–Photo illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com
When I was a kid in the 1970s, I remember Pakistan’s state-owned TV channel, PTV, used to keep playing a catchy song about Pak-China friendship.
It went something like this: ‘Pak-Cheen dosti wang woye, wang woye, wang woye, wang woye, Pak-Cheen dosti zindabad, zindabad, zindabad, zindaabaaad.’
The words ‘wang woye’ were in Chinese and were the Chinese equivalent of the Urdu word ‘zindabad’ (long live).
What amazing days they were. And what’s more, a bowl of chicken corn soup at Chinese restaurants was not only cheaper but tastier as well.
Some say that was because the Chinese restaurants used pieces from alsi/desi Pakistani murghis (chickens) and not from the ones cloned in those inhuman (and inchicken) poultry farms that sprang up across Pakistan in the late 1970s.
Meat from desi chickens being used by expert Chinese cooks was one of the true reflections of Pak-Cheen dosti (Pak-China friendship). It is the unique chicken corn soup that you can still get from Chinese restaurants in Pakistan that has made the Pak-China friendship so great, legendary, and, well, unique.
Recognizing this, the United States tried its utmost to stick a spammer in the relationship between Pakistan and China. It tried to do this by introducing the evil science of chicken cloning in Pakistan. Chicken cloning really became popular among the country’s naïve poultry farmers because it was cheaper to maintain, compared to raising healthy desi chicks.
The US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger (also known as Ace Fernley), first visited Pakistan in 1972 right after the country lost a war against Bengali terrorists in former East Pakistan – a war, one must remember, in which the US did not help Pakistan during and which India claimed it won.
Only China came to our rescue. As the US imposed an arms embargo on Pakistan and while the Bengali terrorists were being armed by India that was being armed by the Soviet Union that was being armed by the communist wing of the elusive Elders of Zion; China sent in an army of 77,000 chefs to Pakistan who prepared zabardast, delicious giant bowls of chicken corn soup for our troops.
Most Pakistanis had tears in their eyes. Cynics said it was just the chilly sauce in the soup that made so many people become teary eyed, but the truth was, it was this beautiful gesture by the Chinese during the bloody war that made us so emotional. After all, it was a war in which so many Sunni Muslim Pakistanis of West Pakistan were brutally slaughtered by East Pakistani terrorists.
Impressed with the way West Pakistan so successfully got rid of the troublesome and useless East Pakistan, Henry Kissinger arrived for a secret meeting with Pakistan’s new premier, Zulfikar Ali Babutto. After congratulating Premier Babutto on the conduct of the Pakistan army and its people in their war against Bengali terrorists, Kissinger unravelled the real purpose of his visit: China.
Conscious of the growing relationship between Pakistan and China – and jealous of the fact that Chinese food at US Chinese restaurants pretty much sucked – Kissinger asked Babutto to help US start a dialogue with the communist Chinese regime to neutralize the global communist threat being faced by the world from the Soviet Union.
Babutto agreed and his government helped kick-start talks between Chinese premier, Zhou Ajinomoto, the Chinese Communist Party Chairman, Mao Something-Tung, and Henry Kissinger. The secret talks took place in a comfy little corner of the Great Wall of China and both parties (the third party, Pakistan, was sent on a sight-seeing tour), agreed to tackle the Soviet menace together.
It was also decided that the Chinese will share its Pakistani recipe of chicken corn soup with the Americans in exchange for 15,000 Levis bellbottoms for the members of the Chinese Communist Party.
Kissinger thanked Premier Bubutto for arranging the historic first contact between US and China, saying this has also strengthened relations between Pakistan and the US. Premier Ajinomoto of China too, thanked Bubutto saying, ‘the soup can now only get tastier.’
But relations between the US and Pakistan began to strain when in 1974 India managed to construct a nuclear device. It was a nuclear powered toothbrush. It was proudly exhibited on the Indian media by the Indian premier, Prem Chopra.
Prime Minister Bubutto promised the Pakistani armed forces that he will do anything in (and out) of his power to make sure Pakistan too has a nuclear powered toothbrush. For this he assembled a team of top Pakistani dentists, one of which was a young man called Dr. No.
