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    South Asia
     Sep 11, 2009
Chinese shun Pakistan exodus
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider

QUETTA, Pakistan - China, rather than have its workers in Pakistan join the exodus of foreigners who are quitting the strife-torn country because of security concerns, the dismal state of the economy or both, is increasing its involvement there and planning further projects.

The number of Chinese engineers working in Pakistan has surged to 10,000 this year from 3,000 in 2008, working on 120 projects in different sectors of the economy. China is also involved in a 750-kilometer railway linking the two countries, from Havellian to the 4,730-meter-high Khunjerab Pass in Gilgit-Baltistan, the area until recently known as the Northern Areas. Havellian is linked with the rest of the rail network in Pakistan, and the Chinese will lay track

within its territory up to Khunjerab.

Analysts say that China is increasingly interesting in investing in Gilgit-Baltistan, shifting its focus from insurgency-hit Balochistan in Pakistan's southwest, where China is already involved in large development projects including Gwadar port. A proposed Pakistan-China energy and trade corridor, involving gas and oil pipelines and a rail link, would start in Gwadar and enter China's Xinjiang region after running through the Gilgit-Baltistan region.

Some 767 development projects are to be carried out in Gilgit-Baltistan this year, with a particular focus and the help of China on the power sector to harness the huge hydro-power potential of the region.

China's determination to maintain its interest in Pakistan was underlined recently by Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Lou Zhaohui, who told the media in Islamabad, "A number of foreigners [have] left Pakistan, but we are committed to complete all the projects on which Chinese are working."

China has expressed satisfaction over the security being provided to its nationals in Pakistan, where the Chinese embassy has a joint task force with the interior ministry and has a 24-hour hotline.
Beijing has already given US$1 billion in two tranches to boost Pakistan's foreign reserves, which last week reached a two-year high at $14.31 billion. The reserves have also been strengthened by a $1.2 billion installment from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), part of a larger payment agreed last November.

"Pakistan is the only country in the world to which China has given such a huge amount on very low interest rate," Zhaohui said.
The two countries have agreed to cooperate in modernizing and strengthening existing Pakistan Railways tracks and converting them to meet international standards. During a recent visit to China, Pakistan's Railways Minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour agreed with his Chinese counterpart Liu Zhijun to establish a consortium for the work. China is to send its experts to assist in feasibility studies for the railways projects, which would be carried out on a build-own-operate basis.

China has also shown interest in early laying a track between the Pakistan border town of Torkham and Jalalabad in Afghanistan, as the Chinese want to use the Pakistan Railways network to transport their goods and equipment for the development of copper mines and various other projects in Afghanistan. Separately, Pakistan Railways has completed a feasibility study for a rail section between Chaman, in Balochistan, and Kandahar in Afghanistan that is part of a proposed link across Afghanistan to Turkmenistan.

In a further indication of the close involvement of China in Pakistan's railway upgrading, the executive committe of Pakistan's National Economic Council last week approved the import of 202 rail coaches from China at a cost of 15.9 billion Pakistan rupees ($191 million).

Syed Fazl-e-Haider (sfazlehaider05@yahoo.com) is a Quetta-based development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of six books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004).

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Pakistan acts to guard Chinese interests (Sep 4, '09)

China-Pakistan rail link on horizon (Feb 24, '07)



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