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
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
"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
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(email@example.com) is a Quetta-based
development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of six books, including
The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004).