GILGIT: Hundreds of Chinese trucks loaded with goods rolled into the Sost dry port in Gilgit-Baltistan on Monday as a multibillion-dollar project between Pakistan and China formally became operational.
The shipment arrived more than two weeks after the first Chinese ship docked at Gwadar port that is the centre of the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. The corridor is about 3,000-kilometre long consisting of highways, railways and pipelines that will connect China’s Xinjiang province to the rest of the world through Gwadar port.
The first consignment, loaded on 150 to 300 trucks, was received by G-B Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman and the commander of the Force Command Northern Areas Maj Gen Saqib Mehmood, who had especially flown in to be at the historic occasion.
“This is going to be the fate changer for our country,” said Rehman after the ceremony at the Sost dry port, which has recently been handed over to the National Logistics Cell (NLC) for a period of 20 years.
“We will thwart conspiracies being hatched against CPEC,” he said in a veiled reference to India which has publicly opposed the multibillion-dollar project dubbed ‘game-changer’ and ‘fate changer’ not just for Pakistan but for the entire region.
A senior government official said the shipping containers carrying the Chinese goods would be escorted to Gwadar in small convoys. “The first convoy left Gilgit today [Monday] for its destination,” the official told The Express Tribune wishing not to be named.
“Personnel of army, police and special CPEC force are providing foolproof security to the convoy,” added the official, who is privy to the development.
“Some of the Chinese shipping containers were unloaded at Sost dry port where the goods were reloaded on to Pakistani containers for onward journey to Gawadar.”
As the convoy drove through Danyor town in Gilgit via Karakoram Highway, residents lining both sides of the road waved to the truckers. The trucks were festooned with banners having pictures of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang.
“Wish you best of luck,” said a resident as he prayed for the success of the project. “Long live Pak-China friendship,” said another resident.
Earlier this year, Beijing donated to the G-B government 25 vehicles equipped with modern security gears for the security of convoys coming from China. The G-B government has also installed 285 high-resolution closed-circuit cameras with night vision capability to keep an eye on miscreants.
The government in G-B, which is at the heart of CPEC, fears Indian spy agency RAW could exploit the region’s constitutional status against the project. New Delhi claims G-B is a disputed territory because it is part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
While the 420-kilometre-long stretch of CPEC runs through G-B, politicians say the region is unlikely to reap its economic benefits – at least in the short run.
“We welcome this project as it will change the country’s outlook,” said JUI-F’s senior leader Attaullah Shahab. “But the worrying thing is there is nothing for G-B in the project.”
PPP Vice President Jamil Ahmed voiced similar reservations, asking the government to ensure due share for G-B. “Our chief minister could have taken maximum out of the project because his party, the PML-N, is the ruling party at the centre.”
The chief minister, however, said his government was planning to introduce an ‘environment tax’ on transporters doing business under CPEC. “We will legislate to levy the environment tax,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2016.