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Sino-Pak Relations and Xinjiang: Writings of Pakistani Scholars PDF Print E-mail
Written by Khalid Rahman, Rashida Hameed   

Policy Perspectives , Volume6 , Number2, Jul

Abstract

[Xinjiang, in Pakistan, is generally discussed under historical, cultural and economic context besides finding place in writings about Central Asia, Muslims and Islam in China as well as Chinese concerns for security and stability. As Pak-China relationship evolved gradually, writings in different periods reflect the peculiarities of the time. Keeping in view the significance of border areas, importance of having a genuine and broader understanding of the people and society, particularly in the backdrop of possible designs of unfriendly regional and extra regional forces, more organized and integrated efforts are needed for research and writing on Xinjiang in Pakistan. Xinjiang as a research subject should be introduced to the scholars and students for creating a long term and sustainable focus of scholarship on this area. Professional researchers also need to be motivated. Such research, however, will have to be supported by the two governments – considering the lack of facilities as well as prevailing research agenda. – Authors.]

(I)

 

Pakistan and China enjoy exemplary ties of friendship, which have not only sustained changes of government in both countries and ups and downs in the regional and global situation, but have also expanded and gained strength through the years. The fact that they have different state ideologies has not hindered this relationship between the two regional neighbors. Their enduring friendship has emerged as an important factor in peace and stability in the region as well as at the global level.

 

Sino-Pak Relations and Xinjiang

 

The Pakistan-China relationship is sustainable since it is deep-rooted and the people of the two countries share mutual affection and great respect for each other. However, despite this mutual understanding and a shared border—the most common source of public interaction between nations—it  has to be acknowledged that people-to-people contact is not sufficiently established between the two nations[1]. Most interactions have thus far occurred at the official level in Beijing and Islamabad. Even where there have been some non-government contacts, such as visits of journalists and writers and cultural delegations, they have been organized by the governments. It is only in recent years that the authorities have started emphasizing the importance of genuine people-to-people contact. However, considering the worldwide increase in opportunities for international interaction, this trend is still slow.

There are several reasons why grassroots interactions between the two countries have remained limited. These include both lack of emphasis and opportunities. Until the late 1980s, China was not very open to the outside world. Then, notwithstanding the Karakorum Highway (KKH), communication links have not been developed in the border areas even today, particularly on the Pakistani side. Language is another obstacle, as is the overall regional and global security situation that has created an environment adversely affecting movement in the border areas.

 

This situation has also limited scholarly and intellectual contributions in each country about the other, which has further reduced the motivation for interaction.

 

The border areas are highly significant with regard to people-to-people interaction. Although international borders symbolically demarcate two or more states, the areas around them serve as the most important link between those states and provide an opportunity to common citizens to know more about each other and to interact through trade, tourism and similar activities. As such, cross-border movement creates stakes between the two countries and reflects the good or bad relations among them.

 

The Xinjiang Uygur[2] Autonomous Region of China, contiguous with Pakistan’s Northern Areas and having historical, cultural and trade links with the country, is therefore an extremely important area in the context of Sino-Pak relations. Physically, it is the gateway between the two countries. Besides communication and transportation facilities that provide access to other parts of China, knowledge about this area, its socio-cultural environment, the economic opportunities it offers and the developments that are taking place there are some of the subjects that need the attention of the two governments as well as writers and scholars, to increase interaction between the two peoples.

 

Understanding Xinjiang is even more vital for Pakistan because of its geo-strategic and economic significance. It borders, along with Pakistan, the energy-rich Central Asian states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan in the east, and Mongolia, Tibet and Afghanistan in the north, south and southwest respectively. It has the potential to become a trade route and a hub of economic and cultural activities for regional as well as extra-regional states. Global interests in the region are already evident from the manner in which the powerful Western media and information sources are pushing their perspectives with respect to Xinjiang.

 

Deeper knowledge of the people and culture, and opportunities and problems in Xinjiang would therefore not only help enhance economic and cultural relations between Pakistan and China but also improve the security environment at all levels.

 

In this backdrop, this paper seeks to explore the writings of Pakistani scholars, intellectuals, and academics about Xinjiang. The objective is to understand the writers’ interests and shifts in focus, and to analyze the significance of their writings with regard to relations between the people of the two countries. This analysis is also aimed at identifying the less explored areas in the available thinking on Xinjiang and helping to develop an integrated approach to facilitate scholarly contributions on the subject.

 

An Overview of Scholarship on Xinjiang

 

Although relatively a few Pakistani scholars have written exclusively on Xinjiang, the region does inspire a special interest and is mentioned frequently in discourses on the Sino-Pak relationship. This interest reflects the important historical and potential links between Xinjiang and Pakistan and Xinjiang’s special security significance, which are elaborated later in this paper.

 

Since the core theme underlying the works of Pakistani scholars on Xinjiang is the relationship between Pakistan and China what is written about Xinjiang reflects the writers’ current perception of China and the bilateral relationship. Awareness of this backdrop is necessary for understanding why writers have concentrated on particular facets of Xinjiang at various times. The stages through which China and the bilateral relationship have evolved are therefore outlined briefly below.

 

The context and Phases of bilateral relationship

 

For the purposes of this analysis, contemporary Chinese history may be divided into two phases. The first phase is the period of China’s closed door policy. People-to-people contacts with Pakistan were naturally quite limited at the time. From an infrastructure and economic point of view too, Xinjiang was not a developed region. While the Chinese government was in control of the region, it was facing tensions with the Uygur Muslim resistance.

 

In terms of Sino-Pak relations, this phase may further be divided into the period before and the one after the two countries’ Border Agreement of 1963.

 

The second phase began when China started opening up. It too may be divided into two parts—the pre- and post-9/11 periods.

 

China’s opening up coincided with the disintegration of Soviet Russia: this created vast opportunities for China to expand its economic sphere of influence in Central Asia, while the newly independent Central Asian states (CAS) were also concerned about their economic development. It was in this period that China started huge development projects in Xinjiang.

 

The Soviet disintegration also changed how China viewed security and threats from its Central Asian borders. While Russia was no more an immediate threat, separatist tendencies in the CAS posed a serious danger for the situation in Xinjiang.

 

The situation in Afghanistan also changed during this period. Continuous infighting, political instability and the emergence of the Taliban were perceived as a threat for security in Xinjiang.[3] As the movement of Uygur separatists attained momentum during this period, China began to believe that the Taliban government was giving weapons to them and providing a sanctuary for fugitives in Afghanistan with the active support and official backing of Pakistan.[4]

 

The increased influence of extra-regional states in the region, particularly in Central Asia, was also an important concern for the Chinese leadership in this phase. It was not alone in this worry: the leaders of the newly independent states and Russia also saw this as a problem. The initiative of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was taken in response.

 

Although Pakistan was eager to develop relations with the CAS and make use of the new avenues, such as the opening up of China and its development program in Xinjiang, it did not find much space due to the above security perceptions. As such, while bilateral relations continued with the same vigor, border area movement and interaction remained limited.

 

Security concerns gained additional significance in the post-9/11 scenario, especially with the physical presence of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in the region. Perceived interests of the US in the region and its strategic alliance with India increased security concerns both in Pakistan and China and highlighted the need for further security cooperation between the two. However, the security situation in Afghanistan, far from stabilizing, grew worse, and its fallout in Pakistan, particularly the country’s tribal areas, increased Chinese concerns about possible links of Xinjiang’s separatists with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

 

While Islamabad remained well aware of Chinese concerns, and China’s integrity and sovereignty were supported at both government and public levels, an unfriendly media, backed mostly by the big powers, tended to portray the situation in ways designed to create mistrust between the two countries.

 

Notwithstanding these security concerns, the rapid development and expansion of the Chinese economy and its increasing demands for energy led to new initiatives by both the countries in recent years. These initiatives also opened up new avenues for cooperation through the trade route involving Xinjiang. For the fulfillment of its energy needs, China was increasingly inclined towards the Gulf and Middle Eastern energy suppliers. Pakistan was strategically located in this equation, providing the smallest route for China to the Middle East through the Arabian Sea and, moreover, bordering Iran, which offered a huge energy supply potential. In the backdrop of these two-way opportunities, the Gwadar Port and other projects were planned, improving the infrastructure and communication links between Xinjiang and Pakistan and thereby further enhancing the significance of Xinjiang.

 

Themes in Pakistani Writing

 

The writings of Pakistani scholars in the backdrop of abovementioned development in Xinjiang will be discussed later. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to point out here the underlying themes – although they refelect the peculiarities of the particular time periods.

