RAWALPINDI: With reports that the project has been shelved by the Punjab government owing to a paucity of funds, the federal railways' minister on Wednesday insisted that the Nullah Leh Expressway project between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi will become a reality. For this purpose, he suggested that the project could be included in in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
This was claimed by Federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad during a talk at Lal Haveli on Wednesday ahead of his public address.
Rashid, who has been vehemently pursuing the expressway project ever since he was a federal minister during the regime of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf, assured that work on this mega project will commence this year.
“Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to lay the foundation stones of Nullah Leh and the Main Line-1 (ML-1) projects during his visit later this year,” the federal minister said while talking to The Express Tribune.
“We will construct the Nullah Leh Expressway even if we have to twist some necks,” Ahmad said suggestively, adding that the Punjab government will earmark funds for the project in the budget for the next fiscal year.
The project had been revived by the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government after it was halted with the election of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government in 2008.
As preparations began to start work on the much-anticipated Rs80 billion Leh Expressway project, the government had decided to build the road link on a ‘Build, Operate and Transfer’ (BOT) basis. This way, the government had hoped to shed around 85 per cent of the cost for the mega project.
The government had finalised the project concept-I (PC-I) of the Leh Expressway and Prime Minister Imran Khan was expected to lay the foundation stone of the project in August.
However, with the cost of the 30km-long signal-free corridor escalating from Rs50 billion to Rs80 billion, owing to delays, caused the government to backpedal on the project.
The expressway is expected to start from Soan Adda bus terminal near the Islamabad High Court and will be linked with the Ammar Shaheed Chowk through an additional six-kilometre-stretch of road.
Lal Haveli rally
Later, Ahmad addressed a rally at his home, Lal Haveli, in connection with Kashmir Solidary Day. The rally started from Lal Haveli and culminated at the same spot after passing through Fawara Chowk. Participants of the rally chanted slogans against the Indian occupation of the disputed Himalayan territory of Jammu and Kashmir, which is split between the nuclear-tipped, hostile neighbours.
Ahmad criticised New Delhi’s atrocities in the occupied territory as well the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) Bill which the Indian parliament had recently passed.
He accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of imposing a controversial citizenship law even though the Indian premier does not even have the citizenship certificate of his father.
Labelling people who were not vocal on both issues as traitors, Ahmad said Pakistan never wanted to go to war with its neighbour, but if war is imposed upon it, the Pakistani people will fight until their last breath.
The federal minister further said that the entire whole Rawalpindi was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the military.
“We want IoJK to get free from the clutches of India and become a part of Pakistan,” he stated, adding that keeping Kashmir separate from Pakistan was part of a well-thought design. He expressed that India is now disintegrating due to the policies of Modi.
Ahmad also extended his support for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Kashmir policy and criticised the opposition leaders, who, according to him, were only hungry for power. The appetite for power was creating anarchy in the country, Ahmad said while taking a veiled swipe at the Sharif brothers, “robbers are roaming on streets abroad wearing hats.”
He said that he never ran away from any case or trial even when he was in opposition. Ahmad termed novel coronavirus a conspiracy against China and said that such hype of a disease outbreak had been created earlier too to defame it.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2020.
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