WHILE the extensive road network in the country is in a deplorable state, the governments of the past publicised motorways that are nothing but a luxury for the poor and debt-ridden nation that has broken and damaged roads for daily commute in the cities.

Compared to the motorways, the Karakoram Highway (KKH), constructed without foreign loans in the absence of a suitable road network between northern areas and the rest of Pakistan, has failed to receive due recognition. The project had started in 1959 and was completed 20 years later. It was open to the general public in the mid-1980s.

The construction of KKH in rugged mountains was so difficult and dangerous that no civil organisation was prepared to undertake this challenging project. President Ayub Khan then assigned the project to Pakistan Army which established the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) for the gigantic project.

The FWO started road construction from Abbottabad, while the Chinese government took off from the Khunjerab Pass. Hundreds of Pakistanis and Chinese lost their lives due to landslides and falls, while others got seriously injured during the 20 years of road construction. The graves of Chinese workers can be seen in a Chinese cemetery in Gilgit.

The vision of Chinese leader Mao Zedong should be commended for offering assistance in this apparently impossible project which has now facilitated the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The nation must observe the anniversary of KKH’s completion every year to pay tribute to those who risked and sacrificed their limbs and lives to complete its construction, and also to educate and motivate the nation to know this spectacular achievement under the banner of Pakistan-China friendship with its strategic and socio-economic benefits.

Students should also conduct an in-depth study on the KKH to quantify its benefits and assess future prospects.

M. Akram Niazi
Rawalpindi

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2021

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