Rail track from Urumqi to Gwadar: Energy-starved China plans to follow the ancient Silk Route along Karakorum Highway
The Geo-strategic location of Pakistan has always been of elementary importance in shaping the lives of not only the people of the country but also the lives of the people living in the neighborhood and same can well be said about India. The construction of Karakorum Highway in the late 80’s was a breakthrough in the history of mega road projects in country and while it ushered an era of great economic and social progress of the conjoined regions, it also augmented the existing tensions between India and Pakistan.
Built with the support of China, KKH was seen as an eminent threat by the neighboring Indian which moved their battalions to the remote Siachen glacier in the extreme north in order to ensure its territorial hegemony which had been compromised by the KKH. Indians felt surrounded with both arch rivals Pakistan and China which have exposed the soft underbelly of the uncharted northern territories in the region.
After decades of showdown between the two countries fighting their territorial battles in what is often called as the highest battlefield in the world, China and Pakistan are now heading towards laying down a rail track which will join the energy starved southern regions of China with the Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Baluchistan, directly leading into Persian Gulf-the energy corridor of the world.
The researchers and analysts have called it a blind bet as the security situation in Pakistan remains fragile and the separatists’ movements in Baluchistan are still fairly strong to call their shots in their respective region. Notwithstanding, Chinese have already allocated funds for the preliminary feasibility study in this regard. Gwadar port was handed over to the Chinese earlier by the present government as the sole operator of the port.
“The 1800-kilometer China-Pakistan Railway is planned to also pass through Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad and Karachi”, said Zhang Chunlin, the director Xinjiang’s Regional Development and Reform Commission. He was speaking at the two-day seminar “The Silk Road Economic Belt” held last month in Urumqi.
He further added,” 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 project has already started”.
The rail track is likely to follow the same route as that of the KKH with a handful of short cuts which will drastically reduce the total mileage of the road. The plan also includes laying a parallel pipeline for the uninterrupted supply of oil and gas to the energy-starved China.
“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.
Hub of industrial manufacturing in the world, China is constantly improvising to acquire alternate routes to the Middle Eastern and Iranian oil reserves since long. The transportation of fuel from the eastern shores of the China Sea all the way to the Western regions of the country incurs a mammoth cost to the Chinese economy every year. With access to a sea port in the Arabian Sea and that too just 1800kms away, will play a vital role in the economic growth of the southern region of Xinjiang.