‘CPEC – Cuisine En route!’

By Lt Col Moneir Aslam, Retd (1st SSC)

Lt Col Moneir Aslam, Air Def (1st SSC)Editor’s Note: Lt Col Moneir Aslam (Retd) was commissioned in a LAA Regt in April 1972. After the retirement, he has settled in Rawalpindi.

Mini Train for children in Zia Park (Test Track Park), Lalazar, RawalpindiBack in time an Army institution (502 Central Workshop EME) in Rawalpindi cantonment, developed a beautiful park in the vast adjoining lands. They transformed a huge not too beautiful depression there into an artificial lake. Over the years someone thought of a moored wooden platform thereon. And a sitting area on top to view the relaxing surroundings. Since refreshments and food enhance relaxation they commissioned a small kitchen close by. They then named this, open to all, arrangement as the ‘Black Swan Restaurant’.

In the 90s, an evening at the small ‘Black Swan Restaurant’ was a delight for the clientele. Serenity, evening breeze, soft lighting and low background instrumental music. Barbecued food too. Beautiful goldfish and tortoise swimming lazily in the lake added to the magic of the enchanting evenings.

(Editor: This Park, located in Lalazar, Rawalpindi Cantt, was initially named as Test Track Park. The name was opted because of the testing of tanks which came for repairs in 502 Central Workshop EME. Later it was named as ‘502 Workshop Park’. Locals also called it as ‘Zia Park’ as it was developed in the tenure of Gen Zia-ul-Haq. After the construction of Askari-13, the Park has almost vanished.)

An officer, a Major, with the additional task of overseeing the park had an unusual report to contend with one fine morning. The abundant goldfish numbers in the lake were suddenly decreasing one of his staff reported. That was odd. No one fished there, humans, animals and birds included. No dead fish spotted either. The Major ordered discreet surveillance of the lake for clues. He had his answer soon. The accredited Chinese Trainers at the Institution housed at a barracks close by seemed to have taken a fancy to these exotic fish. Some of them would walk over to the water edge at night; turn their torchlight on to attract them. Throwing in some crumbs ensured easy handfuls of the prized catch.

The Major reported the matter to his Commandant, a Brigadier, and asked for permission to nab the culprits in their next foray. The seasoned Brigadier counseled restraint reminding him that Pakistan China friendship was- “Higher than the Himalayas. Deeper than the oceans. Sweeter than honey.” He therefore invited the Trainers Head Wang over for Tea Break in his office.

After exchange of pleasantries and tea, the Brigadier delicately inquired how his men were doing and whether they were satisfied with their lodgings and food. Wang replied that they were being very well looked after. Did the weekly menu include sufficient quantity of fish the Brigadier delicately queried? Wang nodded in the affirmative. After volunteering to increase the fish quantity, the Brigadier ever so delicately informed his guest that some of his men were denuding the lake of its ornamental fish. Wang profusely apologized for the loss and assured that the fish need not fear for their lives henceforth.

Some days thereafter, the Major had another unusual report to contend with. The tortoise numbers were now decreasing his staff informed. Discreet surveillance ensued. By next morning he had his answer. The Chinese guests, it was observed, were using the same nighttime technique. But honoring Wang’s word they wouldn’t scoop out the fish. They would patiently wait for the tortoise and then excitedly grab their favored delicacy out.

The Major dutifully reported the matter to the Brigadier who again invited Wang for Tea Break. In the diplomatic trapeze that followed over tea Wang was ever so helpful. But representing an over 8000 year old civilization he very politely explained that tortoise happen to have attained a culinary status that could not possibly guarantee them a large thriving population. Still, he would restrain his men from this culinary delight.

The Major was back in the Commandants’ office some days down the road:” We have a problem, Sir”. The civilian Cook deputed for the Chinese had resigned. The Chinese it transpired had slaughtered a dog and kept it in the kitchen deep freezer. Steeped in the Muslim culture of Halal and Haram, this had disturbed the cooks’ equilibrium. The good Brigadier did not opt for Tea Break diplomacy this time.

He relied on pragmatism instead. He doubled the Cooks’ pay and instructed the Major to buy another deep freezer exclusively for whatever the Chinese preferred to store. After all, any number of stray dogs in the deep freezer meant that much number less for the Cantonment stray dog shooters to shoot.