 

During 1960s and early 1970s in Xinjiang, as an unexplored region, the living conditions of its population and debate on Islam and Socialism became an important topic in Pakistani writings. In the firsts phase, scholars, particularly of religious and Muslim nationalist background, tried to describe the region and its different aspects, tracing not only its historic, cultural and economic but importantly the religious links. A concern over the tussle between the groups in conflict is also found frequently in these writings. Those with socialists leanings wrote a lot bout Chinese system and Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s teachings but these had no special mention of Xinjiang

 

In 1963, a new dimension was added to these writings when Pakistan and China signed a “Border Agreement.” The agreement took place in a context of changing regional political dynamics, particularly, the India-China border dispute and the adoption of a more balanced approach by the Pakistani leadership in its relations with the US and China. In fact, the issue of Pakistan’s membership of the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) also came under discussion at various levels in the country and was extensively covered by the writers in the backdrop of the Border Agreement that led to an improvement in Pak-China relations.[5]

 

As China opened further and the debate on Islam and Socialism faded in Pakistan, the focus of scholarship on China shifted. In the second phase, the main emphasis of Pakistani writings was on the new opportunities available for cooperation with China. Pointing out that international economic interaction was even more desirable in the context of rapid globalization, most writers highlighted the geo-strategic and economic significance of Xinjiang, referring to the historical trade links with the region, the KKH miracle, and the importance of trade for sustainable Pak-China relations. These writings also referred to Chinese concerns about separatism in Xinjiang.

 

After 9/11, Pakistani scholars continued to emphasize similar themes, including the need for improvement in travel and communication facilities serving the border areas, negotiations for the extension of the KKH, new links for trade and energy cooperation, security concerns, the role of the United States in the region, and the Afghan resistance, with particular reference to the killing of some Chinese citizens in Pakistan.

Approaching the Study

 

A large number of Pakistani publications[6] were reviewed for this study, including academic journals as well as books and articles in both English and Urdu. In order to ensure that no significant publication was excluded, important libraries[7] of Pakistan’s academic and research institutions were also consulted, including the National Library, which is a depository of all Pakistani publications. In addition, interviews were conducted with some prominent writers and senior scholars for a deeper understanding about existing Pakistani research and suggestions for future research on this important subject.[8]

 

The study covered 18 journals of leading research organizations on international and regional affairs, with a focus on history, politics and economy. These included:

  • Quarterly Central Asia of the Area Study Center, Peshawar University;
  • Quarterly Strategic Studies of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad;
  • Quarterly Regional Studies of the Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad;
  • Quarterly National Development and Security of the Foundation for Research on International Environment National Development and Security (FRIENDS), Rawalpindi;
  • Biannual IPRI Journal of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI);
  • Monthly IPRI Fact File of IPRI;
  • Quarterly Pakistan Horizon of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, Karachi;
  • Quarterly Islamic Studies of the Islamic Research Institute;
  • Quarterly Muslim World Book Review of The Islamic Foundation, UK;
  • Monthly The Muslim World of Al-Alam al-Islami (World Muslim Congress), Karachi;
  • Monthly The Muslim World League of Makkah, Saudi Arabia;
  • Quarterly Research Society of Pakistan of University of Punjab, Lahore;
  • Biannual Social Sciences of Government College University, Faisalabad;
  • Monthly Tarjuman-al-Qur’an of Idara Tarjuman-al-Qur’an, Lahore;
  • Monthly Fikr-o nazar of International Islamic University Islamabad;
  • Monthly Akhbar-e Urdu of National Language Authority, Islamabad;
  • Monthly Deeni sahafat of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad;
  • Biannual Nuqta-e nazar of IPS;
  • Quarterly Maghrib aur Islam of IPS;
  • Bimonthly Wasti Asia kay Musalman of IPS; and
  • Biannual Policy Perspectives of IPS.

 

Issues between 1990 and 2008 were studied. It is interesting to note that almost all of these important journals have taken up the subject of Xinjiang from various perspectives.

 

The study also covered important books and articles published since the beginning of relations between China and Pakistan, including travelogues and, more importantly, Urdu encyclopedias, which provide an insight into the work done during the earlier periods of relations. Writings in both English and Urdu were included. Interestingly, while most of the English writings use Western sources for reference,[9] the Urdu writings have citations from Arabic sources as well.

 

One of the oft-quoted sources in the Urdu writings is the book Cheen-o Arab kay t‘alluqaat aur iss kay nataej [Relations between China and the Arab world and their impact] by Badaruddin Cheeni, who was educated at Jamia Al-Azhar, Egypt, and Jamia Millia Delhi, India published by Anjuman-e Tarraqqi-e Urdu in 1949[10]. Similarly, Urdu works quote Eisa Yousuf Alaptagin, a former member of the Chinese parliament, who left Xinjiang after the revolution in 1949 and stayed in Turkey until his death.[11] With reference to the discussion on the history, culture and language of Xinjiang, Mahmood Kashgari, a scholar from Kashgar, is also quoted often. His famous book Deevan lughat at-Turk was completed in 1074 in Baghdad and was later republished in Turkey in five volumes in the new script.12

 

In view of its objectives and time frame, the study has not been conducted as an exhaustive survey of Pakistani writings on Xinjiang. Thus, reports about Xinjiang in the media, including scholarly content, are excluded, as are the briefs of business groups, such as the Rawalpindi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), which have the specific purpose of strengthening business ties.[12] Likewise, although literature, particularly poetry, is important in understanding how a society perceives other people and places—and there is certainly mention of Xinjiang and its people in Pakistani literature—this dimension has been excluded from the scope of the present study.

(II)

 

This brief introduction leads to the specific themes and discussions in the writings of Pakistani scholars. Key themes include historical relations, Karakorum Highway, border agreement, trade relations, instability factors and concerns for security and last but not the least, Kashmir and its links with Xinjiang.

Historical and Current Economic Significance

 

Many writings, particularly in the first phase, focus on the historical significance of Xinjiang, particularly the economic bonds associated with this area. There are frequent references to the Silk Road, trade caravans of ancient times, and Xinjiang’s pivotal role in economic activities in the past. The journalist Ershad Ahmed [Haqqani] mentions that medieval merchants used to pass through Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang, to enter Rome, and this might be the reason one of the meanings of Urumqi is ‘small Rome.’14 In his travelogue, the famous Pakistani poet and writer Ibn Insha mentions customary historical and societal acquaintance with the people of Khotan and Yarkand, two cities of Xinjiang,[13] which implies that the societies of today’s Pakistan and Xinjiang have enjoyed historical linkages.[14]

 

S. Mustafa, who was associated with the University of Peshawar, is particularly helpful in understanding the historical significance of Xinjiang. In one of his articles, he writes:

 

For the most parts, Sinkiang is a desolate desert of sand and gravel, having served as a meeting place of people from all around. Since ancient times, it was avenue of trade and culture between east and west, north and south. Here, China met Greece, Persia and India, Byzantium Rome and Europe. It was a meeting place of Religions: ancient nature worships, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam and the philosophies of China: Taoism and Confucianism.[15]

 

In the same article, Mustafa speaks of some of the key points along the old Silk Road:

 

The Turfan basin contains the lowest point in China and one of the earth’s lowest land spots. It was a key point on the western route of ancient silk road.[16]

 

The writer then describes how the southern route of the old Silk Road has been swallowed up by the Gobi Desert,[17] evoking a deep nostalgia as he talks of the forgotten cities of Xinjiang, Loulan, Charchan, Niya, Karatannga, and 20 other towns that now lie buried under the sand. Of the silk of Niya, which has been discovered in recent years, he says:

 

The Silk unearthed here is superbly crafted in gorgeous colours and exquisite designs, an evidence of a developed ancient culture and thriving trade.[18]

 

The author explains the historical significance of individual cities—how Dzungaria, situated in the northern parts of Xinjiang, was the great passageway for the Huns, Uygurs, Mongols and others,[19] and how Khotan, an important town in the south, had links with Ban Chao, who played an important role in promoting East-West intercourse along the Silk Road during the eastern Han dynasty (25–220ad).[20]

 

The historical languages of Xinjiang and their influences in the region comprise another important subject of Pakistani works of this period.[21]

 

In later writings, the emphasis on the economic significance of Xinjiang increases. The region’s centrality in the trade and communication linkages of China with South Asian and Central Asian States is explored.[22] More light is shed on Xinjiang’s physical geography, minerals and other natural resources, as well as its important products, and trade and communication linkages.[23]

 

In these later writings, authors often also discuss the geo-strategic significance of Xinjiang. They are of the view that while Xinjiang represented the outer limits of nineteenth-century China, it has now assumed a new strategic and economic dimension.[24] Today, Xinjiang is of “utmost geo-strategic importance” for China’s security structure as well. With 2,700 km long boundary, it shares borders with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and the frontiers with Russia, Mongolia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.[25] Therefore, Xinjiang is a “pivot” of the “New Silk Road” and an extensive inner security zone defending China’s heartland.[26] Likewise, Zeb Rizwan has shed light on the linkage between Xinjiang and Central Asia, calling Xinjiang “the doorway for Central Asia to the Pacific Asia.”[27]

 

Growing economic connections between China and Pakistan have increased the significance of Xinjiang. Many authors have highlighted the economically strategic position of Pakistan and its Northern Areas in light of their connection with Xinjiang. Thus, Mutahir Ahmed discusses the vital role that Pakistan can play at the Pamir Knot,[28] pointing out that the extensive trade that China carries out through the land routes of Pakistan and Xinjiang not only helps in developing the interior of China but also facilitates economic relations among the core countries of Asia within 1,500 miles of the Pamirs, i.e. Pakistan, China, Iran, the Gulf region, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, the CAS, Russia and India.[29]

