Islamabad: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Friday launched two multi-million dollar strategic projects in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region aimed at restoring the Karakorum Highway that links Pakistan with China.
Ashraf performed the groundbreaking for a new 17-km section of the Karakoram Highway that will replace a 25-km section that was submerged by the Attabad Lake, which was formed as a result of landslides.
The new section will be completed in a year at a cost of USD 282 million, officials said.
He also inaugurated a 335-km section of the road from Raikot to Khunjerab that was upgraded at a cost of USD 510.42 million.
This section of the highway has been widened and meets international standards of construction, officials said.
The Karakorum Highway was severed by the artificial Attabad Lake following landslides.
Ashraf, who flew over the Attabad lake and the upgraded section of road, said the new roads were part of an effort by his government to provide people of remote areas with fast and easy linkages with the rest of Pakistan.
The new road will ease travel and deepen Pakistan`s strong ties with China, Ashraf said.
He recalled his meeting with Chinese leaders during a recent visit to Beijing, where improving and realigning the Karakorum Highway was discussed.
He thanked the Chinese government for despatching heavy machinery for completing the project.
Ashraf is on a two-day visit to Gilgit-Baltistan, which is claimed by India as part of Jammu and Kashmir state.
This is Ashraf`s first visit to the region since he assumed office in July.
The premier was briefed by the Chairman of the National Highway Authority about the Karakoram Highway project.
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, Communication Minister Arbab Alamgir, Minister for Kashmir Affairs Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo and a Chinese diplomat are part of the premier`s delegation.
Officials told the premier that the Frontier Works Organisation had been tasked with decreasing the level of Attabad Lake.
The FWO has brought the level down by 12 meters but this is still 18 meters short of the target.
With the arrival of long-arm excavators and earth-moving equipment from China, rapid progress is expected, the officials said.
The new section of the Karakoram Highway will be constructed under a USD 275-million agreement between the China Road and Bridge Corporation and the National Highway Authority.
It will include two tunnels of 4.4 km and 1.2 km and seven large bridges.
The project of upgrading 335 km of the Karakoram Highway, which began in August 2008, is expected to be completed by November 2013.
This project includes construction of two tunnels to protect sections prone to excessive landslides and 34 new bridges.
Communications Minister Arbab Alamgir said trade via the Karakoram Highway had fallen to only one billion dollars from the earlier level of 50 billion dollars after the road was severed by landslides.
He said the Chinese government would provide aid worth 100 million dollars for rehabilitation works.