KASHGAR: For those who dwell in the country’s northern parts, the fabled Silk Route — once an international highway of sorts for trade between civilisations in the east and west — is still alive and well today, and holds opportunities for traders from isolated communities in the mountainous regions to connect with their counterparts on the other side of the international border.
China’s Xinjiang province sits the heart of this ancient trade route, connecting to modern-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
In the historic city of Kashgar, 400km from Khunjerab, there is a thriving community of Pakistani traders who have taken advantage of the easy visa regime and the facilities extended to residents of Gilgit-Baltistan, to set-up their shops here.
For residents of GB, travel to the Xinjiang region is possible on the basis of a special border pass, issued by the local government.
Gohar Ali Khan from the Shimshal area of Hunza has been living in Tashkurgan, where he owns a shop.
Khan sells Pakistani products including handicrafts, gemstones, dry fruits. He told Dawn that thousands of people, from Hunzais to members of the Wakhi community, have been living in various areas of Xinjiang as the community is present on both sides of the border.
He said that dozens of Pakistani men have businesses set-up in Xinjiang where they are selling Pakistani products.
“The geographical, traditional, lifestyle, music, dresses and food similarities make GB residents feel it is their second home,” he said.
Several Pakistani citizens have also married Chinese women and settled down.
Ali Muhammad, another Pakistani shopkeeper in Tashkurgan, told Dawn the Xinjiang region offers great economic opportunities for the people of GB.
Pakistani handicrafts, gemstones, herbs, fruits, dry fruits and several other Pakistani items are very popular here and Chinese citizens and international tourists who visit Xinjiang offer them opportunities to sell products at international prices.
Talking to Dawn, Nasir Hussain Raki, the former GB Chamber of Commerce President, said hundreds of Pakistanis cross the border daily for trade and business purposes.
Wali, originally from Peshawar, lives in the old city of Kashi, a famous tourist destination.
According to Chinese officials, more than 210 million local and foreign tourists visit Xinjiang from January to September and owning to favourable policies, improved infrastructure and promotion of cross-border exchanges, the region has witnessed rapid development.
As the region has captured the tourists attention, Pakistani tour operators have also been demanding that the government open the Khunjerab Pass for tourist travel.
Muhammad Ali from Adventure Tours of Pakistan told Dawn that Khunjerab Pass could became one of the most crowded tourist destinations.
“Millions of Chinese visit other countries as tourists and if Chinese tourists are allowed to visit Pakistan through Khunjerab Pass, there would be a boom of tourism in the country,” he said.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2023