 

Energy Significance

 

The energy significance of Xinjiang is a common theme in recent writings. China is a developing country and its energy needs are growing day-by-day. Until the late 1980s, China was fulfilling its energy needs through the energy resources of its eastern zone, which are now called ‘old oil’. Since the extensive industrial development, these ‘old oil’ resources have saturated. With the recent discovery that Xinjiang might be another source of energy, China has initiated widespread exploration projects there. Certainly, Xinjiang’s strategic significance has increased because it houses three major oil basins, Turpan, Junggar and Tarim—the last of which is considered the biggest unexplored oil basin in the world.[30]

 

This new significance has been discussed frequently by Pakistani scholars.[31] Among them is Sadia Tasleem, who has elaborated the distinction between China’s new and old oil, and also highlighted China’s concerns about the growing scarcity of energy resources. She writes:

 

Xinjiang in the west China is the main source of new oil. China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), also with foreign oil companies, has invested billions of dollars over the past decades in order to increase the output. Yet, the result has been disappointing. The target for the region’s oil output to reach 40 million tones for the next decade turned out to be impossible, while the so-called pessimistic projections (that were set at 20-25 million tons) are likely to come into reality.[32]

 

Such discussions commonly also refer to the geographical proximity of Xinjiang with the CAS, which are another source of energy. Pakistani writers have identified the advantages of Xinjiang as a pipeline route for supplying energy from western Kazakhstan to Xinjiang and onwards across China’s interior to the Pacific coast.[33]

 

In fact, any discussion on Chinese energy needs and Pakistan’s strategic importance in this respect—for example, its being China’s gateway to the Middle East and link with the Arabian Sea—has to mention Xinjiang. Cooperation between the two countries in the development of the Gwadar deep sea port in Balochistan is referred to in the same context. Emphasizing this project, Fazal-ur-Rahman writes, it could provide an important sea route to china’s rapidly developing Western regions, Afghanistan and Central Asian states; and that an understanding has been reached to upgrade KKH; and feasibilities for railway link, gas pipelines, oil refining and storage facilities at Gwadar are under preparation.”[34]

 

History and Culture

 

The history of Xinjiang is also one of the most commonly discussed themes in the writings of Pakistani experts, particularly in the first phase. The historical linkages of Xinjiang with Turkistan are discussed at length, and it is frequently stated that the area used to be called Eastern Turkistan.[35] Many discussions cover the advent of Islam in the region, the various stages it went through, and the various movements and armed conflicts that resulted between the local people and the Chinese government.

 

The topics covered in the section on China in the Urdu Daera-e M‘aref-e Islamia [Urdu Islamic Encyclopedia] published in 1973 is indicative of the nature of academic interest in Xinjiang in the 1970s. The topics include history of China until 1911, arrival of Muslims in China and its effects on the country’s civilization and politics, the relationship of Muslims and the Chinese in different periods, and the situation of Islam and Muslims in modern China, including cultural relations and influences, sects of Chinese Muslims, writings of Chinese Muslims, status and society of Chinese Muslims, the post-socialist revolution, the development of Islamic Studies, and the population of Chinese Muslims.[36] Discussion is also found on the change of the region’s name from Eastern Turkistan to Sinkiang and the change of the local script from Arabic to Chinese.[37]

 

In the historical context, many writers have discussed the status of the region and the centuries of wars fought for its control between the Turks and the Chinese. The writings discuss how, after fighting several wars, the Chinese left the area in 751 CE and regained control in 1760. In the intervening period, the Mongols ruled the area for some time. Since 1760, China has been successful in maintaining its control over the area, except for some brief intervals (1865–1876, 1933–1944 and 1944–1947).

 

These writings, particularly in the earlier phase of Pakistan-China relations, claim that, in order to suppress the movements for independence in those days, the Chinese government made extensive use of force and took measures to change the demographic composition and culture of the area.[38] There are detailed accounts of Yaqoob Baig, a leader and “freedom fighter” and his struggle for Eastern Turkistan. Also discussed at length are the contacts of the independent government of Xinjiang with the Turkish empire in the late nineteenth century, and later, the interests and role of Soviet Russia in maintaining conflict in the region.[39] It is concluded that the “greater Turkistan,” to which the area once belonged, came to be divided into spheres of Russian and Chinese influence: Eastern Turkistan became Chinese Turkistan and later Sinkiang under Chinese control.

 

Several authors mention that, after embracing Islam, the Uygur Muslims of Xinjiang felt much closer to western Turkistan (Central Asia) where Islam was the predominant religion; their ideology was at variance with mainstream China, and as such their sense of affinity with the rest of their country was limited.[40] In most of these writings, scholars refer to the region as “Turkistan” or “Eastern Turkistan” and not as “Sinkiang” or “Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region”—the names given by the Chinese government.[41] Along with Central Asia, the historical association of the Muslims of Eastern Turkistan with the rest of the Muslims of the Middle East and South Asia is also frequently elaborated in these discussions. One of the main sources in this regard is the earlier mentioned book by Badaruddin Cheeni, Cheen-o Arab kay t‘alluqaat aur iss kay nataej.[42]

 

Xinjiang and its people are also frequently mentioned in all writings on subjects like Islam in China, Central Asian Muslims and Muslim minorities in the world.[43]

 

With reference to cultural links between Pakistan, Xinjiang and Central Asia, an interesting fact is cited by Sarvat Solat.[44] He discusses how the famous character “Naseeruddin Effendi,” found in literary writings in Eastern Turkistan, is also found as “Mulla Naseeruddin” in writings in Western Turkistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan and as “Khawaja Naseeruddin” in Anatolia (Turkey). The character thus signifies the common cultural heritage of these areas.

 

While discussing the history of Xinjiang, scholars have also shed light on the linkages between the people of Xinjiang and Pakistan. Religious, civilizational, linguistic and cultural connections are often mentioned.[45] How Pakistan has been alluded to in Chinese writings is also discussed. Ijaz Butt writes:

 

The area now comprises Islamic Republic of Pakistan has usually been referred to as the “Western Region” in old historical terminology of China.…The term Western Region as understood during the Han period meant the land west of Yumen Pass and Yanghuan in Sinkiang.[46]

 

The historical linkages of the people of Kashmir and Xinjiang are discussed in particular. G. M. Mir elaborates this theme extensively.[47] His book about relations between Kashmir and China often mentions places in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. For example, discussing the trade of silk, Mir describes how “the people of Khotan used to send the Silk of Kashmir in to the west Asia and Europe.”[48] Similarly, precious stones, musk and a special kind of tea would be imported from “Eastern Turkistan” to Kashmir.[49]

 

The author also traces the movement of Buddhist scholars from Kashmir to China through Xinjiang.[50] Bamizai, an Indian writer,[51] highlights that, afterwards, different centers of Buddhism were established in the region of Central Asia and in the cities of Khotan and Kashgar of Xinjiang.[52] Later, Chinese students and monks came to Kashmir for pilgrimage to the shrines through this area.

 

Mir mentions that this trend helped in extending trade, people-to-people contact, and cultural and political relationships between the two sides. In support of this point, the author has included a speech delivered in Urdu by Prof. Lo Xoi Len on February 27, 2002 at a seminar held in Mirpur on Cheen aur Kashmir kay qadeem saqafati rishtay [The ancient cultural relations of China and Kashmir]. In the speech, Prof. Len has stated that the 2,000-year-old friendship and cultural relationship of China and Kashmir was primarily developed by Buddhist priests.[53]

 

With regard to linkages with Kashmir, Chinese trade caravans, which passed through Xinjiang and crossed Ladakh and Gilgit to the Indian subcontinent (present-day Pakistan and India) for commercial transactions are also mentioned.

 

Many scholars have traced the influences of historical links and inter-ethnic relations of Xinjiang’s people with South Asia. According to Mumtaz Hasan:

 

The Uyghurs had close contacts with Gandhara as it was the center of Mahayana Buddhism. There was a movement of artists from Gandhara and with the artists moved the ideas. That is why we find a large number of Sanskrit words in the Uyghur language.[54]

 

In this context, some authors have also pointed out that embassies of Chinese emperors existed in the territories that now make up Pakistan.[55] Likewise, the Muslim rulers of the Indian subcontinent had diplomatic relations with Xinjiang as far back as in the fourteenth century.[56]

 

Unlike recent Pakistani writers, who look at the Silk Road from the perspective of its current revival through growing trade between regional states, the earlier writings, primarily by historians and in Pakistani encyclopedia, see it more in terms of the old linkages of China with many of the Arab states and Iran.[57] The emphasis of most of these writings appears to be highlighting the Chinese Muslims and their links with the rest of the Islamic countries. Some of the writings are confined only to historical China-Arab relations. Authors have tried to find the historical linkages of the Arabs and China, even at the time when only the silk trade was the attractive element for the regional and surrounding areas. Under the heading, “How the Silk Road was established,” Iqbal Shafi and others have given detailed analysis of this trade route.[58]

 

Karakorum Highway (KKH) and Other Trade Infrastructure

 

The Karakorum Highway, known also as the “Friendship Highway” is the land route, linking Pakistan with China through the Northern Areas of Gilgit and Baltistan [of Pakistan]. Starting from Swat, it enters Nagar and Hunza States, from where it goes on to China at Khunjrab Top, at an elevation of 15,800 feet above sea level. The area is extremely important as it is here that the four countries, viz. China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asian States namely Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan meet. A number of passes, e.g. Kilik, Mintika and Khunjerab provide entry into Pakistan.[59]

 

The construction of the Karakorum Highway is a subject that has drawn extensive attention from Pakistani writers. Its being the world’s highest paved road, a wonder of the world, a symbol of Pak-China friendship, a means of bringing the people of the two areas closer, a great achievement that was made possible by the sacrifices of engineers from both Pakistan and China are some of the themes that have been discussed.

