Ahsan Iqbal hopes to start ML-1 railway line project this year

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Federal Minister for Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives, Prof. Ahsan Iqbal said that with China’s support, work on the multi-billion ML-1, the main railway line project between Karachi and Peshawar, would be started as early as possible during this year.

The ML-1 project was to be done in the first phase, but somehow, it got delayed in the last four years.

“There was little follow-up from the previous government, but now, we are actively following it up,” the minister said.

“We are hopeful that this project will start this year,” he said in an interview with APP after a special meeting of the 12th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of CPEC in Beijing.

He said, “The railway track has been badly damaged during the floods last year. This is the main railway track line linking north and south Pakistan. We want to repair it and we want to upgrade it as early as possible. It will be a US$10 billion project. We will do it in phases, and we hope to start this project as soon as possible during this year.”

Ahsan Iqbal said, “The 150 years old railway line now requires major modernization and up-gradation. We are hoping that with China’s help, we will be able to modernize this railway track from Karachi to Peshawar and it will be a very big support to our logistics.”

About Karachi circular railway, he said, “It is a mass transit project for Karachi which is the biggest city in Pakistan. So, we also agreed to fast-track that project.”

Ahsan Iqbal said the JCC meeting was very historic because it marked a decade of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

“About 10 years ago, both China and Pakistan started a new journey of bilateral relationship through CPEC which is a pilot project of the Belt and Road Initiative.”

“As a result, today, we have more than $25 billion worth of investments in Pakistan under CPEC and the flagship project has helped Pakistan overcome its energy crisis.”

Under CPEC, we installed more than 8,000 megawatts of power projects. It has helped us to construct modern highways, and motorways, which has improved connectivity in the country, linked different parts of the country, and provided efficient logistic support to the economy.

He said, “Through CPEC, we have also developed infrastructure in Gwadar.”

“We have also improved the digital infrastructure with fiber optic cable that has been laid between China and Pakistan.”

“With CPEC, we have also carried out a number of socio-economic projects for uplifting the social conditions of people.”

“So, this is a very historic journey in which we are able to transform the nature of the relationship between two countries and make it much stronger in the economic cooperation field,” the minister added.

He said, “We had a discussion about how to take forward CPEC in the next phase, which will promote business-to-business cooperation, industrial cooperation, and also Chinese private investment in Pakistan’s energy, agriculture, information technology, and mining sectors, where there are many opportunities for investors to have good business opportunities for Pakistan, to take benefit of investment and technology from China.”

“It will be a win-win investment for both countries and we look forward now to taking CPEC into the next phase, based on greater cooperation in industrial and agricultural fields, and also in the technology areas.”

Sharing more details in terms of how did the CPEC benefit the livelihood of Pakistani people, he said, “The CPEC projects have created almost 200,000 job opportunities and helped Pakistan overcome the energy crises.”

He said, with 12 hours and 14 hours of electricity shortage, the factories were closed, and the workers were laid off. The small businesses were out of business, in hospitals, the patients were suffering, in educational institutions, the students were suffering.

“So, by solving the energy crisis, everyone in Pakistan has benefited from the great contribution that has been made by CPEC.”

Similarly, in some remote areas, where projects had been made, for example, in Thar, which is Pakistan very remote area, and we had huge untapped coal deposit there. With CPEC, we were able to do the mining project and now it has become the energy capital of Pakistan, he said.

“The companies that are working there, are setting up schools and setting up hospitals. They are empowering local people including women by providing them job opportunities. It has helped the economy.”

“So, in many ways, these projects have connected people of very remote areas. They are now very close to each other with very short distance where it used to take people eight hours to travel, now they do the same travel in two and a half hours. So, that is quite a revolution in every aspect, the minister informed.

Ahsan Iqbal said, in the first phase, our main focus was on infrastructure development. We had energy shortage and our transport infrastructure was not very strong. So, we have addressed the infrastructure in the first phase.

“Now in the second phase, our focus is to move away from government to government to business to business linkage, and also to invest in industrial cooperation.”

“We will try to build on that infrastructure through more investments and industrialization of Pakistan’s economy. There are many opportunities for investment for example, in the agriculture sector, for agro-based industries, for bringing value addition in the agriculture industry, for livestock, meat industry.”

“There are huge opportunities in the industrial sector to expand the industrial base or production for more exports. There is a huge potential of mining and there is new huge potential of mining in Pakistan, ” he added.

“So, through investment in mining, we can generate billions of dollars of exports in the mining sector, then there is opportunity in the energy sector where we are actively pursuing solar energy for future so we are also hoping and inviting the Chinese companies to set up solar power production plants in Pakistan.”

So, I think the main difference is moving from infrastructure to industrial cooperation, and moving from the government to government linkage to business to business linkage, he added.

Responding to a query about new vigor and commitment to pursue a new project, he said, in the last year, we have brought a lot of vigor. Many projects were in the pipeline which were delayed during the previous four years, we completed them last year.

“So, there is a lot more dynamism, there is lot more vigor to move forward on CPEC like it was before during the year 2013 and 2018 period. We are all excited and we are looking forward to taking the project into the next phase with actually greater vigor because the need for cooperation in this area is greater than ever.”

The minister said, “Both countries have to work together to share the fruits of CPEC not just between us but also with the old region. And this can only happen if our connectivity projects are completed very early. It can happen with more investments from China we can then serve the markets.”

“We can route the global supply chains on this infrastructure we have been. So, I hope that this next phase will actually bring many dividends for the bigger region than Pakistan and China. We hope one day the whole of South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East will benefit from CPEC,” he added.