ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday expressed optimism on the possibility of transforming Gwadar in Balochistan into a successful free port on the same lines as Hong Kong to attract foreign investment and boost national economy.
The prime minister was chairing a meeting at the prime minister's office to discuss the Kashgar to Gwadar economic corridor that would open up new areas for economic activity and generate employment.
He announced that the Chinese Delegation coming to review plans for options regarding the proposed economic corridor would reach Pakistan on Monday.
Sharif also approved in principal upgradation of the existing railway track system between Karachi and Peshawar at a cost of US 2.7 billion dollars.
The two-year project would modernise signaling, communications, locomotives and enable the trains to run at a speed of 120 km per hour. This would also shorten the time needed to travel between Karachi to Lahore from 18 to 12 hours and between Karachi to Peshawar from 27 to 17 hours.
Minister for Railways Saad Rafique said around 67 per cent of the country's rail track was overage and so was its entire locomotives fleet and signaling system.
The prime minister also proposed construction of a new airport for Islamabad at Rawat, construction of new tunnels, train links and roads across the country.
He, however, noted that the economic activity in the country could only be expedited once there was peace and tranquility.
Mentioning the recent deliberations of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet that discussed the issue of extremism and terrorism, the premier said there was also a need to address the energy crisis on urgent basis.
PM Sharif stressed the importance of a meaningful interaction with militants and said it will help address all issues. “Importance of dialogue could not be ruled out,” he said.
“The country could not progress unless law and order situation improved…..it would pave way for economic prosperity, said the prime minister recalling his visit to China where the Chinese side expressed concerns about security situation in Pakistan.
He said Pakistan had to tender apologies for the killings of Chinese nationals in terror-related incidents. “How long will we tender apologies? We need to rectify the wrongdoing,” the prime minister said.
Referring to the Economic Corridor, the prime minister said both sides were taking keen interest in the project as not only China but the entire region would benefit from this mega project.
He said Pakistan-China Economic Corridor was future of the country. He recalled his earlier meetings which discussed the Trade Corridor from Kashgar to Khunjerab and Gwadar and in principal, approved the proposed alignment of Pak-China Trade Corridor, with the directions to further evaluate the proposal in terms of time and cost efficiency.
“Gwadar Port would help reduce the time needed for transportation of Chinese exports from 16 to 4 days, besides reducing the cost considerably.”
The prime minister said that as the mega project would go through underdeveloped areas of Pakistan, it would also help develop those areas and bring them at par with the developed ones. “It would connect all the provinces and all the regions would equally reap the benefits of the project,” he added.
He said the existing Motorways could be handed over to the private sector to generate around Rs 250 billion annually that would help fund construction of new roads. The prime minister directed that the existing and the new motorways be linked with the highways to improve connectivity.
Nawaz Sharif said that the proposed tunnel through the Margalla hills to link Islamabad with Haripur would provide a shorter route to the commuters of Gilgit-Baltistan, Mansehra and Abbottabad.
He said the Islamabad Expressway would be extended up to Muzaffarabad and Lower Topa - Havellian portion would be soon built. He added that the Islamabad-Muzaffarabad Expressway project was his vision and it had been planned in his previous government.
The premier also pointed that the new airport being constructed near Fatehjang had design faults and there was a need to have a new airport near Rawat that would be linked with Islamabad and Rawalpindi through train links and an expressway.
The road between Zero Point and Rawat would be built like Shaikh Zaid Road in Dubai having business and residential centers along it, he added.
He said there was no space in the budget for such huge projects, however there was a need to have out-of-the box solutions to auction the land, along this highway in a transparent manner and generate funds.
Prime Minister Sharif said similar projects could be conceived in Lahore and Karachi, including underground Metro Train service in the two mega cities and added that China had shown keen interest in the project.