 

China and Pakistan signed the agreement for construction of the KKH in 1967. The completion of this legendry road took almost 20 years, in the course of which hundreds of project engineers and workers lost their lives. Many Pakistani scholars have acknowledged astounding determination, effort and sacrifice that unfolded during the KKH project. In the recently published Diaries of Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan 1966-72, the KKH is mentioned on more than one occasion. Describing one of his meetings with the Amir of Hunza, the former President of Pakistan pays a tribute to the Chinese:

 

…the Chinese have done a tremendous job on the Karakram Road….The road is 43 feet wide, this is a tremendous performance.[60]

 

In the recent academic writings, prospects are also discussed of the development of the Gwadar Sea-port and of its connection with the KKH to further boost economic activities in the region.[61]

 

Writing about the prospects of upgradation of the KKH, Fazal-ur-Rahman reports:

 

An MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] has been signed between China Road and Bridge Corporation and Pakistan’s National Highway Authority, for the upgradation of the 335 Kilometer-long section of the road between the Raikot bridge and the Khunjerab mountain pass.[62]

 

Writings on the expansion of communication linkages, such as the upgradation of the KKH and the above mentioned recently signed MoU, not only highlight the geo-strategic importance of Xinjiang but also the emphasis of Pakistani scholars to the need for maximum utilization of this significant land route. In the above quoted article, Fazal-ur-Rahman notes:

 

China effectively has linked its western regions bordering Central Asia and Pakistan with Central China and can use the KKH and other links for expanding trade with West Asia and South Asia.[63]

 

Fazal-ur-Rahman further notes:

 

[The] upgradation of KKH should not be seen only in the context of Pakistan’s efforts for the TEC [Trade and Energy Corridor], but as a logical response by Pakistan and China to the various initiatives for establishing East-West and North-South trade corridors in the regions.[64]

 

The most recent writings also discuss the possibilities of building a railway line alongside the KKH to further increase movement between the two areas.[65]

 

Pakistani scholars have also highlighted the sensitive issues that cast a shadow on the prospects of this road link, i.e. the potential exportation, migration and spread of extremist tendencies in Xinjiang.[66] It is often mentioned that these are the most sensitive issues between the two states and may affect bilateral relations. This subject is discussed later in this paper.

 

Border Agreement of 1963

 

In March 1963, the foreign ministries of China and Pakistan signed the Hunza State and Xinjiang Border Agreement. This agreement is often regarded as a milestone in the long-term bilateral relations of the two states. Indeed, demarcation of boundaries and movement through border areas often becomes a cause of concern and even conflict among states: only a year before this agreement, China and India had fought a full-scale war on the issue of demarcation of the Sino-Indian border. Referring to the issue, Butt wrote:

 

The road Chinese had built through the Aksai Chin in 1956-58 was particularly important as it is hitherto the only road connecting Sinkiang (Xinjiang) Province of China with the sensitive ‘Tibet region.’ It is, 1,455 Kilometers long with an average elevation of 4,200 meters and is the highest road in the world. For the development of Tibet and its close collaboration with the rest of China, the Aksai Chin area is of importance to China.[67]

 

Among the many Pakistani writers who have covered various dimensions of the Border Agreement, Butt is a prominent name.[68] He has traced the historical demarcation of the area since the eighteenth century, when Hunza accepted Xinjiang as a tributary power and started paying a certain amount of gold dust every year to the authorities of Xinjiang.[69] Like other writers, Butt has also analyzed the political situation in which the Border Agreement took place. It is well known that, at the time of the agreement, the regional and international political situation was highly critical for both China and Pakistan.[70] The context can be understood from the following excerpt from President Ayub Khan’s political autobiography, Friends Not Masters, concerning his conversation with the Chinese Ambassador in December 1961:

 

On my return from the United States in December 1961, the Chinese Ambassador came to see me. He asked for our support for the proposition that the Chinese entry into the United Nations should be decided on the basis of a simple majority rather than a two-third majority. I asked him about our suggestion of demarcating the undefined border between China and Pakistan. He said that was a very complicated matter. I told him that if border demarcation was a very complicated matter, China’s admission to the United Nations was even more complicated. I suggested to him that we should look at the two problems on merit…We were supporting China’s case for admission to the United Nations not to please China but because we genuinely felt that China had a right to be in the United Nations.[71]

 

Scholars’ writings about the political ramifications of the Border Agreement highlight the significance of the incident. The agreement gave a clear indication to the world that Pakistan and China were close friends who would not engage in coercive ways of policy persuasion, as K. Arif has extracted from the editorial of People’s Daily:

 

The joint communiqué of the Chinese and Pakistan Governments on the agreement in principle on the location of the boundary between China’s Sinkiang and the contiguous areas the defence of which is under the control of Pakistan marks a new starting point in the development of friendship between China and Pakistan as well as a new important victory for the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.[72]

 

Scholars have also dealt with this issue in the context of Pakistan’s relations with India, which is often regarded as a major challenge to the security of Pakistan. Its Border Agreement with an emerging power gave a sense of security to Pakistan in an environment of unsatisfactory bilateral relations with Afghanistan and India.

 

Pakistani writers have reviewed the agreement in detail from the perspective of their country. Their view is that both countries avoided commenting on the de jure status of the territory in good and friendly spirit. The final agreed border followed Pakistan’s claim and Pakistan did not cede to China any portion of territory under its administrative control. The agreement specifically mentions that it is provisional and subject to negotiations after the Kashmir dispute is resolved. China recognized Pakistan’s control over the area despite Indian claims and protests. Under the agreement, Pakistan gained more than 750 square miles of strategic watershed area; the peak of K-2 remained part of Pakistan’s territory and its claims on Hunza and other parts of its Northern Areas were also effectively settled. There was no dislocation of population; water draining into the Indus River system remained with or came to Pakistan, while water draining into the Tarim River system remained with or went to China.[73]

Border Trade Agreement

 

Although trade relations between Pakistan and China commenced in the early 1950s, no border trade was conducted until the two countries’ Border Trade Agreement of 1967. Coming after the Border Agreement of 1963, an Air Travel Agreement in 1964, a Cultural Agreement in 1965, Chinese support to Pakistan during the latter’s war against India in 1965, and Pakistan’s consistent support to China’s membership of the UN, the Pak-China Trade Agreement of 1969 was not a groundbreaking development. However, it was a milestone in promoting the relationship between communities in the Northern Areas of Pakistan and the western region of China, i.e. Xinjiang. It made it possible for the residents of these regions to fulfill their bilateral requirements of trade and exchange directly, rather than going through the far-off main commercial centers of Pakistan and China.

 

Starting with an initial ceiling of a mere 0.24 million Pak rupees in 1967, the agreement kept extending with the mutual consent of both the countries. The last exchange of letters for conducting border trade was concluded on March 28, 1993. The ceiling at that time was enhanced to Rs. 200 million each way but, by the end of 1998, the total utilization could not exceed Rs. 99.4 million. The agreement expired in December 2000.

 

This topic is generally discussed by all those who have written on economic and trade relations and the significance of people-to-people contacts between Pakistan and China. Analysts are of the view that the Border Trade Agreement tied the two countries in a new kind of relationship, as it legalized two-way trade through the border. As such, it quickened the pace of relations between the two countries and reinforced frequent people-to-people contact. Tourism also increased.

 

There were some concerns expressed in different writings when the Border Trade Agreement expired in December 2000. Analysts felt the agreement should be renewed with a greater scope, such as an expanded area of jurisdiction, inclusion of more trade items, and openings for other regional countries to enter in similar agreements.[74]

The agreement needs to be replaced with a renewed agreement, with an extended scope. For example, the areas covering this agreement on Pakistani side may be extended from Northern Areas alone to entire NWFP and Rawalpindi. The list of tradable products under the agreement should also be reviewed and expanded. Talks should be held for this purpose on preferential basis. Besides, transit and transport facilities should also be increased.[75]

 

The subject of border trade remains important. However, this agreement has not been renewed and now the subject of trade is directly dealt with in Free Trade Agreements between China and Pakistan.[76]

 

Concerns about Security and Instability

 

Separatist tendencies have been active in Xinjiang for a long time. The separatists are Turkic Uygurs in origin and are historically linked with Turkistan, which means ‘the land of Turkic people.’ The goal of their “East Turkistan Movement” is to establish an independent proclaimed Eastern Turkistan Islamic Republic in the area that now comprises Xinjiang.[77] The government of China has declared this movement a terrorist organization. The Government of Pakistan also recognizes it as an anti-China activity.[78]

 

A number of Pakistani scholars have written on this issue. Their perspectives have varied according to the current state of relationship between the two countries as well as their own individual backgrounds and approaches.

