KKH – the highway constructed with flesh & blood of Chinese, Pakistani workers

ISLAMABAD: Zhao Wanlin – a volunteer from People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – was among 25 martyrs who laid down their lives during the construction of Karakoram Highway (KKH) on Oct 1, 1976 at Kamila, Gilgit Baltistan.
Zhao Wanlin

ISLAMABAD: Zhao Wanlin – a volunteer from People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – was among 25 martyrs who laid down their lives during the construction of Karakoram Highway (KKH) on Oct 1, 1976 at Kamila, Gilgit Baltistan.

Zhao was among those 25 Chinese nationals who died during a landslide triggered by an explosion during construction of KKH and thus pioneered the foundation of China Pakistan friendship by giving their flesh and blood for cementing Sino-Pakistan friendship. In total, 810 Pakistani and 200 Chinese nationals laid down their lives during the KKH construction.

Today, this friendship has become an iron-clad bond with millions benefiting from the projects of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a pilot project of Belt and Road project launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In a special interview with daily Pakistan Today, Ms Zhao Wanhui, the younger sister of late Zhao Wanlin, says that though her family was shattered due to early departure of her brother but she was happy to see CPEC flowering and transforming the families of millions of Chinese and Pakistani citizens.

“Visiting Pakistan and paying my tributes at the grave of my martyr brother was a dream for me which came true yesterday. Me and my sister both went to the Gilgit cemetery and cried at the grave of my brother who was only 24 years of age when died,” said Zhao Wanhui while tears rolled down her cheeks.

Ms Zhao, who hails from Shihezi city of Urumqi, along with her younger sister are a part of a 41-member Chinese delegation that visited China Yadgar to commemorate the sacrifice of those Chinese engineers and workers who lost their lives during the construction of KKH from 1959 to 1979.

The delegation also included 15 engineers and workers who physically participated in the construction of the KKH, besides their family members. The delegation was hosted by the Islamabad office of the All-Pakistan Chinese Enterprises’ Association (APCEA).

“Visiting Pakistan was a dream come true for us and we are grateful for the organisers and the Chinese and Pakistani governments for making the visit happen. Visiting my brother’s grave was a dream for us and it was finally realised. I hope that in future, more such visits would be arranged so other members of my family and the families of other martyrs could pay tribute to their loved ones who gave their sweat and blood to the China, Pakistan friendship,” she added.

She said that after the martyrdom of her brother, the Chinese government paid compensation to her family and her mother was also looked after by the government until her death. She hopes that the friendship between China and Pakistan gets strengthened by each day passing.

Resting place of Wang Zhiyuan

Mr Wang Zhiyuan was another martyr whose family takes pride for the great sacrifice he made at the tender age of 21 years. Wang also died due to an explosion which led to a landslide which claimed the lives of 25 soldiers who all were buried there.

“He was yet to be married and we couldn’t forget him despite the passage of 47 long years,” says Mr Wang Dexing, younger brother of late Wang Zhiyuan. He hoped that the Sino-Pakistan friendship would go from strength to strength and younger generations would further cement this friendship which was founded with flesh and blood of his brother.

The members of the delegation said that they were very glad to see that the lives lost during the construction of the Karakoram Highway were not in vain and that the highway proved to be a vital link between the peoples of China and Pakistan.

The members of the delegation also expressed their heartfelt appreciation of the reception they were accorded in Gilgit by the office of the Chief Minister. They said that they felt like coming back home after forty years and that they found Pakistan more hospitable and friendlier as before.

The delegation also presented a book to the media which recounted the stories of all the workers who had taken part in the construction of the highway. The book records interviews of the workers who came to Pakistan back in the day and worked shoulder to shoulder with the Pakistani workers in the construction of the Highway.

The delegation expressed hope that cooperation between the two brotherly countries of China and Pakistan will be carried forward by the future generations. They said that Chinese people still felt the pain of the lives lost during the construction of the highway on both sides.

“This is the reason that we will arrange a photo exhibition next year on the 45th anniversary of the completion of the Karakoram Highway in which we will showcase the pictures of workers from that time who took part in building the highway,” they said.

They said that Chinese cooperation with Pakistan will continue in future in line with the teachings of Chairman Mao Zedong who said, “one should give freely in charity and help others without making it public and keeping it a secret.”

APCEA is one of the foremost organizations that is working to increase collaboration between Chinese and Pakistani companies. It was instrumental in the donation of millions of rupees to the people affected from floods late last year.

It had also worked tirelessly during the Covid-19 pandemic to make sure that protective equipment reaches the nursing and medical staff working in hospitals across the country.

It was the extension of the same cooperative stream that the APCEA hosted the Chinese delegation to make sure that the memory of those who had given their lives in service of the two brotherly nations is not lost and is carried forward to the future generations.

Mian Abrar
Mian Abrar
The writer heads Pakistan Today's Islamabad Bureau. He has a special focus on counter-terrorism and inter-state relations in Asia, Asia Pacific and South East Asia regions. He tweets as @mian_abrar and also can be reached at [email protected]


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