GILGIT: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated on Monday a 24km re-aligned patch of the Karakoram Highway, with five tunnels, restoring a road link with China that had been cut after a massive landslide blocked the Hunza River and created the Attabad Lake in January 2010.

Besides the 7km-long Pakistan-China Friendship Tunnels, the rebuilt highway includes two bridges and 78 culverts.

The $275.06 million project was completed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation in three years and two months.

Briefing the prime minister on the project, officials of the National Highway Authority said trade between Pakistan and China via the KKH and access of people of Gojal area of upper Hunza to the rest of the country had depended on a boat service in the lake during the five years and nine months.

The prime minister was informed that the number of containers carrying Chinese imports and exports had dropped to about one-third after the natural disaster.

Present on the occasion were Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong and Gilgit-Baltistan Governor Barjees Tahir and Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman.

At a meeting with GB ministers and members of the Legislative Assembly, the prime minister said the project was three times the annual budget of the region, adding that such a large investment on a scheme had not been made in any other part of the country.

This, he said, demonstrated the interest of the federal government in the welfare of the people of the region. Completion of other development projects will change their destiny.

The prime minister promised maximum funds for the projects, including a cardiac hospital, the Baltistan University, Naltar power project and Gilgit-Skardu road.

He asked the region’s government to ensure transparency and timely completion of the projects.

“In the past there has been mismanagement in development projects all over the country and transparency was not ensured.” The problem has to be sorted out.

Mr Sharif thanked the Chinese president and prime minister for their cooperation in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor plan. Economic benefits from the CPEC would bring about major changes in GB, he said. This will also immensely benefit all the provinces. Work on several projects under it is under way.

He said Chinese products would reach international markets after Khunjerab would be connected with Gwadar through the CPEC highway.

The prime minister stressed the need for exploring the vast potential of tourism in GB.

He said he was amazed to hear that about 700,000 tourists had visited the region this year while the number in previous years was only in thousands.

A special security force, Mr Sharif said, would be deployed for protection of travellers on the KKH from Mansehra to Gilgit.

According to APP, the formation of the Attabad Lake had claimed several lives, submerged adjoining villages and displaced around 25,000 people.

An NHA official informed the prime minister that the tunnels had also helped restore Chinese tourists’ access to the country.

An official of the GB tourism department briefed him on recreational projects planned along the lake, including an amusement park and a botanical garden to be set up at a cost of Rs450m.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2015

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