Shounter-Rattu road — another gateway to CPEC project
By Taaruf Abbas
Since Pakistan and China are already undertaking a barrage of projects worth over $55 billion under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from Khunjerab in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) to Gwadar in Balochistan and beyond to the Middle East and Europe, the both the countries have so far not given any serious thought to the construction of the ancient Shounter-Rattu road — linking Neelum Valley (via Shounter) to district Astor in GB.
Though the National Highway Authority has got the environmental impact assessment conducted for the construction of 26-kilometre (including the 12.68-kilometre-long tunnel) from Shounter to Rattu, no work could be started on the socially, economically and geographically important project that could save nine to 10 hours travel time between GB and Islamabad and onwards.
The ancient and shortest Shounter-Rattu route was used by traders and the layman from GB and Azad Jammu and Kashmir unless it was rendered incommunicado some decades ago. Trade under the CPEC project could further be accelerated and sustained by making this route ready for use by connecting the south with the north.
No doubt China is the fastest growing economy of the world with worlds’ top manufacturing companies making products and goods there, it needs a sustainable and fastest and shortest route to deliver those manufactured goods to markets and customers.
The export of goods via sea routes is not only time-consuming but it also costs China dearly and that is why the new economic giant is carrying out the CPEC project to quickly export its products to the international market in Europe, the US, Central Asian countries and Arab countries vial the land route.
Unlike the long and arduous Karakoram Highway, Shounter-Rattu is not only shorter linking GB with AJK and Islamabad, but it is also economically feasible.
This route would not only prove beneficial for fast trade between China and Pakistan but also attract a great number of tourists and camping lovers to the most unexplored scenic valleys of GB and AJK.
This road takes only 8 to 10 hours of travelling from GB to AJK and onward to Islamabad or vice versa.
Last month, GB Chief Minister Hafiz Hafeez-u-Rehman said that the GB government has dropped the idea of the construction of Shounter pass due to it is not being all-weather as the excessive snow at high peaks makes it inaccessible for most of the year.
The GB chief minister’s statement has disappointed the people of GB and especially the people of Astore, who had long been demanding the early construction of the strategically important road.
The NHA and local authorities only will have to construct the 8-kilometre Shounter-Rattu road tunnel to make this road all-weather to withstand the inclement weather.
There is an immense potential of cultural exchange, trade and tourism besides boosting other businesses should the Shounter-Rattu road is constructed.
With the construction of the Shounter-Rattu road, socio-economic conditions of the people of linking areas including Kel, Domail, Dhakki Nakka and other areas in AJK and Rattu, Morcha, Guzair etc in GB will also drastically improve.
By making this route all-weather, China and Pakistan both can find an alternate route, as compared to long Karakorum Highway, to ferry export and import items they manufacture or produce in their respective countries.
This road could also be the shortest and low-cost transportation means for the people of GB, AJK, Pakistan and China.
By constructing this road, new tourist resorts could be explored in GB and AJK and investors could be invited to set up tourism and hotel industry in the mountainous region, which will also create hundreds of jobs for locals and help overcome the burgeoning unemployment and poverty and increase per capita income of the people. It will also bring economic prosperity in remote and backward areas.
The government of Pakistan and China must pay full attention to the construction of this important route to further slash the transportation cost that will accrue once the CPEC project is fully functional and trade gets started.
This road must immediately be included as a special project in the CPEC if both China and Pakistan wanted to reap the benefit of the billion dollars road links project.
Taaruf Abbas in a lawyer, political and social activist based in Gilgit