Fish, tortoise, dogs and now to the present, the blessed China Pakistan Economic Corridor- CPEC for short is happening. The Pakistan component starting from the dizzying heights of Khunjerab Pass at 4693 meters ends 3000 kilometers down south at Gwadar Seaport. A path breaking convoy of Chinese goods has already successfully traversed the length and been shipped to distant shores. Such a long road journey needs regular stops for rest and food. The planners must have catered for the Rest/Service Areas for the Eastern, Western and the Central CPEC Routes. Did they, by any chance, spare a thought for the culinary preferences of the transiting friends? Fat chance! The awe on the unprecedented $51 billion investment bonanza is too intoxicating.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

The Chinese, metaphorically, can and do eat any and everything that moves, swims or flies depending on their medical beliefs. The usual rice, noodles and vegetables too. To the fish, tortoise and dogs we may add wild boars, rabbits, monkeys, frogs, snakes, scorpions and cockroaches. Or most birds, insects, animals and wildlife en route. Considering the trade convoys, of an over 1.381 billion strong Chinese population, are going to be massive and unending 24/7, whatever wildlife species inhabit the length and breadths of CPEC will be fair game. A lot many local hosts will be more than happy to rewrite the fair definition of hospitality. The skills have been ruthlessly honed.

Try asking the visiting Houbara Bustard what they think of the Pakistanis when they are out pleasing the Arabs!

Ruthless hunting of Houbara Bustards by Arabs in Pakistan

In a country where basic constitutional rights elude its hapless citizens, what hope can there be for the non human inhabitants. The Black Swan Restaurant Lake had some semblance of order. CPEC is an ungainly, impersonal and oblivious very long corridor narrowly focused on its core mission – conveying goods speedily. T he foreseeable future for the wildlife thereon and there under is unfortunately just -“cuisine en route”! That translates into sure extinction for some if not all of them due to rampant over poaching. For this unthought-of, unheard and uncatered for wildlife, migration far away from the CPEC offers the only hope for survival. Someone try telling them this!

Note: This article was first published in Daily Times on December 4, 2016. It has been published in this Blog with the kind permission of the writer.

Related Page:
Pakistan Army Blog (Retired Officers)

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Comments

  1. Lt Col S.A.Kazmi, Retd (1st SSC) says:

    Excellent write up, interesting and thought provoking.

  2. To borrow the words of Maj Gen Parvez Akmal, ‘a very interesting article in a distinctive style; well done Col Moneir.’

    Without taking away the praise that your eloquent writing merits, I can’t help but say I have concerns over the whole affair. After reading the experiences shared in the comments, I am not going to a Chinese restaurant again.

    As our Army is the integral part of this project, I hope that national interest is kept first and foremost by the people overseeing CPEC.

    Please do share more of your beautiful writing.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Qaiser Sahib,
      Many thanks for your kind words. No harm in going to Chinese Restaurants in Pakistan. I still do.

  3. Lt Col MUhammad Ashraf Warraich, Retd (1st SSC) USA says:

    I have vivid recollection of my course mate Muneir Aslam while under going YO’s AA Course at Malir Cantt during 1972. I now feel proud that Muneir has emerged as AZIZI Danishwar, his talent now revealed through his excellent writing skills. I have the honour of attending a 22-course dinner in China as part of State Guest delegation. Not all that came on the table was of much delight to eat. Well Chinese are a great people to work with and I am sure Gwadar has lot to offer to satisfy their sea food quest.
    Muneir, can we connect through Whatsapp +1-620-222-1147
    Lt col (retd) Muhammad Ashraf Warraich
    From Air capital Of the World (Wichita, Kansas, USA)

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Didn’t know this article would connect me to my long lost buddy. Great! Will connect soon.
      Warm Regards.

  4. Maj Gen Parvez Akmal, Retd (42nd PMA) says:

    A very interesting article in a distinctive style; well done Col Moneir. It reminds me of some paragraphs under the title ‘the clash of cuisines’, vis a vis FWO’s Khunjerab force, in the second volume of the History of KKH which I edited in 2007. Let me bluntly caution that CPEC may well turn out to be an expensive ‘Camel, Arab and tent’ story for us. Whilst the Chinese conceived CPEC in its entirety over some decades, we don’t have any vision of our own yet. Where Sharifs dump their kickback this time around is anybody’s guess. God bless our Land of Pure!

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Sir,thanks for your appreciation. You are so right about CPEC… a lot of it doesn’t make sense. The Chinese are way ahead in their vision. And yes, the kickbacks are probably what all the excitement is all about, alas!