Concerned about the concern of its friend Pakistan, the Chinese government sent 60,000 Chinese dentists to Pakistan. Though none of them really helped Pakistan build a nuclear powered toothbrush, they did end up putting a lot of Pakistani dentists out of work. This made Dr. No very angry and he began calling Bubutto an atheist and someone who preferred fried frogs over fried chicken. Dr. No decided to leave Pakistan and travel to Holland (after performing Hajj in Saudi Arabia).
Meanwhile, the US, through its moles and squirrels in Prime Minister Bubutto’s garden, got to find out about Bubutto’s plan of constructing the nuclear powered toothbrush. Kissinger asked China to caution Bubutto. The Chinese government did caution Bubutto – but only in Chinese.
So, obviously, Bubutto had no idea what the Chinese were talking about, and replied, ‘Yes, yes, thank you. We love you too.’ Not understanding what Bubutto was talking about, the Chinese once more sent him a caution – again in Chinese.
Kissinger was livid. He sent a message to the Chinese: ‘Why are you cautioning them in Chinese??’ Not understanding the message, the Chinese replied (this time in English): ‘Yes, yes, thank you. We love you too.’
Frustrated, Kissinger is said to have directly called Prime Minister Bubutto, warning him that the US would make a horrible example of him if he didn’t stop his programme to build a nuclear-powered toothbrush.
‘Why?’ Asked Bubutto. ‘We have teeth too.’ ‘I will break those teeth if you don’t stop,’ said Kissinger. ‘Good,’ replied Bubutto. ‘Then we’ll make nuclear teeth as well.’
Only months after the conversation, a movement against Bubutto led by Pakistan’s religious parties erupted. Bubutto accused the Americans for funding the movement. The religious parties denied this and said they’d had enough of a leader who preferred frogs over chicken. They also accused Bubutto of putting thousands of Pakistani dentists out of work.
‘Look!’ said a leader of a religious party at a press conference while showing his cavity-stricken teeth. ‘Look! I can’t find a decent Muslim Pakistani dentist anymore. How can a pious Muslim like me go to a Chinese dentist? They don’t believe in God. And eat frog!’
As the movement against him gained momentum, Bubutto turned towards the Chinese for help, only to find that they were still speaking to him in Chinese. Alas, in July 1977, Bubutto’s government was toppled by General Nasim Hijazi.
But this didn’t impact Pak-Cheen dosti. In fact, not only did the Pak-China friendship remain intact, a new chapter of co-operation and friendship began between Pakistan and the US.
This was the time when the US introduced chicken cloning technology in Pakistan. General Hijazi and his partners in the religious parties at once endorsed the technology, calling it ‘perfectly in accordance with the moral and dietary dictates of Islam.’ Bubutto was hanged in 1979, but the Chinese got to know about his demise in 1988 when his daughter Benazir was elected prime minister of Pakistan.
‘Really? He’s dead? Like, gone? Wasn’t he in Libya?’ The Chinese delegation had asked Benazir. ‘He died ten years ago, gentlemen,’ Benazir had replied. ‘Where have you been?’
The Chinese delegates were surprised by the question: ‘Madam, we were helping out friend Pakistan defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. You can still see the giant bowls of chicken corn soup that we sent on the battle fields.’
That they did. They also kept a stable relationship with the US, especially with US President, Ronald Claude Van Damme, who was also a huge chicken corn soup fan.
President Van Damme’s remarkable passion for defeating the Godless Soviets through Pakistan and Afghan mujahideen made him purposefully ignore Pakistan’s ongoing plans to build a nuclear powered toothbrush. He knew that his comrade in arms, General Hijazi, had continued the programme and also the fact that Gen. Hijazi and his supporters in religious parties were now calling it the ‘Islamic Brush.’
Dr. No too had returned to the fold, smuggling sensitive blueprints from various dental clinics in Holland and leading the group of Pakistani dentists to build a nuclear powered toothbrush.
