By S. M. Hali
Currently I am touring China at the invitation of the Communist Party of China (CPC) as part of the celebrations for 60 years of the friendship between Pakistan and China. The group I am touring with comprises young parliamentarians of Pakistan’s National Assembly, led by the Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi. Arriving at Urumqi was like walking through one of the mirrors of Alice in Wonderland, one side of it is a dark and dinghy world, while on the other is a vivid and modern vista. My first visit to Urumqi was in 1974, in the early years of my career in Pakistan Air Force, flying as an aircrew in its Air Transport Command. We would operate regularly to Urumqi from Chaklala, departing early morning and returning in the afternoon, weather permitting. Our mission was to ferry defence munitions, which in its largesse, our all weather friend China was providing since the 1971 Pak-India War to help Pakistan rebuild its military strength. At that time Urumqi airfield was as sparse and humble as Skardu airport of the 1970s, with limited facilities. Those days, we were not permitted to go to the city to buy anything and if we were interested to make purchases, a trunk full of Chinese curios comprising silk scarves, small decoration pieces, hand fans or other such tidbits would be brought out for us.
During every trip, lunch was served promptly at midday, which would comprise a banquet of 14 or 15 courses. Once I happened to peep outside the dining hall and saw other Chinese having soup and bread only. I was touched by their hospitality that they would go out of their way to serve us with expensive delicacies while they themselves were surviving on simple meals. In case the weather turned bad, we would be housed in rooms at the airport and given thick quilts to keep us warm in the winter season, because after a while heating would be turned off to conserve energy.
Slowly and gradually, China started opening up and in subsequent visits, we started noticing changes. In the eighties, if we had to stay overnight, we were taken to hotels in the city, but en-route we would notice impoverished villages. My last visit to Urumqi was in 1987 so now 24 years later, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The old and dilapidated airport had given way to a modern international airfield with the facilities comparable to any modern city in the world. The narrow road from the airport to the city is now a multi-lane highway, while the Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang is sprawling with high rise buildings and five star facilities. Xinjiang Province was once considered a backward backyard of China but it now appears that the CPC has given it special attention to bring the standard of living of its inhabitants at par with the more prosperous Chinese residing in the east, with the more developed provinces supporting it voluntarily.
In yesteryears, the mosques were opened only for the Friday prayers and one would find only old Chinese Muslims but now the mosques are modern, well furnished and both old and young Muslims come to offer their prayers. Xinjiang comprises 47 different ethnic groups out of which the Muslims are in a majority with the Uyghurs taking over 47% of the total. The CPC wanted to showcase both the industrial and the agricultural strength of the province so we were taken to Shihezi City an industrial metropolis, where we toured the Xinjiang Alzzeeh Textile Mill and the Tianye Company which manufactures PVC pipes. The lesson to be learnt was that waste product was being turned into cement and other construction materials while the grounds were being used to harvest tomatoes and sauces for local and export markets. On return from Shihezi, we visited a cotton and grapes farm, which is being operated on scientific and cost effective lines. At Urumqi, we stopped over at the Goldwind turbine manufacturing plant, which was established in 1998 but in just over a decade has become one of the world’s leading total wind power solution provider by harnessing one of nature’s gifts to mankind, the wind and is providing cost effective solutions to Australia, USA, Germany and many other nations.
The love showered upon us by the people of Urumqi gives hope that Pakistan, which is facing energy and an economic crisis, can benefit from Xingjian’s close proximity and scientific and technological advancement to overcome the difficulties being faced by us.