 

The security concerns that arise from the Uygurs’ movement have necessarily reduced opportunities for full enhancement of the Pak-China relationship through the border areas. The establishment of the first air contact between the two countries illustrates this limitation. The first direct air route between the two countries connected Dacca (in what was then East Pakistan) with Canton (new name Guangdong), and not between Xinjiang and the West Pakistan.

 

Anwar Syed indicates the political undertone of the Pak-China Air Travel Agreement of 1964, which was of great significance, being the first of its kind between China and a non-communist country:

 

As early as 1956 Saifuddin Aziz, the governor of Sinkiang had broached it with visiting Pakistani editors. Kashgar, he explained, could not be much more than one jet hour from Rawalpindi. Air services to Peking via Sinkiang would remove [for the Chinese] the necessity of going through India and Hong Kong. PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] examined the suggestion at the time but didn’t follow it up for security reasons.[79]

The Early Debate

 

The books, travelogues and academic journals published in the earliest phase of the Sino-Pak relationship often focus on the ideological contradictions between Communism and Islam and express concern over what they see as the imposition of communist ideology on the Muslim majority area of Xinjiang.[80] Such writings talk about the political, religious and cultural identity of Xinjiang and how it is being systematically influenced by the Chinese government. They draw attention to the fact that Xinjiang is a no-go area for foreign dignitaries—“German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was the first foreign head of state to visit Xinjiang in 1975.”[81] The nuclear tests conducted by the Chinese government in Xinjiang are also discussed in this context:

 

Since 1964, at least 30 nuclear tests have been detected there – 22 above ground and 8 below. The last recorded test was in 1984.

 

The radioactive fallout from the nuclear testing site at Lop Nor is causing an increase in human cancer and malformation in fruits. Increasing numbers of liver, lung and skin cancer cases had been reported in Eastern Turkistan.[82]

 

Such writings appeal to Muslim countries to dissuade the Chinese government from reducing the Uygur majority of  Xinjiang by bringing in Chinese from other parts of the country.[83] Badaruddin Cheeni’s Cheen-o Arab dunia kay t‘alluqaat aur iss kay nataej is among the most detailed documents on these issues.[84] A deep concern for the security of the Muslims of China is reflected in all such works.[85]

 

Based on his observations in various cities of China, including the Xinjiang region, Ershad Ahmed summarizes the three prongs of the Chinese approach to religion. The first is non-interference in religious rituals such as prayer. In fact, the government facilitates religion at this level: the rebuilding of old mosques and places of worship is encouraged; schools have been established in Muslim areas and a training institution has been established in Beijing to prepare prayer leaders (imams) for mosques, where the curriculum includes religious texts, the constitution of the country, and the Chinese and Arab languages.

 

The second prong is communist education, which is compulsory in all schools in China, including those in Muslim areas such as Xinjiang. This, the author observes, has a certain influence over the minds and personalities of young Muslims. The third prong is the Chinese cultural policy, which promotes a culture alien to Islamic teachings.[86]

 

Although this subject is not confined to writings produced in the earlier period of the bilateral relationship, it does lose emphasis in the later period and the tone becomes friendlier to the Chinese position.

 

Discussing “China’s Religious Policy” in 2008, Akhtar Khan traces the roots of the Chinese approach towards religion. In the early period of the Cultural Revolution, China understood religion as essentially foreign, particularly in the context of the Chinese experience with Christianity during 150 years of colonial rule, and later, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Taiwan. His conclusion is as follows:

 

In order to understand the religious policy of today’s China, one needs to look into Chinese history which is paramount in shaping the religious outlook. China today is not against religious penetration in the land but is against developments which have the power to “embarrass the government” at a certain point in history and consequently shape a reflexive response to it, either from the government machinery (as in the case of Century of Ban, Opium Wars, Taiping Rebellion and its consequences) or society (as Boxer Rebellion and May Fourth Movement). After the “Century of Humiliation”, we now see the consolidation of a new state established in the backdrop of this dark period after a prolong struggle which ultimately led to the victory of the Communist Party of China led by Chairman Mao Zedong. The post-1949 Chinese history could be divided into Mao’s era and post-Mao era. Though religion and Communism are two diametrically opposing forces, still in the post-1949 China, we do not see the ultimate banishing of religion as happened in Russia. China streamlined it into the new order of the state more in the light of the Century of Humiliation than communism. Though the way Communism was understood and implemented saw the persecution of religion but it was not biased towards one religion. Perhaps the greatest criticism that emerged regarding the implementation of the perceived communism was its target of Confucius teachings during the Cultural Revolution. The post-Mao era, which is referred to as opening up to the world, has ushered in an era which has not only bolstered economic gains but has also softened the attitude of the state towards political, social and cultural, and religious issues.[87]

 

Some scholars have linked Xinjiang’s ideological conflict with big power politics in the region. They associate the unrest in Xinjiang with the old Great Game in which Russia, Britain and China were the main players. Writers trace how Muslim religious, ethnic and nationalistic sentiments have been exploited by these great powers. This particular theme is explored most intensively in the early 1990s, following the disintegration of Soviet Russia.

 

In the second phase of the Sino-Pak relationship, with its overtone of friendship and concrete cooperative steps, and with the changing regional political scene[88] as well as China’s opening up, ideological discourse on the separatist movement in Xinjiang is largely replaced in Pakistani writings by more pragmatic discussions of regional security issues.

 

Focus on the Central Asian States

 

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there was a revival of general interest in the newly created Central Asian States. Many Pakistani scholars started tracing the history, culture, ethnicity, political turmoil, independence movements and society of these states, highlighting their historical links with Pakistan and the potentials for future trade and cultural links. Xinjiang was a natural part of these discussions, both as a regional economic hub and as part of ‘Turkistan’ (Central Asia).

 

Such writings frequently elaborate the cultural similarities between the CAS and Xinjiang, particularly the Uygur language and Turkic ethnicity. An example is Azmat Hayat Khan’s article, “Islam and Muslims in Eastern Turkistan,” a keen study of Xinjiang, the Turkistan movement, the policies of China towards Muslims and their implications, and future prospects. Importantly, however, the sources used in this article are mostly not recent.[89] In fact, most such writings are based on what was written earlier on the subject in Pakistan or elsewhere.[90]

 

The links of Xinjiang’s separatists with resistance groups in Afghanistan and Central Asia is another significant theme of the period. Ahmed Rashid, in his book Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia, mentions an example of the Xinjiang Uygurs’ links with the Afghan mujahidin.[91] On a similar issue, Rizwan Zeb writes:

 

Central Asian States in themselves are no threat to China in the strict military sense; yet they may possibly be a source of threat in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where China is fighting the Uyghur separatists. Uyghurs live in a couple of Central Asian states – about 200000 in Kazakhstan and 50000 in Kyrgyzstan – and there are small Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik communities living in Xinjiang. Therefore it is logical for Chinese policy makers, for whom Xinjiang is strategically very important, to ensure that there is peace and rule of law...[92]

 

The Chinese initiative of the Shanghai Five, which later developed into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), is discussed in many writings in this context. Thus, Sadia Tasleem writes:

 

China has made considerable efforts in enhancing bilateral as well as multilateral relations with the CARs to attain her objectives successfully. For this purpose one of the landmark step was taken in 1996 when China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgy-zstan formed a group known as the “Shanghai-Five”….It was initially designed to be an informal grouping to discuss ways to resolve old border disputes and fortify common borders against terrorist and separatist activities. However, the group’s members soon decided that they needed to cooperate more thoroughly to deal with what they called the “three evil forces” – terrorism, separatism, and extremism. In summer of 2001, the Shanghai-Five admitted Uzbekistan into the organization and established a permanent regional group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).…The establishment of SCO, largely spearheaded by the Chinese, is seen by many observers as part of a security strategy to prevent Kazakh or Uyghur separatists from using Central Asian States as a safety zone to plot separatist activities in Xinjiang.[93]

 

The Early Debate

 

The books, travelogues and academic journals published in the earliest phase of the Sino-Pak relationship often focus on the ideological contradictions between Communism and Islam and express concern over what they see as the imposition of communist ideology on the Muslim majority area of Xinjiang.[80] Such writings talk about the political, religious and cultural identity of Xinjiang and how it is being systematically influenced by the Chinese government. They draw attention to the fact that Xinjiang is a no-go area for foreign dignitaries—“German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was the first foreign head of state to visit Xinjiang in 1975.”[81] The nuclear tests conducted by the Chinese government in Xinjiang are also discussed in this context:

 

Since 1964, at least 30 nuclear tests have been detected there – 22 above ground and 8 below. The last recorded test was in 1984.