China knew about the programme and as a friend asked all right-handed Chinese dentists in Pakistan to become left-handed and left-handed dentists to become right-handed so that the Pakistani dentists would start looking better than their Chinese counterparts. It was a great sacrifice. The Chinese also offered to introduce gold fish soup in Pakistani restaurants but the offer was politely refused by Hijazi’s government.
China again came to the rescue when after the Godless Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan, the US suddenly abandoned Pakistan and became concerned again by Pakistan’s plans to build a nuclear powered toothbrush.
US placed economic and aid sanctions on Pakistan and also stopped the sale of halal toothpaste in the United States, leaving many Pakistani Muslims living in the US using halal goat blubber to brush their teeth with. It was a great injustice. This made the Pakistan armed forces and intelligence agencies very angry and they pressurized the government to quicken the process of building the nuclear powered toothbrush. Dr. No said that the brush should now be used against Western, Zionist and US dentists as well as, of course, against the cow worshippers of India.
During the economic and political crises that Pakistan went through in 1990s – mainly due to US sanctions and, of course, due to the corrupt, unpatriotic and useless civilian leadership – China jumped in to help. In its hour of need, China sent about 10 million gold fish bowls to Pakistan. Feeling upbeat by the arrival of the gold fish bowls, Pakistan finally announced that it had made the nuclear-powered toothbrush.
The toothbrush made Pakistan a proud nation of strong, shining white teeth. Dr. No is now hailed as the father of the brush and in a noble exhibition of his love for faith, he even tried to spread Islam in North Korea by sending them certain parts with which the North Korans too could build a nuclear powered toothbrush; and brush the US and Europe off the face of the earth, yea baby!
Also, though Pakistan’s religious political parties, military, Dr. No and your neighbor still don’t like the fact that the Chinese eat frogs, they see it being Pakistan’s only true and greatest friend. Only recently this friendship was once again displayed during the terrible floods that Pakistan faced in 2010.
European countries and US might have been the first ones to send aid to Pakistan during the floods, but it was our dear friend China who actually put a smile on our faces during the ordeal by sending 10 million stuffed pandas with strings which when pulled made the pandas sing, ‘Pak-Cheen dosti wang woye, wang woye, wang woye, wang woye …’
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
What do a Communist state and an Islamic Republic have in common? Not much, perhaps, and yet in the fast-changing world of international relations, China and Pakistan have managed to maintain a strong friendship from the 1960s onward. Today, despite its growing isolation on the international stage, Pakistan can still counts on China as its closest ally. Particularly as the country’s troubled relation with the United States seems to deteriorate by the day, China has emerged in the eyes of many Pakistanis to the image of a peaceful, supportive neighbor. As a recent survey has shown, 81 percent of Pakistanis view China favorably, second in this special chart only to China itself. Recurrent protestations of friendship and reciprocal approval seem to reinforce this view, as do public announcements of triumphal development projects such as the China-Pakistan economic corridor, the Gwadar Port, and other initiatives.
On a different note, however, some analysts have pointed out that the waters beneath the surface of this relation might, in fact, be much more agitated than the public displays would suggest. In particular, it has been argued that the alleged presence of Uyghur militants in North Waziristan, which Beijing hold responsible for several terrorist attacks on its soil, might represent a source of tension between the two countries. In this sense Mushahid Hussain, head of the Defense Committee of the Pakistani Senate and chairman of the Pakistan China institute, in a recent interview seemed to imply that Chinese pressure played some kind of role in the ongoing military operation in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, where several ETIM militants are allegedly based. And yet, in this as in other public statements by Pakistani and Chinese officials, always the “convergence of interest” between the two countries, and a mutual appreciation of each other’s efforts, are underlined. The issue of Uyghur militants in Pakistan, moreover, seems of little concern for Pakistan’s general public, rather concerned with an Islamist threat in its own country and with the US’s activities along its borders.
