ISLAMABAD – A pivotal chapter in the China-Pakistan partnership is set to be written as caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar embarks on a historic four-day visit to Beijing commencing on October 16. During this momentous diplomatic mission, both nations are poised to seal momentous agreements pertaining to the expansion of motorways and highways under the auspices of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
PM Kakar’s sojourn to the Chinese capital is in tandem with his attendance at the ‘Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation,’ scheduled from October 17 to 18. The prime minister is expected to grace the opening ceremony of the BRF and deliver an address at the high-level forum entitled ‘Connectivity in an Open Global Economy,’ as articulated by the PM office.
A rendezvous between Premier Kakar and Chinese President Xi Jinping is on the agenda, affording them an opportunity to deliberate on matters of mutual interest. Furthermore, the four-day gathering anticipates the presence of senior Chinese officials, influential business magnates, investors, and leaders hailing from approximately 130 nations. Notably, the spectrum of attendees encompasses dignitaries ranging from the Russian President to representatives of the Taliban administration, as reported by both Reuters and AFP.
This forum, convened in Beijing, marks the 10th anniversary of President Xi’s ambitious global infrastructure and energy initiative, widely known as a revival of the ancient Silk Road, with the overarching aim of enhancing global trade.
For Pakistan, a significant Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the offing pertains to the establishment of a modern Highway Research & Training Centre (HRTC) through Chinese collaboration. The project assumes a central role in the forthcoming discussions between PM Kakar and Chinese authorities. The HRTC, an affiliate of the National Highway Authority (NHA), is envisioned to undertake indigenous research across various facets of highway engineering, spanning pavements, bridges, tunneling, environmental engineering, hydraulics, and geotechnical studies. The project extends its reach to technical training.
Notably, the HRTC is in association with various engineering institutes, including the National University of Science & Technology (NUST) and the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) Tunneling Institute, fostering joint research initiatives. Within the framework of CPEC, a promising joint research program from 2023 to 2027 envisions collaboration and innovation across diverse domains of highway engineering.
The envisaged memorandum of joint research extension, set to be finalized and inked during the PM’s sojourn in China, is poised to significantly enhance infrastructure cooperation between China and Pakistan. The HRTC Research Institute, encompassing a 530-acre land parcel, will be constructed with a Chinese grant of $52 million (374 million yuans or Rs15 billion), inclusive of infrastructure, a test track, and cutting-edge indoor and outdoor lab equipment. Upon completion and requisite training, operational management of the institute will be transferred to the NHA.
This pioneering institute is geared toward conducting long-term pavement performance studies under controlled and uncontrolled conditions. Additionally, research initiatives span areas such as reclaimed asphalt, bridges, tunneling, training and degree courses in China, and the development of engineering design manuals and standards for Pakistan.
Prime Minister Kakar is also set to endorse an MOU for the upgrading of the Karakorum Highway (KKH) from Raikot to Thakot, Raikot to Khunjerab (335 km), and KKH phase-2 on the E-35 section from Havelian to Thakot, covering 120km. Another notable addition to this colossal project is the introduction of a motorway section connecting Havelian to Mansehra. In a second phase of the KKH project, the road is meticulously designed to remain operational year-round, even in the harsh winter conditions when it’s typically obstructed by heavy snowfall. The KKH alignment is engineered to bypass the Bhasha Dam by tunneling beneath it.
Moreover, discussions during the PM’s visit will also encompass the construction of a motorway linking Dera Ismail Khan to Zhob, with a central focus on the pivotal Gwadar port.