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China-Pakistan Economic Corridor work moving at fast pace

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Satellite images reveal CPEC road passes through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, China promised $62 billion investment in the project.

The Chief Minister of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, Parvez Khattak, claimed a few months ago that agreements to the tune of $11-20 billion were signed by his government and the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) with Chinese companies to develop civilian infrastructure.

China has already promised Pakistan an investment of $62 billion for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) mega project. Part of ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative (OBOR), linked to President Xi Jinping’s idea of ‘China Dream’, this project, however, opens up a Pandora’s box.
Satellite images received through Google Earth (September 2017) reveal that road construction work under CPEC project has begun in earnest in Sindh, Punjab. As promised by China, no exclusive economic zones (EEZs) that later became dry ports are observed at present. Neither any township can be seen anywhere alongthe road.

The Pakistan government claims that the road, called Hazara Expressway (E-35), is
not financed under CPEC although the construction is being undertaken by China Gezhouba Group Company Limited (CGGC). ThePrint analyses the status of CPEC project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as of 2 September 2017.

New road alignment

The CPEC road in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa does not follow any previous road alignments, for obvious reasons of ease of construction. Besides, a separate alignment allows smooth and uninterrupted flow of the existing traffic.

The new road splits from the M-1 motorway connecting Islamabad with Peshawar near Wah Model Town. Then on, it bypasses towns such as Hattar, Haripur, Havelian, Abbottabad and Manshera to reach Ichherian. A total of 75 km of the road has been analysed for this report. The overall width of the road is 25-30 metre.

Source: Vinayak Bhat

Pace of construction

The speed of construction seems to be very fast considering the terrain and geography of the area. The construction in upper reaches of KP would be difficult and slow during winter months. Work may have to be stopped in another 15-30 days if it being snowing in the region. In that case, construction would resume after the spring. However, the present speed of construction suggests that a large amount of money has been allocated to this project.

Road interchanges

There are many interchanges along the entire 99 km stretch being discussed here.
Most of them are classic Double Trumpet Interchanges and some Single Trumpet. One odd could possibly be a Cloverleaf Interchange, especially the one at Havelian, but it would become clear only after a few more months.

Possibility of tunnels

Source: Vinayak Bhat

A few tunnels can be expected in this portion of the road. Two of them bypass two major towns in this area. The one in Manshera is probably in the early stages of construction. The 2.5 km long and15 m wide tunnel will most likely be made a double tunnel very soon.

The other one in Abbottabad is the largest tunnel in the area. The double tunnel with a width of 20 m and length of 3.5 km probably has a 300 m opening in between.

Source: Vinayak Bhat

Havelian dry port

There is no specific signature of an EEZ or dry port being constructed at Havelian as of 28 September 2017. The area next to the interchange is being levelled possibly for the dry port. Considering the size of the area, it may not be a dry port in its classic sense, but can merely be a parking space for trucks and other vehicles.
It will possibly have a more plain area, almost 30 m below, for future expansion and construction of hotels and other amenities that are expected in a dry port.

In May-June, there were rumours of a survey being carried out by Chinese engineers for construction of a railway station for transhipment of goods. But no additional preparations or constructions are observed near or before Havelian railway station. The main disadvantage of this dry port is that it overlooks a major ammunition depot, which could be an easy target for terrorists attacking from across the river.

Source: Vinayak Bhat

The next phase of CPEC project will most certainly start in PoK. What India calls PoK is, in fact, a region comprising the so-called Azad Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan and areas of Shaksgam Valley, illegally ceded by Pakistan to China.

(Col Vinayak Bhat (retd) is a Military Intelligence veteran of the Indian Army with vast experience of satellite imagery analysis. He has worked as a Chinese interpreter and is a specialist on PLA and Pakistan’s armed forces. He tweets @rajfortyseven)


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