By Inayatullah Aseer
The Chitral-Garum Chashma-Eshkashim highway project is crucial for economic development of Pakistan and the whole region. After completion of the Lowari Tunnel mega project, there is no reason to delay this important project anymore.
A road from Kabul to China through the Pamir Range was completed within just two years after being designed in 2000. The situation, circumstances and difficulties in the construction of the Kabul-China highway were the same as in the case of Chitral-Garum Chashma-Eshkashim highway project, but the latter is still in limbo though an agreement in this regard had already been signed between the presidents of Pakistan and Tajikistan.
Due to delay in the construction of this all important highway, many other projects of far-reaching economic significance for Pakistan, such as import of electricity from Tajikistan, laying of gas pipeline and railway lines from Dargay to Tajikistan through the shortest route via the peaceful valley of Chitral and Badakhshan remain untouched – nay they are even not being discussed at any forum.
The people of Chitral were expecting that this vital road would be completed with the Lowari Tunnel project during the PPP government but unfortunately this government has not taken even an initial step due to that the Chitralis have become totally disappointed with the PPP government and the party is losing its popularity in the valley where a large number of its supporters live. On the other hand, the recovery of billions of rupees spent on the tunnel is possible only if we completed the Tajikistan Highway as soon as possible. This road will usher in a new era of trade and tourism promotion with the Central Asian states as well as Europe and China. This will also connect us to China throughout the year via River Amu in Wakhan valley. This shortest road also links all Asian countries with Central Asia through Pakistan.
But as we delay to initiate work on the project, the estimated cost of the project is also increasing fast. It cannot be justified that the work on this project cannot be started due to lack of peace in Afghanistan because we see a large number of rehabilitation projects going on in the neighbouring country that have been launched by the government in Kabul and different organizations. It is very much clear that Badakhshan is a very peaceful province in Afghanistan and the people of this area are peace-loving and constrictive minded like the people of Chitral. The propsed highway passes through the backward areas of Badakhshan province which are less populated from Dora Pass to Eshkashim. These areas are not developed and the basic need of life such as roads, hospitals and schools are not available to the people there. One thing more important here is that the areas have abundance of honest, hard working and cheap labour which would be an added advantage in the construction of the road. It may be noted that an unmetalled truck-able seasonal road was in use during the Afghan war from 1978 to 1995 from Garum Chashma to Tajikistan through the Badakhshan province. It was the shortest road for trade and tourism as well as for refuges’ movement. But when this important road of transport and trade was closed without any reason, the local government of Chitral lost a good source of income which came through taxes amounting to billions of rupees. Besides the bazaars of Garum Chashma and Chitral became unattractive for business community and the local people.
At the end, I would like to suggest for the betterment of the district and provincial government to reopen this truck-able seasonal road in the initial stage and allow the legal trade to restart as soon as possible. In this way, the local government of Chitral can meet its financial requirements internally.
PPP supporters in Chitral expect that the government would allocate a reasonable amount for this important project in the coming budget, and take initial step on completion of the mega project which was started by party founder and former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.