By ANANTH KRISHNAN
China’s move to construct five tunnels to open up a new section of the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) last month has signalled Beijing’s intent to go forward with ambitious projects despite India’s increasingly vocal concerns and rising security concerns in the restive disputed region.
In a major project that will ensure year-round land connectivity linking China and Pakistan through PoK, the China Road and Bridge Corporation has constructed five seven km-long tunnels on the Karakoram Highway.
Earlier, this particular section had been cut off on account of a barrier lake formed at Attabad, which had blocked access since 2010 after landslides.
India has been raising concerns over China’s attempts to build roads that connect China and Pakistan via Pakistan-occupied Kashmir
Reports in Chinese state media have highlighted the project as signalling Beijing’s commitment to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) plan, which connects the frontier Xinjiang region through PoK to the Gwadar port in Pakistan on the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan’s commitment to set up an exclusive security force to protect Chinese personnel and projects has, at least for now, appeared to assuage Beijing’s concerns about security fears and unrest in PoK.
The next second phase of upgrading the Karakoram Highway is slated to cost $920 million, part of the $11 billion earmarked for a range of infrastructure projects under the CPEC.
A Chinese media report detailed how the newly-paved road through PoK was bringing China and Pakistan closer, quoting a Pakistani businessman who travels from Kashgar in Xinjiang, a distance of 300 km from the Khunjerab Pass, to Gilgit in PoK.
In August, China invited as many as 300 officials and experts from Pakistan and China to Karamay,
in Xinjiang, for a two-day meeting to discuss and take forward new projects on the corridor, including in PoK.
According to Chinese media reports, 20 agreements worth $1.6 billion were signed during the Pakistani officials’ trip.