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Where men and mountains meet

Where men and mountains meet

Where men and mountains meet

ISPR releases film honouring 813 lives lost during construction of KKH

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Building the Karakoram Highway (KKH) as we know it today was a Herculean task. In fact, the process of its construction was so challenging and difficult that it gave birth to the proverb, “a life lost every kilometre of the road,” due to the many sacrifices made by the Pakistan and Chinese Army during the course of its construction.

The documentary film ‘Where Men and Mountains Meet’ – produced by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in association with Delirium Productions and the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) – has attempted to showcase this mammoth task and to honour those, who lost their lives to complete this mission impossible. The biographical film serves as a testament of the longstanding Pakistan-China friendship – the iron brothers – and the sacrifices both nations made to sustain and strengthen this relationship, long before the China Pakistan Economic Corridor became a buzzword.

The film features the 1,300 kilometer-long KKH, often regarded as the eighth wonder of the world and referred to as the ‘Friendship Highway,’ and pays tribute to the 813 lives lost – 567 military personnel and 246 civilians – who were martyred during the course of its completion. “It is indeed a masterpiece of civil engineering which tells us a lot about the courage and determination of all those involved in its completion,” maintained Lieutenant

General (Rtd) Javed Nasir, who is also featured in the documentary.

A brief history

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The KKH, known as National Highway 35, extends from Hasan Abdal in the Punjab to the Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan. Here, it crosses into China and becomes the China National Highway 314. The highway is one of the highest paved roads in the world, passing through the Karakoram Mountain Range at a maximum elevation of 4,714 metres (15,466 feet) near the Khunjerab Pass.

The construction of the KKH first began in 1959 and was officially opened for public use in 1979. A collaborative effort between Pakistan and China, the road was built on the Pakistani side by the FWO, which employed the help of the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers.

Of working on this very difficult task Major General (Rtd) Muhammad Afsar revealed that, “the KKH was indeed an extraordinary project with a number of challenges which required a number of nontraditional activities. Therefore, despite being the commander I used to personally work with the Jawans, spend some quality time with them and even used to share tea time with them. The idea was to keep their moral high, because in such a difficult and complicated project the most important thing is to keep ones moral high.”

The mountain road provides the pathway to expeditions to almost all the peaks in Gilgit–Baltistan, Kashmir and several peaks in Xinjiang, China. This region also includes some of the world’s largest glaciers, including the Baltoro and Siachen Glaciers. Given the terrain of the region, the 567 military troops including 11 officers, as well as, the 246 civilians who lost their lives during construction, were injured mostly due to multiple landslides and dangerous falls. However, it is widely believed that the true number of martyrs was never determined.

Speaking on this, Major General Sabihuddin Bukhari stated that, “there was a time when a number of vehicles met severe accidents due to landslides and the lives lost in those accidents could not be counted.”

The KKH truly is a wonder to behold and serves as an access point for one of the world’s most crucial trade routes. It is the reason that Pakistan and China, alike, will be able to enjoy the economic success they are banking on once the Belt and Road Initiatives are complete. However, none of this could have been a reality without the people that poured in their blood, sweat and tears for the creation of the road.

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As Brigadare (Rtd) Mumtaz Khalid rightly maintained, “there cannot be two opinions about the fact that the Pakistan Army is the only organisation which could undertake such an important and difficult project. Only the Pakistan Army can withstand the prolonged exposure to such a rough weather. I’m certain that no other organisation could have been able to complete the KKH.”

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