Special Report By: Saim Siddiqui
Towards operationalization of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the pilot project, first trade convoy moved from Kashgar (Xinjiang) to Gwadar in the first week of November 2016. It was a historic moment for Pakistan to push-start the Flagship Project, CPEC, of China’s overarching initiative of One Belt, One Road (OBOR). The move was planned and coordinated by Frontier Works Organization (FWO) whereas the newly raised military formation Special Security Division (SSD) provided security to the convoy across Pakistan along the western route (main route), eastern route and combination of eastern and western routes. Despite obvious challenges, the western route along Kohat, D.I. Khan, Zhob, Quetta, Panjgur, Turbat, Gwadar was opted as a challenge which came forth as an opportunity to afford confidence to the newly raised security division.
The convoy commenced its journey from Kashgar and reached Sost (Gilgit-Baltistan) where a remarkable inauguration ceremony was held. Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman, General Officer Commanding SSD, Major General Abid Rafique and Commander Force Command Northern Areas, Major General Saqib Mahmud Malik along with dignitaries from Sinotrans Logistics China and Gilgit-Baltistan attended the event. Few containers were also moved on rail and road from various cities of Punjab utilizing the eastern route and a combination of eastern and western routes to reach Gwadar and Karachi. SSD provided foolproof security throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan along all the routes. Major General Abid Rafique visited D.I. Khan and Quetta to oversee the move of the convoy and meet the troops employed for security duties. The commitment and enthusiasm of all the men of SSD was remarkable as CPEC became a reality with this landmark convoy move. Everyone was elated when troops deployed along D.I. Khan route raised slogans of Pak-China friendship, CPEC and SSD. During his visit to Quetta, Major General Abid Rafique also held meetings with Commander Southern Command and Chief Minister Balochistan with regard to security of the trade convoy and CPEC projects in Balochistan.
While travelling with the convoy, I had the opportunity to interact with locals enroute, troops of SSD, Chinese officials and drivers of containers. Locals in Gilgit-Baltistan, Hazara, Punjab, KP and Balochistan unanimously welcomed the convoy, exchanged greetings with the Chinese, appreciated the efforts of Pakistan Army and hoped that CPEC would bring prosperity in their areas. On being asked about his challenging duty, a soldier of SSD said, “I feel proud and elevated while performing this duty as a pioneer for prosperity and the bright future of Pakistan.” Chinese officials and drivers appreciated the hospitality of Pakistanis, expressed their confidence over security arrangements and admired the culture, scenic beauty and Pakistani cuisine. They said that they never imagined Pakistan would be that beautiful and its people so hospitable.
The two week long journey under security arrangements of Special Security Division finally culminated at Gwadar where the grand launching ceremony of “First Pilot Trade Cargo” was held on November 13, 2016. The ceremony was attended by Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Nawaz Sharif, former COAS General Raheel Shareef along with ambassadors of fifteen countries including Chinese ambassador and civil/military dignitaries from home and abroad.
During their speeches at the ceremony, Chief Minister Balochistan and Chinese Defence Attaché appreciated the efforts of SSD in provision of security. Chinese DA expressed confidence on the future of CPEC due to the SSD, which now stands operationalized for security of the Chinese employed on CPEC projects. After disembarkation the convoy moved back to Sost and onwards to China along eastern route under the security of SSD. The move of the first mega trade convoy is an iconic event in the history of CPEC which has initiated the much awaited trade links between China and Pakistan, and has operationalized SSD. This convoy move has been instrumental in conveying a positive message not only at domestic, regional and global level but more importantly to China that CPEC routes are fully operational and secure for trade.