  5. Lt Col Tahir Anjum, Retd (39thPMA) says:

    Enjoyed your description of the 502 Park, seen it being built and had the chance of visiting the “Black Swan” numerous times being at a walking distance from my home. Not many have enjoyed their evenings there.
    A truly wonderful article. You leave a very sinister message………….. and a warning.

  6. Rehana Akram says:

    I really enjoyed your article, Col Moneir. Keep on writing, you are really gifted.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Many thanks for your kind encouragement. Am obliged.

      • Rehana Akram says:

        It’s strange that there was a park near 502 Workshop, we used to live in Lalazar and passed everyday and never noticed …well! Next time my visit to Pakistan I will check it it out.

  7. Maj Siraj Syed, Retd (17th PMA), USA says:

    Col Munier,
    Your article is very interesting and sends a chill down the spine. Having visited China many times, this article is great for jovial consumption.
    The Chinese should be welcomed to Pakistan whole heartedly. At least they will take care of our crops which are devastated by wild boar and locusts. There are too many stray dogs in Pakistan and China will help Pakistan to reduce their population
    We should welcome China as they are completely making Pakistan strong by CPEC. Probably the poor people lives may change with CPEC.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Sir,
      Many thanks. The Chinese and CPEC are most welcome. Our concern ought to be for the well being and survival of all the species that co-habit these lands. Extinction of any would cause an ecological imbalance. According to experts that would ultimately affect humans adversely.

  8. Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi says:

    When I was Communications Minister, I visited the potential site for Gawadar Port in 2001. We drove along the jeep and encountered millions of crabs crawling on the beach. They would run into water when the jeep came near but still many would be crushed under the wheels. In 2002, I again visited after the Chinese had been there for one year building the first phase of the port. There was no crab anywhere left to be seen. These were delicious part of Chinese menu.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Sir,
      Thanks for sharing your personal experience. Could have dovetailed it into the write up if I had known earlier. Ecological imbalance likely with CPEC unless some mechanism is in place.

      • Col Moneir Aslam,
        Being the Editor, I can still add it in your article. Please just indicate where do you want it to be inserted in the article. :)

  9. Dear Col Moneir Aslam,
    It’s a wonderful article. It’s good that you inherited from your late father the ability to write so well.
    Please share more.

  10. Hasan Jawaid (NJ, USA) 1st SSC says:

    Interesting anecdote Col Moneir. You are absolutely right, just about anything that crawls or swims and offers medicinal benefits find its way to the chinese kitchen. I went to one of the Chinese restaurants here in NJ with my co-workers where menu read “Blood cake soup”, “Blood cake rice and noodles”, and “Pork feet rice”, I settled with steamed rice and vegetables.
    Looking forward to more posts from you.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Hasan Jawaid Sir,
      Ah ha. Very amusing experiences in NJ. By the way, steamed rice and vegetables shared the utensils with the other more interesting offerings, no?

  11. Brig Riaz says:

    The first Chinese we saw were in NAs in late 60s and 70s. They had separate messes and camps. The dogs in the area were finished in that period along the KKH. If a dog was found dead near our soldiers’ mess, it was dragged away at night to Chinese camp. Surely no trace of it was left at dawn. Soup of dog’s tail is a great delicacy in China.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Blood cake soup & Pork feet rice (mentioned in the comment of my course mate Hasan Jawaid) and now Dog’s tail soup according to you, Sir. The possibilities are endless when it comes to the Chinese.

  12. Lt Col Sajid Majeed Bhatti, Retd (47th PMA) says:

    I think that this time our Chinese friends will be obliged to limit themselves to fish and turtle only because now a days dogs are occupying Power Corridor.

  13. Brig Iftikhar Siddiqi, Retd (1st SSC) says:

    Enjoyed reading this wonderful article. Keep it up.

  14. Col Shah Alam, Retd (34th PMA) Canada says:

    Loved it. A delicate subject but very astutely articulated. Kudos to Col Muneir for accomplishing it so well.
    I am a little concerned about the fallout since the article was published in the Daily Times and the Chinese may not take to it very kindly.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Sir, very kind of you. The Chinese look after themselves first and foremost, that’s a given. We must look after ours. I just wanted to commit in black and white at least one aspect. Another great worry should be that most of this is a loan at 2 % higher than the prevailing rates. Forget the Capital, paying back just the interest will bleed us immensely.