 

The radioactive fallout from the nuclear testing site at Lop Nor is causing an increase in human cancer and malformation in fruits. Increasing numbers of liver, lung and skin cancer cases had been reported in Eastern Turkistan.[82]

 

Such writings appeal to Muslim countries to dissuade the Chinese government from reducing the Uygur majority of  Xinjiang by bringing in Chinese from other parts of the country.[83] Badaruddin Cheeni’s Cheen-o Arab dunia kay t‘alluqaat aur iss kay nataej is among the most detailed documents on these issues.[84] A deep concern for the security of the Muslims of China is reflected in all such works.[85]

 

Based on his observations in various cities of China, including the Xinjiang region, Ershad Ahmed summarizes the three prongs of the Chinese approach to religion. The first is non-interference in religious rituals such as prayer. In fact, the government facilitates religion at this level: the rebuilding of old mosques and places of worship is encouraged; schools have been established in Muslim areas and a training institution has been established in Beijing to prepare prayer leaders (imams) for mosques, where the curriculum includes religious texts, the constitution of the country, and the Chinese and Arab languages.

 

The second prong is communist education, which is compulsory in all schools in China, including those in Muslim areas such as Xinjiang. This, the author observes, has a certain influence over the minds and personalities of young Muslims. The third prong is the Chinese cultural policy, which promotes a culture alien to Islamic teachings.[86]

 

Although this subject is not confined to writings produced in the earlier period of the bilateral relationship, it does lose emphasis in the later period and the tone becomes friendlier to the Chinese position.

 

Discussing “China’s Religious Policy” in 2008, Akhtar Khan traces the roots of the Chinese approach towards religion. In the early period of the Cultural Revolution, China understood religion as essentially foreign, particularly in the context of the Chinese experience with Christianity during 150 years of colonial rule, and later, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Taiwan. His conclusion is as follows:

 

In order to understand the religious policy of today’s China, one needs to look into Chinese history which is paramount in shaping the religious outlook. China today is not against religious penetration in the land but is against developments which have the power to “embarrass the government” at a certain point in history and consequently shape a reflexive response to it, either from the government machinery (as in the case of Century of Ban, Opium Wars, Taiping Rebellion and its consequences) or society (as Boxer Rebellion and May Fourth Movement). After the “Century of Humiliation”, we now see the consolidation of a new state established in the backdrop of this dark period after a prolong struggle which ultimately led to the victory of the Communist Party of China led by Chairman Mao Zedong. The post-1949 Chinese history could be divided into Mao’s era and post-Mao era. Though religion and Communism are two diametrically opposing forces, still in the post-1949 China, we do not see the ultimate banishing of religion as happened in Russia. China streamlined it into the new order of the state more in the light of the Century of Humiliation than communism. Though the way Communism was understood and implemented saw the persecution of religion but it was not biased towards one religion. Perhaps the greatest criticism that emerged regarding the implementation of the perceived communism was its target of Confucius teachings during the Cultural Revolution. The post-Mao era, which is referred to as opening up to the world, has ushered in an era which has not only bolstered economic gains but has also softened the attitude of the state towards political, social and cultural, and religious issues.[87]

 

Some scholars have linked Xinjiang’s ideological conflict with big power politics in the region. They associate the unrest in Xinjiang with the old Great Game in which Russia, Britain and China were the main players. Writers trace how Muslim religious, ethnic and nationalistic sentiments have been exploited by these great powers. This particular theme is explored most intensively in the early 1990s, following the disintegration of Soviet Russia.

 

In the second phase of the Sino-Pak relationship, with its overtone of friendship and concrete cooperative steps, and with the changing regional political scene[88] as well as China’s opening up, ideological discourse on the separatist movement in Xinjiang is largely replaced in Pakistani writings by more pragmatic discussions of regional security issues.

 

Focus on the Central Asian States

 

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there was a revival of general interest in the newly created Central Asian States. Many Pakistani scholars started tracing the history, culture, ethnicity, political turmoil, independence movements and society of these states, highlighting their historical links with Pakistan and the potentials for future trade and cultural links. Xinjiang was a natural part of these discussions, both as a regional economic hub and as part of ‘Turkistan’ (Central Asia).

 

Such writings frequently elaborate the cultural similarities between the CAS and Xinjiang, particularly the Uygur language and Turkic ethnicity. An example is Azmat Hayat Khan’s article, “Islam and Muslims in Eastern Turkistan,” a keen study of Xinjiang, the Turkistan movement, the policies of China towards Muslims and their implications, and future prospects. Importantly, however, the sources used in this article are mostly not recent.[89] In fact, most such writings are based on what was written earlier on the subject in Pakistan or elsewhere.[90]

 

The links of Xinjiang’s separatists with resistance groups in Afghanistan and Central Asia is another significant theme of the period. Ahmed Rashid, in his book Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia, mentions an example of the Xinjiang Uygurs’ links with the Afghan mujahidin.[91] On a similar issue, Rizwan Zeb writes:

 

Central Asian States in themselves are no threat to China in the strict military sense; yet they may possibly be a source of threat in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where China is fighting the Uyghur separatists. Uyghurs live in a couple of Central Asian states – about 200000 in Kazakhstan and 50000 in Kyrgyzstan – and there are small Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik communities living in Xinjiang. Therefore it is logical for Chinese policy makers, for whom Xinjiang is strategically very important, to ensure that there is peace and rule of law...[92]

 

The Chinese initiative of the Shanghai Five, which later developed into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), is discussed in many writings in this context. Thus, Sadia Tasleem writes:

 

China has made considerable efforts in enhancing bilateral as well as multilateral relations with the CARs to attain her objectives successfully. For this purpose one of the landmark step was taken in 1996 when China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgy-zstan formed a group known as the “Shanghai-Five”….It was initially designed to be an informal grouping to discuss ways to resolve old border disputes and fortify common borders against terrorist and separatist activities. However, the group’s members soon decided that they needed to cooperate more thoroughly to deal with what they called the “three evil forces” – terrorism, separatism, and extremism. In summer of 2001, the Shanghai-Five admitted Uzbekistan into the organization and established a permanent regional group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).…The establishment of SCO, largely spearheaded by the Chinese, is seen by many observers as part of a security strategy to prevent Kazakh or Uyghur separatists from using Central Asian States as a safety zone to plot separatist activities in Xinjiang.[93]

 

Post-9/11 Issues

 

The security implications of the post-9/11 regional situation for Xinjiang are extensively discussed by Pakistani writers. Discussing Chinese support to anti-terrorism in  his article, “Impact of 9/11 on China, Japan and Koreas,” Fazal-ur-Rahman discusses the Chinese vice premier’s statement that 1,000 Chinese Muslims were trained in Afghan camps run by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qa‘ida network.[94]

 

Many writings also explore the possible connection between the killing of Chinese nationals in Pakistan and the separatist movement in Xinjiang. The above cited article includes the following significant statement:

 

Among the Taliban style Islamist extremists in Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan, there is a degree of sympathy for the plight of Uighur Muslim population, which is considered by them as being suppressed and suffering at the hands of the Chinese authorities. The possibility of Uighur separatist elements being involved, directly or through their cohorts, in the attacks on Chinese nationals cannot be overruled. These elements know that nothing would hurt Pakistan more than an attack on its friendship with China.

 

In an earlier article, Fazal-ur-Rahman refers to a statement made by former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf during a visit to China:

 

Musharraf expressed support to the Chinese campaign against Muslim separatists in its western province of Xinjiang. This was for the first time that Pakistani leader went public in support for the Chinese policies in curtailing the Muslim separatist elements. He said, ‘Pakistan will make full efforts to support China to fight against East Turkestan terrorism forces’. Also, on December 22, [2001] President Musharraf in a statement urged the Chinese Muslims to be ‘very patriotic’ and to work for the betterment of their country. While talking to the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Xian, President Musharraf said, ‘Islam is a religion of peace and we don’t believe in any violence and, therefore, you being a part of China have to be very patriotic and all Muslims in China should work for the good of China.[95]

 

The author discusses the treaty signed in April 2005 during Premier Wen Jia Bao’s visit to Pakistan in the same context:

 

…The two sides signed a ‘Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good Neighborly Relations’ and also on ‘Extremism’. The comprehensive anti-terrorism cooperation from Pakistan has effectively removed the apprehensions of Chinese side vis-à-vis the support to the Uighur Muslim separatists from Pakistan’s religious groups.[96]

 

Pakistani writers have observed that the internal conflict of Xinjiang has become more visible in the post-9/11 scenario: China has labeled the separatists as “terrorists,” implicitly associating them with al-Qa‘ida and other similar organizations.[97] Some writers have also highlighted and raised serious concerns about the interests and possible involvement of extra-regional or ‘big’ powers in the region—particularly, the involvement of the US on the issue of East Turkistan:

 

Muslim extremist violence has been on the rise in Chechnya and Xinjiang, trouble spots for Russia and China. This common threat perception has brought the two major regional actors together. Both countries also worry that the West especially the United States of America might support these groups, thereby adding to their troubles.[98]

 

In many such discussions, it is suggested that the US is involved in encouraging the separatist movement, since conflict between the Muslims and Chinese would influence public opinion in the region and around the world and potentially weaken both of these adversaries. Writers emphasize the need for more research on the issue so the real forces behind different incidents may be revealed, particularly because this issue can greatly affect the Sino–Pak relationship.[99]