Recently, however, a few stories show a different side to this relationship, one that is not always considered when it comes to the heights and depths of the two countries’ “all-weather” friendship. The first is the story, widely reported and discussed in Pakistan, of the Chinese government banning Xinjiang officials from fasting during Ramadan. The news sparked an array of surprised and angry responses, but also a more interesting debate on the value of Pakistan’s friendship with China. Many, like Rafia Zakaria for Dawn, have called out Pakistan’s hypocrisy in its relations with China, accusing the country of being eager to stand up to injustices committed against Muslims only when those are not perpetrated by its “friends.” In a late – and rather paltry – move, the Pakistani government eventually adopted a public stance, in which it allied itself, once again, with the Chinese government. Asked about the issue, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam was reported as saying that “The Chinese have clarified that there is no such ban on fasting and that they respect the freedom of religion,” adding that these reports were just rumors and factually incorrect. Few, however, seemed convinced by those words.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The other two news items, on the other hand, didn’t attract much attention either within Pakistan or abroad, perhaps because they originated from the remote (geographically and politically) Gilgit-Baltistan region, near the Chinese border. The first was reported by Pamir Times, a small internet blog established in 2006, which has rapidly become the most important online news portal in Gilgit-Baltistan. The article, entitled “Locals in Gojal Valley demand more responsible behavior from Chinese workers” raises an important issue for many inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan, where many Chinese workers are involved in construction projects, such as the realignment of the Karakoram Highway. As I had the chance to hear personally during my fieldwork in the area in 2013, many locals accuse the Chinese workers of not respecting the local cultures, of selling alcohol, causing incidents and, at times, of not bringing anything to the local economy. As I was often told in the region, if the Chinese workers’ attitude was to be taken as an indicator of the quality of China’s friendship, then Pakistan shouldn’t really trust its “all-weather” ally.
The second bit of news, first reported by an even smaller internet blog, Sost Today, was on the other hand centered on the Sost Dry Port “drama,” as Pamir Times defined it. The Dry Port was set up in 2001 in Sost, Pakistan’s border town along the Karakoram Highway, to facilitate and enhance trade relations with the People’s Republic of China. The administration of the Dry Port is for the 60 percent in the hand of the Chinese Sino-Trans Company, and for the 40 percent in the hand of local investors, a situation which had led to numerous scandals in the past. On this most recent occasion the Dry Port was closed by its Chinese administrators demanding protection of the “interests of Chinese” in a note posted on the sealed gates. The note, allegedly, followed a brawl which saw the new Pakistani chairman of the Dry Port assaulted by – or assaulting, it’s still not clear – a Chinese official in his office. The incident, although it remains quite murky, signals a certain tension between the two parties, and seems to point toward well-established mutual accusations and suspicions. The Express Tribune, running the story a few days later, significantly titled it “bad for business,” a concern that seems shared by many in the area.
In the course of my fieldwork along the Karakoram Highway, in both Xinjiang and Pakistan, I was often confronted with similar issues. Some Chinese traders and officials were eager to highlight the laziness and inefficiency of the Pakistanis; while on the other side many Pakistani businessmen despised the Chinese for cheating and for their arrogance. On a more general level, the situation appeared complex and multi-layered. For many Pakistanis, China remained a trustworthy friend*. For others: it is another external power that simply aims at using Pakistan for its own advantages. For many, at least in Gilgit-Baltistan, it appeared as a necessary evil, an economic power with the ability to develop infrastructure and trade, yet with the potential to eventually lead the whole region toward unpredictable, and negative, future outcomes.
On the ground, then, the trope of “China-Pakistan friendship” seems more complex than anything revealed by the official statements of the two governments. As these recent news items suggest, Pakistani’s favorable attitude toward the PRC should not be taken for granted. On the other hand, it could be argued that for as long as Pakistanis see the United States as the overarching cause of almost all of the country’s problems, China’s position is not likely to change. And yet, as Germany and the United States have recently demonstrated over the espionage row, even a long-lasting friendship can abruptly take a turn for the bad. Maybe it’s time for somebody to start worrying about the possibility of losing a friend.
Alessandro Rippa is a Ph.D. student in Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. He recently concluded a year of ethnographic research on the Karakoram Highway between Xinjiang and Pakistan. You can follow Alessandro on Twitter @AlessandroRippa.