Zardari wants trains to China to gain strategic advantage

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Asif Ali Zardari
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has proposed a train service between Pakistan and China, one of its traditional allies, to improve the people-to-people contact between the two sides. Speaking on the issue, Zardari said, Islamabad desires to get a permanent membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which he described to be a key player in the region, and the proposed train service could play an important role in integrating Pakistan more with the forum.

Islamabad and Beijing have been working towards the project for some time now. Last year in September, the two countries had started talks on setting up a cross-border railway linking the northern areas of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) with Kashgarh in the Xinjiang province in northwestern China.

Masood Khan, the Pakistani Ambassador to China, said a feasibility study of the new railway link had been conducted although there was no fixed time-table yet for the construction work to start. It may be mentioned here that the Pakistani government had awarded Rs 72 million contract to an international consortium to carry out the feasibility study.

The railway link, once coming into effect, would reduce trading routes of China from the Gulf to Shanghai by about 5,000 miles, informed Masood, stressing the geo-strategic and economic advantage it could open up. President Zardari's desire is thus not without any basis. The central Asian region is also significant in terms of oil transmission which could make it a major centre of attraction in future and Islamabad is not unaware of that, either. By laying an advantageous rail link to gain proximity to China and central Asia, Islamabad will not only inch closer to the SCO politics but also gain a leverage vis-a-vis India, another key competitor in the region.

As for Beijing, it would gain from Gwadar's international trade routes to the Central Asian republics and eastern Turkestan via the new extended route. The extension of the railway route from Kashgarh to Peshawar in Pakistan would help China in carrying out its trade from the Gwadar Port in Balochistan profitably. Pakistan's internal railway could also help Beijing in having an access to the Persian region.

By extending its East-West Railway from the Chinese border city of Kashi to Peshawar in Pakistan's northwest, Peking can receive cargo to and from Gwadar along the shortest route, from Karachi to Peshawar. The rail network could also be used to supply oil from the Persian Gulf to Eastern Turkestan. Pakistan's internal rail network can also provide China with rail access to Persia.

For India, the Sino-Pak plan to set up the railway link through the PoK is a big worry. New Delhi has asserted time and again that PoK is an integral part of Jammu and Kashmir and any effort by Pakistan and China to establish their own projects there, be it railway routes or others, will not be entertained by the Indian side.

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