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Olympic Torch Hits China-Friendly Pakistan

Written for by Farhan Bokhari, reporting from Islamabad.

The Olympic torch has begun its journey through Asia. With its arrival in Pakistan Wednesday, the torch made the first stop on the last continent of the tour before reaching Beijing in August.

While Pakistan tightened security around the formal ceremony kicking off the event, the torch has been received with much fervour in Pakistan - one of China's closest allies.

Unlike the anti-China protests in the U.S. and Europe which focused on China's rule of Tibet, Pakistan has firmly sided with Beijing in its stand on the issue.

The relationship has been shaped over the past 40 years, with China becoming one of Pakistan's most valued suppliers of military hardware, even during periods when U.S.-led Western economic assistance and military sales were suspended.

"We rejoice at the success, achievements and progress of China, which remains our time-tested and all-weather friend," said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during a trip to China from which he returned late Tuesday night to preside over the formal torch ceremony.

"China considers Pakistan as a close neighbour, a good friend and partner and, more importantly, as a good brother," Chinese president Hu Jintao said in remarks while meeting Musharraf during the Pakistani leader's five-day visit to China.

The upbeat mood of the leaders could not mask last-minute security concerns surrounding the Olympic torch relay. On Tuesday, Pakistan's Olympic officials unexpectedly changed the venue for the formal ceremony to receive the torch - deciding to hold the event in a well-secured stadium rather than on an open street in front of the parliamentary building in Islamabad.

The decision was made over concerns that Islamic militants who sympathise with China's Muslim separatists from the northern Xinjiang province may try to disrupt the event. The issue of Chinese Muslim separatists teaming up with Pakistan Muslim hardliners has added a new dimension to Pakistan-China relations over the past three years.

Pakistani officials claim just in the past week that they have blocked all the key border crossings between Xinjiang and Pakistan to prevent militants from coming into the country. Before concluding his trip to China, Musharraf stopped in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, in a symbolic move meant to reinforce Pakistan's interest in improving stability in the region.

A senior Pakistani security official told CBS News on Wednesday that his country would in no way, "ever undermine its China ties."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official called major military hardware deals that will see Beijing sell fighter aircraft, naval ships and a range of other military hardware to Pakistan's army "central to the way we are bolstering our defenses."

China has also lent more than $300 million to Pakistan to develop a new deep-sea port in the country's southwest, near the city of Gwadar. The site - close to the oil-rich Middle East - will be of vital importance for Pakistani commercial and naval traffic.

Pakistan's government has dismissed concerns by senior Western officials, who worry about China's fast-growing international influence, that the port could also become an important stopping point for Chinese commercial and naval vessels as Beijing strives to make inroads into the Middle East.
By Farhan Bokhari

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