranian port of Chahbahar trivialised. But the Chinese leadership looks at it from a different perspective; President Xi says China “wishes to live in harmony with Pakistan and other countries in South Asia and contribute its share to the development of the region”. The Pak-China Economic Corridor and the two land and maritime silk roads are “to promote common development by enhancing connectivity among countries along these routes”.

Of course, it is a massive dose of help China has administered to rejuvenate Pakistan’s inherent economic potential. But the offer is not that of a donor assisting a struggling economy to overcome its timely travails. It is the offer of a ‘brother who has come to his brother’s house’, says President Xi. Unmistakably, the idiom of time-tested ‘dausti’ richly tinted his speech at the joint session of parliament, his write-up for the Pakistani media released on the eve of his departure for Islamabad and in talks with host leadership. He talked of quite a few ‘firsts’ from which sustains China’s friendship for Pakistan. Pakistan was the first among the countries that recognised the new China, Pakistan was the first among the Muslim countries to enter diplomatic relations with China and Pakistan was the first to open the air corridor with outside world for China. It was Allama Iqbal who had predicted, in 1931, that China would emerge as a great power – to be aptly matched by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that Allama Iqbal had also counselled not to miss ‘the sun rising from the East’. He heartily recognised that Pakistan was always there to help China in its difficult times, and pledged support for the economic recovery and eradication of terrorism from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Fata areas. In his meeting with military top brass, President Xi Jinping praised the Zarb-e-Azb military operation, calling it a game-changer which not only restored peace in the restive region but also helped others feel that this operation is across-the-board having no hiccup if the target is a good Taliban or bad Taliban. In this context, he lauded Pakistan’s contributive role in Afghanistan.

If the welcome accorded to President Xi and his delegations was unprecedented and robustly rousing his departure was no less spectacular. Never before in living memory was the visit of foreign head of state so eagerly awaited and when it came about so dramatically raised the morale of the Pakistani nation.

In his speech and interlocutions with political leaders he met he made it clear that the Pak-China Corridor would pass through all four provinces and the Northern Areas. But what he did not say in so many words but did convey was that Pakistan should now get into gear to match the speed and timely execution of the agreed projects. But this is a kind of once in a lifetime opportunity which the people and government of Pakistan will miss at their own risk.