This month will witness the inauguration of a luxury bus service that will transport passengers between the Chinese city of Kashgar in Xinjiang province to Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s province of Punjab. According to Muhammad Anwar, the CEO of the company that operates the service, bookings have already been made by those eager to take the thirty hour journey across the border to China. Beyond Lahore, the bus will take passengers along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to the port city of Gwadar, thus enabling individuals to see first hand the route that looks to open up a new era in pan-Asian connectivity.
While the announcement of the new bus service has predictably garnered negative attention from India as the route travels through Gilgit-Baltistan, an area claimed by New Delhi, a far more meaningful geopolitical consequence of this new bus route is the fact that it can provide for more human contact between Pakistanis and residents of China’s Xinjiang at a time when anti-Chinese media outlets are running a hateful campaign attempting to defame China’s anti-extremism education initiatives in parts of Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is home to an Islamic population that has not been immune to the same kids of extremism as those in parts of Pakistan. In order to fight extremism in Xinjiang, China has implemented measures to combat extremism that are remarkably similar to those which the provincial PTI government has employed in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2013. When the PTI party which now forms a national government under Imran Khan was first elected to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly in 2013, they inherited a part of Pakistan that many felt was ungovernable.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was home to some of the most notorious terrorist groups that infiltrated Pakistan as a result of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Extremist groups under the leadership of terrorist warlords began to exert more power in north-western Pakistan than the central government over the course of many years. 2013 marked a notable change in the fortunes of the innocent civilians of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as the PTI government in cooperation with national security services and the intelligence services began to work jointly to neutralise extremism through a combination of intelligent policing, crackdowns on armed groups and parallel moves to improve education, economic opportunity, social cohesion and the material wealth of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In many ways, PTI’s success in turning the ungovernable into an area where violence as dramatically deceased was one of the reasons that PTI scored an historic nationwide victory in general elections earlier this year.
While Xinjiang has not suffered the kinds of hardship that the civilians of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have endured, China has been careful to police noticeable trends in the fomentation of extremism by taking proactive positive measures to ensure that education, material fulfilment and social enlightenment expunge the international forces of violence, extremism and gangsterism. China continues to lavishly fund educational facilities where adults can learn new professional skills and trades while the young can simultaneously be given an education that emphasises community values, harmonious relations with one’s fellow man and an aversion to the rhetoric of hatred. At the same time, China has invested evermore in developing the modern infrastructure of cities and remote areas throughout the province.
Yet in spite of or perhaps because of the success that both China and Pakistan have had in fighting and deterring extremism, both countries have been subject to hateful campaigns that have seen Pakistan being accused by the US President and multiple Indian politicians of harbouring rather than fighting terrorism while China has been accused of committing hostile acts against its own people rather than educating them with valuable skills that in other countries people pay copious amounts of money to receive.
For both nations, the best way to quash hateful rumours is by allowing human contact across the China-Pakistan border to foster a real life understanding about the not dissimilar success stories in both nations. Recently, Pakistani scholar S.M. Hali wrote about his own experiences in Xinjiang over the decades. He emphasised how he has seen a province transformed both in terms of rapid economic development and in respect of a more socially cohesive and contended mindset among locals.
These kinds of positive interactive experiences ought to be replicated not only among scholarly individuals but more importantly among all individuals who can share their first hand experiences across social media as well as with their friends and families. The bus route from Xinjiang to Lahore consequently represents a golden opportunity not only for individuals to conduct win-win cross border commerce but to engage in powerful culture immersion in order to learn first hand about the experiences of those from other regions and cultures.
As more Pakistanis visit China, they will see that Chinese characteristics and Islamic values are not mutually exclusive but instead mutually compliment one another while Chinese visitors to Pakistan will come into contact not only investment opportunities but a fraternal nation whose people will welcome them with traditional hospitality.
The best way to fight negative lies based on conjecture and perverse imaginations is to gain real life experiences in seeing the world for how it really is. Therefore, the bus route across the China-Pakistan border is not just a journey into a different place but a journey into a more elevated state of mind that will help to enlighten observers from around the world.