KHUNJERAB PASS, Pakistan — Up here on what is often referred to as the world’s highest paved border crossing, there still are not many signs that billions of dollars in investment — and goodwill — could soon flow across these peaks in the Karakorum Mountains.
In the process, China hopes to accomplish something the United States has largely been unable to do over the past decade: give Pakistan an ironclad, long-lasting incentive to keep cracking down on terrorist groups.
Alliance also brings fear
The new Pakistan-China Economic Corridor will move from here in the mountains down the Karakorum Highway into central Pakistan. From there, even more highways will be built to provide access to Gwadar Port in Baluchistan.
The initial outlines of that corridor already are visible here in northern Pakistan, where the highway snakes past mountains, glaciers and rocky gorges. At times, motorists can see the donkey trails from the original Silk Route, which traders traveled for more than 600 years before the 15th century.
China is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the highway, one of the world’s most dangerous thoroughfares. To make it safer, Chinese engineers are smashing through mountains to build dozens of miles of tunnels, some of which are inscribed with the phrase “Pak-China Friendship Tunnel.” They are adding bridges, guardrails and concrete overhangs to funnel landslides and avalanches away from travel lanes.
Still, Pakistani economists disagree as to whether their country can fully take advantage of the opportunity. Some note that it is unclear whether the agreement will help Pakistan overcome a 50 percent trade imbalance with China. Pakistanis are eager to ship more medicinal herbs, textiles, gemstones and yak meat to China.
In that way, China is stepping into a void left by the United States when it declined to heavily invest in Pakistan, despite the strategic alliance between the two countries during the Cold War as well as after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Nasr said.
Muhammad Ali, 39, a customs clearing agent in Sost, the northernmost Pakistani city before the Karakorum Highway begins a 35-mile, 7,000-foot ascent to Khunjerab Pass, said foreign investors are the only ones likely to benefit from the project.“The highway was a blessing in disguise,” he said. “And I expect the same thing from the economic corridor.” Washington Post