By Cheng Xizhong
During Prime Minister Imran Khan's recent visit to Beijing, Li Xiaopeng, Chinese Minister of Transport met with Pakistan's Minister of Planning, Development and Reform Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar and Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. Both have agreed that the reconstruction project of the Pakistan Main Line-1 (ML-1) project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) should be launched as soon as possible. ML-1 project will prove to be a great milestone and open up new vistas of opportunities and progress for Pakistan and create 20,000 direct and 150,000 indirect jobs, boosting the national development and reduction of poverty.
Before independence in 1947, Pakistan's railway network had already taken shape. Pakistan is a long and narrow country. There are three main lines from south to north, Karachi to Peshawar, Karachi to Lahore and Lahore to Peshawar. Pakistan has one railway connection with India, Iran and Afghanistan respectively. The utilization rate is not high, even in a state of outage due to various reasons. Now，the Pakistani railways are poor in operation and the losses are very huge. In my point of view, all these are mainly because of the system and management.
China, home of world's largest fast-speed railway network, has an ample capacity to reconstruct the main railway line and build fast-speed rail system in Pakistan. By the end of 2018, China's fast-speed rail operation mileage is more than 29,000 kilometers, accounting for more than 2/3 of the global fast-speed rail operation mileage, which is more than the sum of other countries. In 2019, China plans to build 3200 km of new fast-speed rail lines.
Rail is the most efficient mode of communication and transportation in Pakistan and plays an extremely important role in promoting socio-economic development. Therefore, development of modern railway network has always been a priority for Pakistan.
The CPEC is the flagship project of BRI. China and Pakistan have signed a landmark cooperative partnership aimed at boosting regional connectivity through transport infrastructure development especially Railway networks. It must be noted that railway construction, especially fast-speed railway construction, costs a lot and the sum needed cannot be solved through foreign assistance. In my opinion, in order to attract the investment from foreign commercial banks and construction enterprises, Pakistani government should have preferential policies.
Specifically speaking, Pakistani government should focus on attention to market-oriented road, giving the task of reconstructing the existing railways and building the fast-speed railway network to foreign enterprises with financial and technical strength, and then obtaining funds through bank loans. After completion, foreign enterprises will gradually recover the investment, and finally hand it over to Pakistani government. It is very important that the railways should not be the financial burden of the government, but should make tax contributions to the government in the market economy.
Cheng Xizhong, special commentator of China Economic Net, visiting professor at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, senior fellow of the Charhar Institute, former Defense Attache in South Asian countries, former UN Senior Military Observer