Islamabad, Jul 5 (PTI) Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday performed the ground-breaking of several mega projects and launched a number of other infrastructure ventures under the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan's strategic coastal city of Gwadar.
The CPEC, which connects Gwadar Port in Pakistan's Balochistan province with China's Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of China's ambitious multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It will give China an opening to the Arabian Sea.
The BRI is seen as an attempt by China to further its influence abroad with infrastructure projects funded by Chinese investments all over the world.
Khan inaugurated the North Gwadar Free Zone 2, Gwadar Expo Centre and Henan Agricultural Industrial Park as well as the opening of three factories including Gwadar Fertilizer Plant and Gwadar Animal Vaccine Plant.
He also witnessed the signing of various MoUs with China that aimed at constructing a modern hospital, an international airport and a vocational institute as well as addressing the water and power problems of Gwadar.
He was also given a briefing on the progress of the south Balochistan development package in line with the government’s efforts of focusing on the province.
In his address, Khan said that Pakistan was on its way to becoming a 'great country'.
'I dream of Pakistan's future — and I have grown up with Pakistan. This nation is headed towards becoming a great country,' he said.
Khan said he had come to visit Gwadar for two reasons: to inaugurate the Gwadar Free Zone Phase 2 and for the development of Balochistan.
'Gwadar is becoming a focal point for Pakistan, which will benefit the country and especially Balochistan,' he said.
He said the Gwadar International Airport being constructed with the help of China would connect the city with the world and help boost trade.
He said that Chinese investors under the CPEC were aiming to install such industries that would help Pakistan increase its exports.
'Unfortunately, we have never focused on exports, and it will help bring in dollars,' he said, adding that Pakistan had always been at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong said on the occasion that China was committed to developing the CPEC project under the vision of shared prosperity.
'We are committed to push forward with the programme to ensure Pakistan's economic development,' he said.
He said Beijing would provide strong support to Islamabad, both geopolitically and geo-economically. 'The project will bring about an economy of a great scale, create more job opportunities and enhance the manufacturing sector.' Among the projects launched was the high value 2,200 acres North Gwadar Free Zone 2 to create a hub of industries. According to Federal Planning Minister Asad Umar, it was far bigger than phase 1 comprising 60 acres and would help to expedite the industrialisation of Pakistan.
'This reflects the growing interest of Chinese and other investors in the Gwadar free zone,' he tweeted.
The CPEC is a collection of infrastructure and other projects under construction throughout Pakistan since 2013. Originally valued at USD 46 billion, the projects were worth USD 62 billion as of 2017.
India has protested to China over the CPEC as it is being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Chairman CPEC Authority Lieutenant-General (retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa said that Iran's trade through the Gwadar Port would start soon as infrastructure was being developed for it.
“The Ramadan-Gabd crossing point near Gwadar is active and fully functional now, fencing work on the Pakistan-Iran border is going on rapidly and new border markets are being established at the crossing points,” he said in a video message.
He also praised phase 2 of the free zones, saying that some 46 enterprises were engaged in phase-I of the free zone, while 12 new factories were being set up out of which three had been completed.
He said that traffic at the port was increasing. Last year, the trade volume increased by 'hundreds of times' as 60,000 metric tons of cargo was transported during the financial year 2020-21 compared to only 1,300 metric tons in the previous year.
Earlier, Prime Minister Khan arrived in the city on a day-long visit to review the projects. He was accompanied by members of the federal cabinet.
Khan also said that Pakistan was working to bring peace in war-torn Afghanistan with the help of other countries in the region.
“All stakeholders are striving to establish peace in Afghanistan,” he said. “We will also try to talk to the Taliban to enable a political settlement in Afghanistan.” Khan said Gwadar would serve to connect the Central Asian countries. However, he added that the only concern for all the countries is peace in Afghanistan. “A civil war in Afghanistan would mean that trade contacts with Central Asian countries would be cut-off,” he said.
His remarks came as reports of a looming civil war were making rounds in the wake of the withdrawal of the US-led NATO troops from the war-torn neighbouring nation. PTI SH AMS AKJ AMS