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    South Asia
     Dec 15, 2010

Pakistan links up with Kashgar
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider

KARACHI, Pakistan - China and Pakistan, which are already working to improve land communications across their mutual border, have inaugurated the first air cargo service linking Islamabad with Kashgar in China's northwest Xinjiang province, with Rayyan Air, a Pakistani charter airline, operating the first 90-minute flight.

Opening of the Islamabad-Kashgar air cargo route last week came just before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Pakistan for the Pakistan-China strategic dialogue to be held in Islamabad on December 17. Ahead of Wen's visit, Beijing agreed this month to extend cooperation in 36 development projects worth US$13.2


billion to boost economic activity in flood-hit areas of Pakistan.

Kashgar, located near the borders of Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and India, is well placed to become an important air logistics base. Cargo shipped between China and Pakistan has so far mostly gone by truck across a border closed from the end of December to May each year due to the severe winter climate.

The air cargo service will make products of the two countries available the year round and make markets in Central Asian states more accessible for Pakistan. It also augments Beijing's efforts to develop the western regions of China, including Xinjiang, home to Muslim Uyghurs, helped by better communication with projects such as an extension of high-speed train services from the eastern part of the country.

Kashgar was recently given the status of a special economic zone and it is hoped it will become a major trade and transport hub, reviving its position as an important transit point on the what was the ancient Silk Route between China, Central Asia and the Middle East and Europe.

Kashgar Deputy Commissioner Wang Yongzhi highlighted the importance of reliable communication links between Pakistan and China and expressed a desire for further expanding such connectivity.

"The cargo service operates once a week and the frequency will be increased to daily flights, based on freight volume," Xinhua news agency reported Wang as saying.

Commercial relations between Pakistan and China continue to grow and strengthen. This month, the Pakistan-China Joint Committee on Economic, Trade Scientific and Technical Cooperation (JEC) held its 14th session in Islamabad under the co-chairs of Finance Minister Hafiz Shaikh and Gao Hucheng, the China International Trade Representative, Ministry of Commerce.

The JEC agreed to enhance Chinese investment in various sectors of Pakistan's economy including agriculture, electricity, finance, mining and infrastructure. The two countries have already established a joint investment company with a paid-up capital of $200 million for direct investment and joint ventures.

The countries in July signed memoranda of understanding to build two highways in Pakistan's northernmost region of Gilgit-Baltistan. The projects, worth a combined 45 billion rupees (US$524 million), would be 85% financed by China, with the rest paid for by Pakistan. The neighbors also plan a rail link that will also connect Torkhum in Pakistan with Jalalabad in Afghanistan.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider (http://www.syedfazlehaider.com) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004). He can be contacted at sfazlehaider05@yahoo.com.

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