GILGIT: The residents of Gilgit-Baltistan region have complained about the prolonged suspension of trade and travel between Pakistan and China due to the coronavirus pandemic-induced closure of the Khunjerab Pass and demanded its early resumption.

They insisted that the situation had caused serious financial problems to many of them.

The Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved Sino-Pak border (15,500ft).

An agreement signed by the two countries allows trade and travel through the Khunjerab Pass from April to Dec, while there is a daily bus service from Sost valley of Gilgit-Baltistan to Xinjiang province of China.

The outbreak of Covid-19 in China led to the closure of the Khunjerab Pass in Nov 2019.

GB residents complain of financial issues due to border restrictions

Nagar Chamber of Commerce and Industry vice-president Sherbaz Khan told Dawn that trade between the two countries should resume under strict restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus to ease the misery of thousands of people, who had lost work due to the closure of the pass.

He said 70 per cent of the GB population depended on Sino-Pak trade through Khunjerab Pass for livelihood.

Local trader Bilal Khawaja said his community’s members from the region had purchased millions of rupees worth of goods in China before the outbreak of coronavirus but that got stranded due to border restrictions.

He said the pass was temporarily opened in July and Sept 2020 and later in Nov 2021 for the movement of goods containers stranded in China.

Gb Importers and Exporters Association president Iqbal Hussain said the local traders had to pay 200 times more fare than routine for Chinese containers carrying goods for them and since the amount was unaffordable for many, many consignments continued to be on the Chinese side of the border.

He said GB residents hadn’t travelled to China via Khunjerab Pass for two and a half years due to visa issues.

Mr Hussain complained that regular cargo transportation between two countries had been suspended, while very limited flights from Pakistan to China had been allowed to operate.

He said thousands of people from GB had invested their entire lives in trade through Khunjerab Pass, so bilateral trade should resume without delay to ease their misery.

Former president of the Gilgit Chamber of Commerce and industry Nasir Hussain Raki said Covid-19 restrictions should be relaxed for Sino-Pak trade to prevent many GB businessmen from further losses.

Mohammad Ismail, a leader of the GB Importers and Exporters Association, demanded smooth cargo transportation between China and Pakistan.

When contacted, Hunza deputy commissioner Usman Ali said Pakistan’s Foreign Office had informed the region’s authorities that ‘contactless’ Sino-Pak trade through Khunjerab Pass had been opened from April 1 with 10 containers being given the permission for the purpose daily at Khunjerab Top with strict compliance with SOPs.

He said the containers from China would drop off goods at the top.

The DC said more than 200 containers stuck at Khunjerab Top last year during the temporary opening of the border would begin returning to China in the current month.

He said cargo transportation had been allowed.

Published in Dawn,May 7th, 2022

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