‘Karakoram’ – The China-Pakistan Friendship Highway


The grandest geostrategic scheme in Asia and perhaps the world is the ‘Karakoram Highway’ from China’s Muslim Far West through the Himalayas into Pakistan, all the way to the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean. China’s ‘grand strategy’ is to become the second ‘two Ocean country’ in the world after the United States. It only has a coastline on the Pacific Ocean but is methodically working towards the grand goal of building back doors towards the Indian Ocean through Burma and Pakistan and perhaps a third outlet through Assam and Bangladesh.

During the 1950s, Pakistan was as worried about China’s demands vis-a-vis the disputed border as India was. China demanded 5,000 square kilometres of territory in Hunza in the far north of Kashmir on the border with the Chinese Muslim region of Xinjiang. In 1960, Pakistan’s President Field Marshal Ayub Khan was still appealing to India to join together in common defence against the outsider, China. Referring to British colonialism, he even said:
I feel we should have a good chance of preventing a recurrence of history, which was that whenever the subcontinent was divided – which was often – someone or the other invited the outsider to step in.
India linked Ayub Khan’s proposal completely with progress on Kashmir and rejected it. Work on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) had already started in 1959 by Pakistani army engineers on what was then known as the ‘Indus Valley Road’. After the border agreement of 1962, China and Pakistan agreed to broaden the road to a dual carriageway and extend it to the Chinese border at Taxkorgan in the Tadjik Autonomous District of Xinjiang. Approximately 10,000 Chinese and 15,000 Pakistanis completed the road in 1986. It has 80 bridges and an average height of 4,700 metres. 300 Pakistani and 160 Chinese workers lost their lives during construction. According to the Centre for International and Strategic Studies in Geneva, Chinese nuclear and military equipment, including MH missiles, went through the Karakoram Highway to Pakistan. On 30 June 2006, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Pakistan Highway Administration and China’s State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) to rebuild and upgrade the KKH. ‘The width of the highway’, according to SASAC, ‘will be expanded from 10 metres to 30 metres, and its transport capacity will be increased three times. Also, the upgraded road will be constructed to particularly accommodate heavy-laden vehicles and extreme weather conditions’. The decision to upgrade the KKH was taken during President Musharraf’s visit to China in February 2006, when Pakistan requested that China help with the upgrading of the Karakoram Highway. Musharraf said, ‘This road, when upgraded, will provide the shortest route to the sea for products manufactured in China. The same road can serve to provide an overland route for trade between China and India, thus linking two of the largest markets in Asia’.
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