The Global Social Network
Pakistan government has approved an $ 8.2 billion project to upgrade the 1,872 km Karachi - Peshawar rail track, bridges, tunnels, and culverts, according to International Railway Journal.
The new track will support increased axle load of up to 25 tons, up from 22.8 tons which is now the norm in South Asian countries. The higher axle load capacity will allow heavier freight trains carrying more freight per train for greater trade overland.
China will provide 85% of the financing for the project. It will be done in two phases, with the first due for completion in December 2017 and the second in 2021.
It will be part of an international rail link that will connect Pakistan with China, Russia, Central Asia and Europe. It will extend south from the city of Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in Western China to Pakistan's deep-sea Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea, according to Zhang Chunlin, director of Xinjiang's regional development and reform commission.
A study for the plans for this international rail link was first presented in 2014 at a two-day International Seminar on the Silk Road Economic Belt in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, according to China Daily.
"The 1,800-kilometer China-Pakistan railway is planned to also pass through Pakistan's capital of Islamabad and Karachi," Zhang Chunlin said. "Although the cost of constructing the railway is expected to be high due to the hostile environment and complicated geographic conditions, the study of the (international rail link) project has already started," Zhang said. "China and Pakistan will co-fund the railway construction. Building oil and gas pipelines between Gwadar Port and China is also on the agenda," Zhang added.
The Pak-China link announcement was part of the discussion on China's broader effort to revive the historic Silk Route by building three main corridors through southern, central and northern Xinjiang to connect China with Russia, Europe and Pakistan. The Silk Road Economic Belt International seminar which concluded on Friday in Urumqi, Xinjinag was jointly sponsored by the State Council Information Office, China International Publishing Group (CIPG), China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences.
In a 2013 report, China's State-owned Xinhua News Agency articulated China's motivation to expand land trade in addition to building its navy to protect its sea trade. Here's what it said:
“As a global economic power, China has a tremendous number of economic sea lanes to protect. China is justified to develop its military capabilities to safeguard its sovereignty and protect its vast interests around the world."
The Xinhua report has for the first time shed light on China's growing concerns with US pivot to Asia which could threaten China's international trade and its economic lifeline of energy and other natural resources it needs to sustain and grow its economy. This concern has been further reinforced by the following:
1. Frequent US statements to "check" China's rise. For example, former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a 2011 address to the Naval Postgraduate School in California: "We try everything we can to cooperate with these rising powers and to work with them, but to make sure at the same time that they do not threaten stability in the world, to be able to project our power, to be able to say to the world that we continue to be a force to be reckoned with." He added that "we continue to confront rising powers in the world - China, India, Brazil, Russia, countries that we need to cooperate with. We need to hopefully work with. But in the end, we also need to make sure do not threaten the stability of the world."
2. Chinese strategists see a long chain of islands from Japan in the north, all the way down to Australia, all United States allies, all potential controlling chokepoints that could block Chinese sea lanes and cripple its economy, business and industry.
Karakoram Highway-World's Highest Paved International Road at 15000 ft.
Chinese Premier's emphasis on "connectivity and maritime sectors" and "China-Pakistan economic corridor project" is mainly driven by their paranoia about the US intentions to "check China's rise" It is intended to establish greater maritime presence at Gwadar, located close to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and to build land routes (motorways, rail links, pipelines) from the Persian Gulf through Pakistan to Western China. This is China's insurance to continue trade with West Asia and the Middle East in case of hostilities with the United States and its allies in Asia.
Pakistan's Gawadar Port- located 400 Km from the Strait of Hormuz
As to the benefits for Pakistanis, expanded trade and the Chinese investment in "connectivity and maritime sectors" and "China-Pakistan economic corridor project" will help build infrastructure, stimulate Pakistan's economy and create millions of badly needed jobs.
Clearly, China-Pakistan ties have now become much more strategic than the US-Pakistan ties, particularly since 2011 because, as American Journalist Mark Mazzetti of New York Times put it, the Obama administration's heavy handed policies "turned Pakistan against the United States". A similar view is offered by a former State Department official Vali Nasr in his book "The Dispensable Nation".