Chinese, Saudi and Turkish troops for the first time joined the Pakistan Day parade in the capital Islamabad on Thursday, in a sign of deepening ties.
Before Pakistan showed off long-range rockets, tanks and other military hardware, armed Chinese troops marched past Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the chief of Pakistan’s powerful military.
Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain said it was the first time Chinese troops participated in a parade in a foreign country, terming it a “historic event”, with the two countries embarking on building vast infrastructure together. Soldiers from Saudi Arabia, a long-time Pakistan ally, also joined the parade, as did a military band from Turkey, another largely Muslim nation that has strengthened ties with nuclear-armed Pakistan in recent years.
Islamabad considers China an “all-weather friend” and in recent years the countries have grown even closer on the back of the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a Beijing-funded network of road, rail and pipelines that will link western China with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port of Gwadar.
The militaries of the two countries have in recent years also increased cooperation, with Chinese officials urging Pakistan to do more to improve security to help CPEC work. China has long pressed Pakistan to do more to rein in Islamist militants, saying they have connections with extremists and separatists in China’s unruly far western region of Xinjiang.
The United States also has a strategic relationship with Pakistan, but the ties appear transactional at times, with Washington periodically cutting off funding for the Pakistani military to penalize it for failing to do enough to curb Islamist militants destabilizing the region.