By S. M. Hali
Six decades of friendship is more than enough for two friends to prove the mettle of their relationship, however, true friendship does not require tests; it is there through thick and thin. Pakistan and China’s relations have withstood the test of time and on numerous occasions both countries have reiterated the depth and solidarity they feel for each other. Diplomatic relations between the two came about on May 21, 1951 but the first test for the military came about when India provoked war with China in the Ladakh region. Pakistan, though itself a fledgling, stood by China. In 1965, China returned the favour by ensuring that India restrains itself from any adventurism in East Pakistan during the Pak-India war. Following the war and US imposition of an arms’ embargo, left war ravaged Pakistan in a quandary, the Chinese, whose own military weapons’ system production was in the stages of infancy, provided arms ammunition, fighter aircraft and whatever was available. In 1971, when India declared war again and severed East Pakistan, the western wing was able to defend itself through the Chinese military hardware.
The depth of Chinese defence collaboration with Pakistan can be gauged from the fact that they are willing to transfer technology with no strings attached. They provided weapons manufacturing factories, tanks and heavy weapons as well as aircraft and radar rebuild factories, fast patrol boat missiles and gunboats as well as Frigates building capability to Pakistan. The JF-17 Thunder, The Karakoram-8 advanced training aircraft, the Al-Khalid Main Battle Tank and F-22P Frigates are some examples of the joint collaboration. The Deep sea port of Gawadar, with its strategic location has been constructed with Chinese assistance and investment. At a time when the west accused Pakistan of nuclear proliferation, imposed sanctions and embraced India, it was China that helped Pakistan establish civil nuclear facilities.
Terrorism is a malaise, which has plagued both countries. Pakistan has been heavily embroiled in the war on terror following 9/11 but China has suffered heavily through organizations like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who have been instigating the Uyghur in Xinjiang province. Some of the ETIM leaders had sought refuge in the tribal belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan and joined forces with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In 2003, Pakistan Army killed ETIM leader Hasan Mahsumin araid on Al-Qaeda hideout. In 2007, ETIM militants in cars shot Chinese engineers in Balochistan and sent a videotape of the attack to Beijing, in retaliation for an execution of an ETIM official earlier that July.ETIM also took credit for a spate of attacks before the 2008 Summer Olympics, including a series of bus bombings in Kunming, an attempted plane hijacking in Urumqi, and an attack on paramilitary troops in Kashgar that killed 17 officers. Pakistan and China have joined forces to combat the scourge of terrorism. Joint military exercises, exchange of intelligence, provision of anti-terror equipment are part of the cooperation.
The May 02, 2011 US Navy Seals attack on a house in Abbotabad, which was allegedly housing Osama bin Laden, has made Pakistan the butt of ridicule as well as insinuations by the west. The US is claiming that Osama bin Laden was killed in the attack and his body has been dumped in the sea, despite the fact that there are credible reports that Osama had died of renal failure many years earlier. Whatever the truth, Pakistan’s sovereignty was breached, while Pakistan Army and the ISI are being targeted as being complicit in providing sanctuary to Osama bin Laden. At this moment, when Pakistan stood isolated as there were threats by belligerent and irate US parliamentarians to stop financial and military aid to Pakistan as well as take punitive action against it, China has come out loud and clear to declare its solidarity with Pakistan. It has asked the world to take cognizance of Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war against terror, to “respect Pakistan's sovereignty and solidarity”, and has “warned in unequivocal terms that any attack on Pakistan would be construed as an attack on China”, formally conveyed by the Chinese foreign minister at last week's China-US strategic dialogue and economic talks in Washington. The Chinese government has agreed to expedite the delivery of 50 additional JF-17 Thunder aircraft to beef up Pakistan’s Air Defence.
The bloody attack on PNS Mehran has crippled Pakistan’s maritime surveillance capability and brought more ignominy to Pakistan’s armed forces. China is standing by Pakistan and has held its hand to comfort it and encourage it overcome the trauma of the attack. Its acceptance of Pakistan’s offer to administer and regulate shipping in the strategic Gawadar sea port will go a long way in comforting Pakistan and deter India from further adventurism against Pakistan. This is reminiscent of the time China had stood isolated and unrecognized by the world body and Pakistan endeavoured to get it its rightful place in the comity of Nations in 1971. Once again China has proved that its defence collaboration and unequivocal stand for Pakistan is unflinching. It is for the government and people of Pakistan to take cognizance of the rock solid ties between Pakistan and China and follow the advice King Claudius of Denmark had given to his son Hamlet in the epic play of the same name by the renowned playwright William Shakespeare:
“The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul With hoops of steel, but do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatched unfledged comrade.”