Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff General, Raheel Sharif, paid a two-day visit to China from May 15-16 to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as well as top Chinese military officers in an effort to bolster bilateral relations.
LT. General Asim Saleem Bajwa, Pakistan's military spokesperson, briefed the Chinese media on the visit at a press conference at the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing on May 17.
"This visit by the army chief of staff is significant. It comes at the time of the 65th anniversary of the Pakistan-China friendship," said the spokesperson. This visit is also significant and historic in that this is the first foreign visit received by the Chinese Army command in Beijing, he added. The Chinese Army command was officially established on January 1 this year as part of the military reform of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
Both countries have previously forged economic ties through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which was proposed by Premier Li Keqiang during his visit to Pakistan in May 2013.
The CPEC, a 3,000-kilometer network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport cargo, is expected to serve as a bridge for the new Maritime Silk Route that envisages linking 3 billion people in Asia, Africa and Europe. One of the CPEC major functions is to facilitate transportation of oil and gas from southern Pakistan's Gwadar Port to Kashgar city in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
According to LT. General Asim, the development and security of the CPEC were the main subjects discussed during the visit, alongside regional stability and security.
Staff security guarantee
So far, 12,000 to 13,000 Chinese engineers and workers are operating in Pakistan. "We are expecting 16,000 to 17,000 more Chinese engineers and workers. Their security, which has always been a concern here in China and inside Pakistan, has been very carefully looked into," said Asim.
When asked about what measures Pakistan has taken to ensure the security of Chinese workers involved in the CPEC and related projects, Asim revealed that a security division consisting of 15,000 people has been raised, on top of the integrated mechanism of all the state and provincial security operators. Meanwhile, an equally sizable security division is being created for the CPEC in the southern parts of Pakistan, where all the roads and railways pass through, starting from the Gwadar Port.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's army not only provides security for construction and management of the CPEC, but also directly participates in the construction of its related infrastructure.
Pakistan's army engineers are now building a road spanning 874 km in the province of Balochistan in southern Pakistan, of which 670 km has already been accomplished, according to the spokesperson.
Thanks to a massive counter-terrorism operation launched since June 2014 along the Pakistani-Afghan border in Pakistan's northwest, the security in the country has been substantially improved, Asim added.
Recent reports on protests against the CPEC in some parts of Pakistan have overshadowed the program and have also caused concern in China.
According to the LT. General, these rallies happened in the southern part of Pakistan, which is an underdeveloped and impoverished area.
"Initially, some non-state actors staged the resistance," said Asim. "The Pakistan Government will make sure that these groups don't have any space in the government organs." Asim stated that although the resistance groups were the reason why the Pakistan army had initially deployed its troops and engineers to carry out the work, he said that they were gradually becoming less of a threat.
"These are just some groups that will fade away. It's just a matter of time. It is very insignificant and it will not impair the work in any way," the general said.
Despite dissatisfaction, progress and dividends procured from the CPEC are spreading to area's locals. According to the LT. General, every Pakistani takes it as his or her obligation to participate in the development of the CPEC, "because this is one project which brings a lot of hope and prosperity to Pakistan, especially to the underdeveloped regions in the country. This is one project which realizes the long-cherished dream of bringing prosperity to Pakistan".
The LT. General also announced in the press conference that cargo will be transported from China to the Gwadar Port through motorways and railways that will have been completed by the end of this year.
Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan
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