China is giving Pakistan an $8 billion dollar loan to upgrade an 1,871 km-long railway line from Karachi, Sindh to Peshawar near the Afghan border as part of President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt Road Initiative (BRI) which also includes over $60 billion of funding for various urgent infrastructure projects in the country, reports Bloomberg.
While approval over the line has been delayed, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that the work will begin later on this year. Secretary of Pakistan Railways Parveen Agha said that the project was one of the biggest opportunities for the national rail operator.
Over decades, Pakistan’s railway network became synonymous with filth and corruption. However, Pakistan Railways has managed to go from being utterly unprofitable to generating revenues of $362 million of the last five years.
China’s funding is visible across the entire nation. A $1.6 billion metro project is set to open up this year in Lahore, The Punjab. As part of a railway overhaul program, the Railways has rehabilitated over 31 stations, 300 locomotives, 1,000 passenger and 5,000 freight wagons. It also purchased 75 locomotives worth $413.5 million from General Electric (GE) last year.
Years of neglect and under-investment led to corruption in the Railways too. Several officials have been sacked over years for their role in procurement scams. Trains too fare no better. Passengers generally talk about avoiding rats on board while air-conditioning stops functioning even on premium trains.
However, upgrades – even though backed by Chinese loans – are being viewed with sceptiscm. Some feel that the corruption and institutionalised rot in the system will hamper upgrades while others feel that safety is going to be an issue. Since 2000, the Railways has been the target of over 137 terror attacks, killing 96 and injuring 480.
Pakistan wants to increase imports to China, Iran, Turkey and even India to deal with widening deficits. The nation goes to polls in July this year.
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