 

The Drug Trade

 

Chinese concerns about instability in Xinjiang are also related to the fact that it lies on the route of the regional drug trade. This subject also finds a place in discussions of Pakistani scholars, although not very frequently. Zeb writes:

 

Afghanistan’s opium has also managed to find an outlet in the bordering Chinese province of Xinjiang.…According to official estimates 20 percent of the country’s opium comes from Afghanistan.… And Xinjiang is also what has been rightly termed China’s worst in terms of drug abuse and fastest growing drug addict population.[100]

 

Kashmir and Xinjiang

 

As discussed earlier, the historical cultural relations between Kashmir and Xinjiang have drawn the attention of Pakistani scholars. In addition, owing to the geographical proximity of Kashmir and Xinjiang, scholars have also discussed the issue of Indian-held Kashmir and Chinese stakes in the region. Article vi of the Border Agreement of 1963 is a special clause concerning Kashmir. It says:

 

The two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concern will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the boundary, as described in Article II of the present Agreement, so as to sign a formal boundary treaty to replace the present Agreement, provided that, in the event of that sovereign authority being Pakistan, the provisions of the present Agreement and of the aforesaid protocol shall be maintained in the formal boundary treaty to be signed between the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan.[101]

 

Considering China to be a major power and an important player in global affairs, Pakistani writers appear to be invoking China to play its role in resolving the Kashmir issue.[102] However, in the changing geo-political environment, which has certainly influenced, among other things, Chinese concerns for Xinjiang, Pakistani writers have also noticed and indicated a change in the Chinese stance over Kashmir. Butt writes:

 

China was not in favour of International Organizations especially those under the influence of West, passing judgments on human rights conditions in different countries, including Kashmir. That was the main reason that China was not in favour of the Pakistani resolution in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. China was itself being targeted by the Western World of its human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang which China considered its internal matter. China did not want to encourage this trend by voting in favour of the Pakistani resolution on violations of human rights in Kashmir. A vote in favour of the Pakistani resolution would have alienated India which was seen by China as a potential ally in its efforts to resist American pressure on human rights. This is quite reassuring for India because China is not expected to extend any diplomatic support to Pakistan’s demand for the right of self determination for the people of Kashmir. However, China also avoids taking sides on India’s charges of Pakistani intervention as the main cause of insurgency in Kashmir.[103]

 

The author also refers to the following development:

 

At the end of the conference of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 2002 at Saint Petersburg, all the member countries Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan urged Pakistan and India to resolve their dispute peacefully. The Russian President Putin joined his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin and four other Central Asian leaders, blamed Pakistan and demanded to put an end to terrorism in Kashmir. He said, “If we consider the roots of terrorism, we should ask Pakistan to put an end to terrorist activities coming from its territory and directed at India and Kashmir.” Chinese President did not show any reaction at the remark of Russian President. This shows the clear change in China’s stand over Kashmir. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jian Chao told reporters at a weekly briefing in Beijing on 11th June 2002 that China hopes India and Pakistan will soon resume talks to settle their bilateral disputes, including the issue of Kashmir, through peaceful means.[104]

 

The US-led war on terror also comes under discussion in the context of Chinese concerns about Xinjiang and Pakistan’s concerns over Kashmir. Fazal-ur-Rahman writes:

 

China’s main concern, as a partner in the ‘war against global terrorism’ is that the US did not consider the acts of terror by the separatists Uighur groups as terrorism, rather it is still considered a question of human rights to keep China under pressure. Beijing expects US to reciprocate for its support for the US-led war against terrorism by considering the separatists in Xinjiang as terrorists, so that it can deal with those elements effectively without provoking any international criticism.[105]

 

Pakistanis, while appreciating the Chinese stance towards Kashmir, also refer to Pakistan’s support of China on Tibet and Taiwan issues.

 

Given the current security situation in the region and the sensitivities involved, Xinjiang is likely to continue to occupy a focal position in Pakistani academic writings about Chinese security concerns, at least for some time.

 

Conclusion

 

This survey of Pakistani academic writings finds that, while Xinjiang is not the central theme in most writings, it is commonly discussed with regard to historical, cultural, economic and trade links between Pakistan and China, as well as in writings about Central Asia and on themes such as the Muslims of China, Islam in China, and Muslim minorities in the world.[106]

 

There are some writings in which Xinjiang is the focus, such as works that explore the economic opportunities offered by the region as a possible hub for future cooperation in the region and as a resource-rich area that houses huge development programs, and the geo-strategic significance of Pakistan’s location. The other category of works that concentrate on Xinjiang are those about China’s concerns for its security, integrity and stability.

 

It has to be acknowledged, however, that while there is considerable mention of Xinjiang in the literature surveyed, there is no evidence of an organized or integrated effort to build a comprehensive and current understanding about this important region. Such an effort is warranted by the importance of border areas in promoting genuine public-level understanding and sound bilateral relations, as well as the particularly high stakes in Xinjiang, which make it a possible target for the designs of unfriendly regional and other external forces.

 

An increase in research and writing on Xinjiang would help develop a better understanding of the people, area, society, culture, issues and trends, promote a deeper understanding between the two nations, and preempt the apprehensions and misgivings that arise from misinformation and lack of information.

 

However, bringing about this enhancement in research and scholarship on Xinjiang will, initially at least, pose some challenges. There is a general lack of research facilities in Pakistan, and these facilities are further constrained, at times, by lack of resources, absence of support and motivation, and lack of information. This makes it difficult for academics to take up unexplored issues for research and there is, therefore, a need to offer special incentives for research on Xinjiang.

 

Xinjiang should be introduced as a research topic for scholars and students of the social sciences, such as international relations, history, politics, geography and anthropology.[107] Furthermore, the teaching of Chinese and other local languages spoken in Xinjiang would not only enrich and increase scholarship on Xinjiang, but is necessary for creating long-term and sustainable relations with this area.

 

In the think tanks, professional researchers need to be motivated in this direction. In today’s competitive environment, voluntary research, which demands time and financial resources, seldom attracts people. It cannot produce results in the presence of the many ‘hot’ issues of international politics, security and the economy for which major financial resources and media attention are available. Indeed, international agencies and financial institutions, backed by the media, are playing an important role in setting the research agenda, in terms of both the general nature of research and research priorities. Research that might promote good relations between China and Pakistan is not expected to be on their list of priorities.

 

So the initiative will have to be indigenous, and driven by the governments, universities, think tanks, research organizations, and literary and cultural circles of both the countries. Translations of important works from the area should be produced under a well thought out program. Visits and exchange of scholars and writers should be facilitated.

 

The successful establishment of such an initiative promises immense benefits. Not only would it, quite literally, open vistas of fruitful economic interaction but the hope expressed by the famous Pakistani anthropologist and historian Dani at the Pak-China border might be realized:

 

In the past it was the meeting place of humanity, who moved in one or the other direction in search of human destiny. Today the border separates man from man. Let us hope that one day better understanding prevails and humanity again joins hands here to share its load of knowledge, its heritage and its work of art.[108]

 

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[1] “Full text of joint statement between China and Pakistan”, October 17, 2008, Xinhua, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-10/17/content_10206474.htm (accessed on April 03, 2009)

[2]While the official spellings used by Chinese authorities are Uygur, different quotations in the following pages have used different spellings, which have not been changed.

[3] As a matter of fact, even before the Taliban period, there were reports that some Uygurs from Xinjiang were involved with resistance groups fighting against the Russians in Afghanistan. See Rashid, Taliban, 128.

[4] Butt, Focus on China, 112-113.

[5] For a discussion on this issue, see Syed, China and Pakistan, 99.

[6] Some of the publications are not Pakistani but frequently publish the works of Pakistani writers.

[7] Including the libraries of the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad (central library as well as those of departments of Defence and Strategic Studies, International Relations and, Civilizations), Academy of Letters, Islamabad, National language Authority, Islamabad, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad, Jinnah Library Lahore and Cenetral Library of the University of the Punjab, Lahore.

[8] Interviews were conducted with Mr. Iftikhar Arif, Chairman Pakistan Academy of Letters, Islamabad; Dr. Ahmad Hassan Dani, Professor Emirates at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and Dr. Safir Akhtar, Professor of History, International Islamic University, Islamabad in July and August 2008.

[9] See bibliography at the end of the paper.

[10] Ibn Insha Chaltay ho to, 121

[11] One of Alaplagin’s books has been translated into Urdu by Sarvat Solat and published with some additions and abridgment. This book, entitled “Mashriqi Turkistan,” is one of the few books published in Pakistan with an exclusive focus on Xinjiang. See also Hamidi, Turkey, 89-96.

12 Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan, 48.

13 See, for example, Rahman 2004. See also Minhas, “ECO and China.”

14 Ahmed, Ishtaraki Cheen, 154.

[13] Ibn Insha 1967, 123.

