ISLAMABAD: Announcing that China and Pakistan have agreement on the technical issues of $8.2 billion Main Railway Line (ML-I) and cleared a few other road projects and Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), Minister for Interior and Planning Ahsan Iqbal on Thursday called for political stability and continuity of policy to enable the country to take off.

“I request all the political forces, powerful quarters and mover and shakers of the system to concentrate jointly on the economic development of the country,” Mr Iqbal told journalists after 52nd review meeting of the China-Pakistan Economic Corri­dor (CPEC) in follow-up to the recent conclusion of the Joint Wor­king Group meetings in Beijing.

He said the current year was very important, also in view of upcoming general election, to give a united message to the international investors particularly those from China that Pakistan was a stable destination but “we would be destroying the future of our generations if we created an environment of uncertainty because such opportunities become available in centuries.”

Railway upgradation is key priority

The technical and financial agreements on the ML-I would be finalised by March while construction to be started immediately.

He said China will fund the project with soft loan and the project would be developed in phased and completed in four years.

This would be the largest modernisation project in the railway sector since the creation of Pakistan and would reduce travel time and cost from Karachi to Peshawar by half and double the speed from 80 kilometres to 160km per hour.

The railway line would also be extended to Landi Kotal on the Pak-Afghan border, he added.

He said the two sides have also agreed to immediately start construction of Karakoram Highway (KKH-II) besides two major roads on the western alignment including Yarik to Zhob and from Basima to Khuzdar.

He said the two sides were now negotiating the financing arrangements for these projects and hopefully sign agreement in two to three months.

In the meanwhile, he said the Thursday’s meeting ordered the National Highway Authority (NHA) to start land acquisition without waiting for the financing agreement while taking into mind the need for expanding road alignment from two to six lanes and ensure that right of way on roads was not encroached upon.

Mr Iqbal said more than 600km Gwadar-Quetta road was 95pc complete and traffic was already flowing on it, but a small portion including a bridge was under completion phase. On completion in a month or two, the road would be a breakthrough for Balochistan.

He said the government was planning road shows in a couple of Chinese cities for the marketing of Special Economic Zones to attract greater number of Chinese investors by creating awareness about special incentives, low cost production, logistic facilities and opportunities offered by the government.

“All approval processes have been completed on KCR by the Chinese and Pakistani authorities and now the Sindh government has to negotiate financing arrangements with the Chinese institutions on the pattern of Orange Line Metro Train where the Punjab government had undertaken all the financing negotiations.”

The federal government would extend all facilitations where required by the Sindh government to finalise funding details.

Responding to a question that China had put on financing additional projects, the minister said the China had provided maximum portfolio earmarked for Pakistan through conventional sources and wanted to expand their outreach to other areas of the world.

There were, however, various approval processes to expand unconventional financing base to Pakistan by extending greater role to Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in the CPEC and help chip in financing from Silk Route Fund.

He said the Chinese government was working through internal approval processes so that additional funds are made available in addition to the Ministry of Finance and Commerce to avoid project delays and disbursements.

The minister said the first ever international investor conference would be held at Gwadar on Jan 29-30 to show case changing Pakistan to the international community.

He said Gwadar was changing fast and had covered 50 years of development distance in just four years and would cover another 20 years travel within two years and make it a state- of-the-art-port.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2018


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