Had there a thousand mountains been, my longing would have crossed them all.”
In the epic tale of Sassi Punnu the great Sufi poet Shah Abdul Lateef Bhittai aptly narrates the ordeals of Sassi when she crosses over the treacherous mountains of Kech Makran to unite with her beloved husband, separated from her by the rivals.
“O mountain, when my love I meet; your tortures I'll relate;
Your hideous shadow ghosts at dawn, your winding way's deceit,”
The thorns and stones of the thirsty mountains and the travails of her travels in vast expanses of Balochistan depicted in the famous romance remained all the same for the last eight hundred years. Until recently Balochistan was known for its desolation, isolation and insurgency.
But a great transformation has taken place in the region. The dream of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has now become a reality by the move of the first CPEC convoy. The landlocked Central Asian States, the remote Chinese West and the warm water ports of Arabian Sea are joining each other by crossing the formidable mountains, desolate deserts and parched plains. It will be a connection between one third of the world population living in South Asia, Western China, Central Asian Republics and the Middle East.
Though Pakistan and China are neighbours, they were separated by the formidable and impassable mountains of the Karakoram, Himalaya and Hindu Kush ranges. But the roots of our friendship were strong enough to surpass the physical difficulties. The connection between the two civilizations goes back thousands of years through the fabled Silk Routewhich bound the region in trade and friendship. The spread of Budhismfrom Taxila was also facilitated through this route.
The tracks and pathways between the two countries had existed for centuries but the advent of vehicular traffic brought in new requirements for carving out a dependable and all-weather road link between the two countries that could traverse the treacherous mountains, deep ravines and was able to withstand the vagaries of nature.
The Roots of CPEC
The realization of this great corridor has not been easy. The smooth commuting on this modern trade route is the fruit of relentless effort executed by the people of Pakistan and China for the last many decades.
When Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947 the remote towns of North were disconnected due to lack of road access. The few mule tracks that existed remained blocked half the year due to snow. Even in summers land slides, avalanches and floods were common which rendered the pathways impassable.
It was at this juncture that a road access was planned to connect to the Pakistani North, and, the 522 km Indus Valley Road linking Abbotabad with Swat and Gilgit was constructed by Pakistan Army Engineers.
The success of this track encouraged Pakistani government to plan for an all-weather truck-able highway between the two countries for which the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) was raised from the organizational structure of Pakistan Army Engineers in 1966.
Construction of a road in one of the most difficult terrains of the world was arduous. The road had to pass through deep ravines, high mountains and an earthquake sensitive zone. Chinese road builders joined hands with FWO workforce and together they shed their grit and blood for the construction of Karakoram Highway which was to become the highest paved road of the world and the foundation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The Culmination of CPEC
FWO and the Army Engineers have remained at the forefront to develop the length and breadth of Pakistan, particularly the far frontier, with state-of-the-art communication infrastructure.
The Arabian Sea coastal belt of Pakistan provides a convenient access to the huge landlocked regions of Afghanistan, Central Asian States and Western China, however, it was disconnected from the mainland. The road journey from Gwadar to Karachi or Quetta took three tiring days and opportunities of socio-economic uplift were severely restricted.
It was at this juncture that FWO successfully undertook construction of 650 km long Makran Coastal Highwaywhich proved to be a catalyst for the socio-economic development of Balochistan’s coastal areas.
Just a couple of years back FWO started its efforts to enhance connectivity of Gwadar Deep Sea Port with up country in which three major roads i.e. N-85 the Turbat-Panjgur-Hoshab road, the Gwadar-Turbat-Hoshab section of M-8 Motorway and the Kalat-Quetta-Chaman road have been completed, while active work is being carried out on the Khuzdar-Shahdadkot section of M-8.
Despite serious logistic constraints in wake of remoteness of the area, climatic constraints and resistance by the enemies of development, FWO has completed the onerous task of construction of road projects in Balochistan as part of the western route within the stipulated timeline. Completion of 870 kms of roads in about two years is a record by any international standard. Forty valiant workers of FWO laid down their lives for accomplishing projects of national significance.
Operationalization of the Western Route
Marching of a 250 vehicle convoy in the remote interior of Balochistan was indeed a great event. The isolation of Balochistan has ended and it’s on the path to progress. The newly constructed roads have brought peace and stability to the erstwhile volatile region. The results of a recently concluded study on socio-economic impact reveals that the living conditions of local populace have improved steadily after the infrastructure developments. Pakistan Army has been successful in winning the hearts and minds of locals who are increasingly becoming supportive of development works. The happy faces of the convoy that travelled great distance from Kashgar to reach Gwadar was a manifestation of the fact that CPEC has taken a good start.
A Warning to Detractors
South Asia on the whole has suffered a lot due to the jingoistic and hegemonic designs of some countries who believe that their success can only be achieved by fomenting tension and turmoil in the neighbourhood. CPEC was also targeted by these antagonistic forces. There were efforts in various directions to hamper its progress but Pakistan has bravely countered all such nefarious activities.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is now a reality.
Pakistanis have built it by offering toil, sweat and blood and know how to protect it. Pakistan Army is a force which is committed to the security of the motherland. Pakistan Army has defeated the forces of evil in the volatile regions of FATA, Balochistan and Karachi and will never let the nefarious designs of any mischief monger or perpetrator to succeed.
Peace and Progress for the Whole Region
CPEC opens up a world of opportunities not only for Pakistan and China but for the whole region. The Iranian border is just a hundred kilometers from Gwadar and Makran Coastal Highway constructed by FWO goes right upto the neighbouring country. For Afghan people, Pakistan has constructed two new routes passing through FATA, whereas the traditional routes via Khyber Pass and Quetta-Chaman have been improved to facilitate trade and movement. Similarly, the Central Asian States are the natural beneficiaries of improved access through Pakistan.
The valley of occupied Kashmir had historic links with China and Central Asian States through the routes passing through Pakistan. Unfortunately, hostility and belligerency has overpowered rationality and forces of unreason have denied progress to the local population of Indian occupied Kashmir.
Friends of CPEC
The grand start of CPEC was made possible by the collective efforts of government departments, private organizations, trade and logistic bodies of both Pakistan and China.
Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in his speech called the arrival of the first trade convoy at Gwadar Port 'a watershed event', for bringing the dawn of immense trade and commerce opportunities for the whole region. The prime minister also commended the personal support and interest of former Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and Balochistan’s Chief Minister for executing the development projects, adding that the maritime security was being looked after by Pakistan Navy.
He lauded the services of FWO for the operationalization of Gwadar Port by laying three major road networks through the rough and difficult terrains of the province, over which the federal government has spent Rs. 49 billion. He paid tribute to the 40 brave FWO men who laid down their lives in the construction of the road projects.
Striving for a Bright Future
Operationalization of CPEC is a gift of Pakistan-China friendship for the whole region. Together these two great nations have braved out the difficulties and distractions that came in the way and together they will strive to make it even a bigger success.
Gwadar was not the final destination of the brave and bold who gathered there as pioneers of the first CPEC trade convoy. It was just the culmination point of the land journey and the start of the voyage to Jebel Ali, Dubai. The subsequent convoys will go even farther.
All along Pakistan, the Chinese guests brightened up the boulevards and thoroughfares from where they passed and people of Pakistan received them with open arms. Likewise, the message of peace, harmony and friendship will be carried to far-off lands. CPEC is destined to become a harbinger of peace that would realize the dream of changing the fate of three billion people of the region through economic transformation and the great leap forward has set in.
Long live Pakistan-China friendship!
The writer is a Development Communication Specialist with a Public Sector Organization.
E-mail: [email protected]
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