[14] In 1966, Ibn Insha visited China along with a delegation of literary writers. His book, Chaltay ho to Cheen ko Chalye, first published in the largest circulated Pakistani Urdu daily, Jang, may be considered one of the pioneer works that introduced China at the popular level. Ibn Insha could not go to Xinjiang. However, he has talked about the Muslims of China in general and those of Xinjiang in particular at several places in the book, in connection with his exposure at Sinkiang Hotel in Beijing and meetings at a festival with Xinjiang’s people in Beijing (Ibid., 85, 86, 90, also 123). By translating some Chinese poems into Urdu, Ibn Insha has also contributed in strengthening the cultural linkages of the two countries.

[15] Mustafa, “Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” 1. See also Tasleem, “China’s Interests in Central Asia,” 117-118.

[16] Mustafa, “Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” 5.

[17] Ibid., 8.

[18] Ibid., 9.

[19] Ibid., 12.

[20] Ibid., 14.

[21] Gardezee, “Linguistic Affinity,” 63-68. See also Gardezee, “The Uighurs of Central Asia,” 123-124.

[22] Butt, “China in the New Struggle,” 96-104.

[23] Mustafa, “Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” 1-16. See also Tasleem, “China’s Interests in Central Asia,” 120-124.

[24] Effendi, “Central Asia in Flux,” 19.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Rizwan, “China and Central Asia,” 14-22.

[28] The “Pamir Knot” is the geo-politically significant area of Wakhan, where the borders of Afghanistan, China and Pakistan and Tajikistan meet. The Great Game of nineteenth-century Russia and Britain primarily revolved around this region. In the present scenario, owing primarily to the turmoil in Afghanistan, it is considered one of the most sensitive regions for the security of China, Pakistan and the Central Asian States.

[29] Ahmed, “Cheeni musalmanon per kia beet rahi hai?” 57.

[30] Rizwan, “China and Central Asia,” 9.

[31] Discussions on the energy resources in Xinjiang are found in many writings. See, for example, Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan, 40-41; Rizwan, “China and Central Asia,” 9; and Hashim, “Future of Central Asia,” 7.

[32] Tasleem, “China’s Interests in Central Asia,” 122. See also Hashim, “Future of Central Asia,” 7.

[33] Noori, “China and South Asia,” 6-7 as well as 70-71. See also Butt, “China in the New Struggle,” 96.

[34] Fazal-ur-Rahman 2007, 67, 71-79. See also Butt, Focus on China, 159.

[35] See, for example, Urdu Daera-e M’aref-e Islamia, s.v. “Turkistan,” 359-363. See also Syed 194, 483-485.

[36] Urdu Daera-e M’aref-e Islamia, 264–288.

[37] Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan, 37.

[38] See, for example, Ahmed, Ishtaraki Cheen, 133-172, 295-329 and Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan, 44-52.

[39] Urdu Daera-e M’aref-e Islamia, s.v. “Al-Seen,” 275-276. See also Ahmed, Tazkera-e Sinkiang, 18-20.

[40] Gardezee, “The Uighurs of Central Asia,” 124-125. See also Tasleem, “China’s Interests in Central Asia,” 126.

[41] Gardezee, “The Uighurs of Central Asia,” 118-122.

[42] For example, see Urdu Daera-e M‘arfa-e Islamia, s.v. “Al-Seen,” 268. See also Butt, Focus on China, 26.

[43] For example, see Solat, Dunia main Muslim aqleeyatain, 114-160. See also Shahabi, Muslim dunia, 420-423 and Khan, “Islam and Muslims in Eastern Turkistan,” 55-70.

[44] Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan, 50.

[45] Butt, Focus on China, 21-30. See also Hasan, “Historical Background of RDC,” 122 and Mir, Cheen aur Kashmir, 43-74.

[46] Butt, Focus on China, 28.

[47] Mir, Cheen aur Kashmir, 29-32.

[48] Ibid., 56.

[49] Ibid., 67.

[50] Ibid., 29-32.

[51] Bamizai, Kashmir and Central Asia, 162-171. This book is included in the survey because it was published in Pakistan.

[52] Ibid., 31-32.

[53] Mir, Cheen aur Kashmir, 44-50.

[54] Asad, 2008, 122. See also Shafi, “Communication in China,” 14.

[55] Butt, Focus on China, 25.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Urdu Daera-e M‘aref-e Islamia, s.v. “Al-Seen,” 268–274.

[58] Shafi, “Communication in China,” 10-16. See also Urdu Daera-e M‘arfa-e Islamia, s.v. “Al-Seen,” 268; Hameedullah, Khutbat-e Bahawalpur, 294-297; Shafi, “Muslims in China,” 101-104; Khan, “Islam and Muslims in Eastern Turkistan,” 55-58; Nasirudin, Cheen, Bharat aur Nipal, 33-34, 47.

[59] Arif, China Pakistan Relations, 288.

[60] Baxter, Diaries of Ayub Khan, 336.

[61] Fazal-ur-Rahman, “Pak-China Relations. 2006,” 68. See also Fazal-ur-Rahman 2007, 62-71.

[62] Fazal-ur-Rahman 2007, 71.

[63] Ibid., 74.

[64] Ibid., 73.

[65] Ibid., 74-76. See also Zehra, “Relations with China,” and Syed, “China-Pakistan Rail Link.”

[66] Haider 2005, 529.

[67] Butt, Focus on China, 38.

[68] Ibid., 49-59. See also Butt 1996, 39-56.

[69] Ibid., 49-50.

[70] Arif, China Pakistan Relations, 27. See also Noori 1999, 6-7.

[71] Khan, Friends, not Masters, 162.

[72] Arif, China Pakistan Relations, 32.

[73] Butt, Focus on China, 49-67.

[74] Syed, China and Pakistan, 134-139. See also Institute of Policy Studies, “Pakistan-China Relations,” 81; Haidar 2008, 532; Rahman 2004, 191-194; and Butt, Focus on China, 151.

[75] Rahman 2004, 9-10.

[76] For information about the current status of free trade agreement between Pakistan and China, see Shabir and Kazmi, “Economic Effects of Pak-China Free Trade Agreement,” 173-200.

[77] Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan, 171-189.

[78] Fazal-ur-Rahman 2002, 47.

[79] Syed, China and Pakistan, 93-94.

[80] See, for example, Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan. Also Puri, 1986; Shaheen, Tareekh-e Turkistan; and Hamidi, Turkey, 90-97.

[81] Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan , 30.

[82] Khan, “Islam and Muslims in Eastern Turkistan,” 67. See also Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan, 30.

[83] See, for example, Ahmed, Ishtaraki Cheen, 133-171 and 295-299; Urdu Daera-e M’aref-e Islamia, s.v. “Al-Seen,” 283-284; Hamidi, Turkey, 8-9 and 11; Solat, Mashriqi Turkistan, 30-31; Idara Tarjuman-al-Quran, “Editorial,” 194–256.

[84] Urdu Daera-e M‘arfa-e Islamia, 269.

[85] Khan, “Islam and Muslims in Eastern Turkistan,” 58-69. See also “Esharat”, 1968, Tarjuman-al-Qur’an, 201-208; Khan and Khan, “Mashriqi Turkistan ya Sinkiang;” Atta Ullah, “Cheeni talba ki dastan-e ghum,” 22-23; Ahmed, “Cheeni musalmanon per kia beet rahi hai?” 30; and Shah, “Mashriqi Turkistan main riyasati dehshatgardi,” 23.

[86] Ahmad 1957, 300-312.

[87] Khan, “China Religious Policy,” 124-125.

[88] IPS, 1991a, 48-57.

[89] Khan, “Islam and Muslims in Eastern Turkistan,” 55-73.

[90] See, for example, Shaheen, Tareekh-e Turkistan, 31-32.

[91] Rashid 2000, 128.

[92] Zeb 2005, 7.

[93] Tasleem, “China’s Interests in Central Asia,” 129-130.

[94] Fazal-ur-Rahman 2002, 93.

[95] Ibid., 47.

[96] Ibid., 138-140.

[97] Ibid., 91-98. See also Fazal-ur-Rahman, “Pak-China Relations, 2006,” 54-59.

[98] Zeb 2005, 4. See also Haider 2005, 533-535.

[99] Haider 2005, 524.

[100] Zeb 2005, 13.

[101] Arif, China Pakistan Relations, 37.

[102] Syed, China and Pakistan, 88-91. See also Mir, Cheen aur Kashmir, 101-127 and Butt, Focus on China, 94-97.

[103] Butt, Focus on China, 105.

[104] Ibid., 111.

[105] Fazal-ur-Rahman 2002, 57.

[106] Solat, Dunia main Muslim aqleeyatain, 118-120. See also Shahabi, Muslim dunia, 420-423 and Rizvi, “China and Kashmir Problem,” 97-99.

[107] Encouragingly, the Area Study Center of the University of Peshawar offers courses in “State and Society in Xinjiang,” “The Border Zones of Central Asia” and similar themes related to Central Asia and China. It also teaches Uyghur, Kazakhi, Turkmeni and other languages as optional subjects. (http:// www.upesh.edu.pk/academics/researchcenter/asc/asc.html [accessed August 20, 2008])

[108] Dani, Human Records on Karakorum Highway, 108.

 
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