  15. Lt Col Zubair Ahmed, Retd (2nd SSC) Canada says:

    The so well written article took me almost 30 years back into the past when taking my kids to the 502 Park was treat for us all. Given the ignorance of masses about sanctity of any kind of life who cares about wild life? Thank you for sharing an eloquently written article on such a sensitive issue.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Sir, I never thought so many feel the same way I do. I just wrote it out. If others do the same maybe our vital interests get safeguarded.

  16. Yunus Ghaznavi says:

    Well its damn true. While serving in Fauji Foudation and posted in Tando Muhammad Khan in Sindh, we had purchased a 5 Mega Watts steam driven turbine from China, and had seven Chinese engineers there to oversee the installation and commissioning. They were put up in the Officers Mess. They too hunted dogs, cats, and would keep eggs in an earthen ‘Matka’ (Pitcher), in tea water and would eat them after they started to smell, well such are their habits.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Sir, I am delighted there are so many ” first hand witnesses’ to the unabashed gluttony of our friends, the Chinese!

  17. Shaukat Chandna (56 PMA) Doha, Qatar says:

    Dear Colonel Moneir Aslam,
    Compliments on a wonderful article. Absorbing and informative, with just the right blend of humor and awakening-call. God Bless you, Sir.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Thanks for the compliments, God Bless! I see you are residing in a country whose rulers are frequently in the news these days- Houbara Bustards season is on !

    • Rizwan H Naqvi says:

      Dear Col,
      Its through this article I had a glimpse of long lost CHANDNA.

      • Shaukat Chandna (56 PMA) Doha, Qatar says:

        Dear Captain Rizwan,
        Sir, lost in form only…..mentally and in memory, very much with you, bhabi, and the bunch of ‘nakoos’. Great to reconnect.
        God Bless.
        Chandna

  18. Maj Gen Zahid Ihsan says:

    Monier,
    You have outlined a problem which may well become a substantial issue once CPEC gets going. You have done it in the most subtle manner. I compliment you for this. This should not be end of it. Please continue as your style is really superb. Well done.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Coming from my GOC, this means a lot personally, Sir! Very kind and encouraging sentiments indeed. Wishing you good health and a long happy innings, Sir.

    • Rehana Akram says:

      Maj Gen Zahid Ihsan,
      Salam,
      Your name rings a bell …..my late brother–in-law Brig Zahir Jilani had a very close friend by this name. Am I right ?

      • Zahid Ihsan says:

        Jilani was not only my course mate but also my best friend. I miss him almost daily as we never kept any secret from each other. I pray for him daily. May Allah SWT grant him highest Darja in Jannah. Ameen.
        Rehana, consider me your brother same as Jlani.
        Regards.
        Zahid

        • Rehana Akram says:

          Dear Zahid Bhai,
          I am so happy to know that you are the same person that I have heard so much from Bhai Jan Zahir. I live in Katy Tx, it’s a suburb of Houston, please do come and visit me if you are in America, my contact is 832 -533-5899.
          Best regards,
          Rehana

  19. Lt Col Naeem A Khan, Retd (2nd SSC) says:

    Dear Col Monier Aslam,
    AOA.
    How is that you kept this beautiful writing skills obscure from us for such a long time?
    I am indeed highly impressed with your such interesting article & request you not to stop here. We will be keenly looking forward to such write ups in future too.

  20. Lt Col Masood Alam, Retd (2nd SSC) says:

    Thanks Col Muneir, A very informative article. More write ups are expected from you and your experience.
    Thanks for sharing, sir.
    Regards.

  21. Very skillfully penned – treating such a subject with a light hand! Pakistan might consider asking the Chinese to provide their own catering at the truck stops or even find a willing breeder / supplier in Pakistan.

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Sir, indeed. And dare I say, Pakistan needs to say and ask a lot. We like to sell ourselves very cheap, unfortunately.

  22. Lt Col Abdul Waheed Bhatti, Retd (Air Def) says:

    A very interesting and timely warning to concerned authorities for timely preparations based on facts. There will not be someone like the experienced Brig at every stage of the 3000 km route to save wild life diplomatically instead poverty and ignorance. Lots of thinking and logistics has to be worked out. Great forewarning Col Munier, Sir

    • Moneir Aslam says:

      Sir Waheed, I just articulated one thought. There must be countless other aspects that have not been thought through, unfortunately.

  23. Very informative and well written article, keep it up!

  24. Raza Muhammad Tiwana says:

    Lt Col Moneir Aslam,
    Nice write up and timely precaution for home and foreign friends, please do keep sharing such pearls of purposeful prose.

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