The Economic Benefits of CPEC for Gilgit Baltistan

By Yusra Khan

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is expected to rapidly modernize Pakistani infrastructure and strengthen its economy by the construction of modern transportation networks, numerous energy projects, and special economic zones. Since Gilgit Baltistan (GB) lies at the door of CPEC, the success of CPEC will have long-term advantages for the economy of the region.

The most important benefit of CPEC to GB is rise in international trade supporting the local industries. GB lies at a very important geostrategic location, sharing borders with India, Afghanistan, and China. As CPEC will connect the region with Gwadar port, GB is going to become a hub of international trade. This will contribute to an increase in trade of local products like minerals and gems including emerald, sapphire, ruby, aquamarine, moonstone, and amethyst. A large majority of the population depends on agriculture to support their living. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), GB produces over 100,000 metric tons of apricots, 4000 tons of cherries and 20,000 tons of apples, which are completely organic with no pesticides used. Locals hope that they can double their sales and profits by exporting these fruits to China.

Another important contribution of CPEC for GB is the investment in road and railway network that will connect the region with the rest of the country. Under CPEC, the Karakoram Highway will be improved and a few new roads will be built. Construction of some new tunnels and bridges has already been completed. A railway track is also expected to be constructed connecting the Kashgar city of China to Havelian of Pakistan. Similarly, work on Gilgit-Baltistan Expressway, Havelian-Thakot Motorway, Shonter-Astore Road, Gilgit-Shandore Road, and Chitral-Chakdara Road is underway. The improved connectivity through this transportation infrastructure will contribute to the social and economic well-being of the locals.

CPEC is also going to improve the technological and energy infrastructure of GB. The Government of Pakistan has announced to set an economic zone in the region, spreading over 250 acres. According to reports, a 100-megawatt hydropower project in Gilgit and another 80-megawatt project in Ghizer district have been listed under CPEC. In addition, the federal government will finance the development of a regional grid in Gilgit. In the first phase, three districts of Gilgit will be connected through the grid, while the rest of GB will be connected in the second phase. Moreover, Diamer-Bhasha dam and China-Pakistan Optical Fiber projects are also underway. 3G and 4G technology will be provided to the whole region at lower rates after the completion of the optical fiber project.

CPEC will also boost the tourism industry of GB due to the improved security situation and better infrastructure. Tourism plays a vital part in the local economy, as a number of families are dependent on tourism for meeting their financial needs. After completion of CPEC, further improvement of the region will attract a large number of tourists. Increased tourism will promote the unique culture of GB including dances, music, and handicrafts internationally.

At present, GB is partially autonomous having a separate Chief Minister and Governor. It does not yet enjoy any representation in the legislative assemblies of Pakistan and there is a growing sense of deprivation among its residents for not getting benefits as enjoyed by people living in other provinces. The local population, therefore, is skeptical of CPEC. To reap the full benefit of the CPEC project in GB and to resolve grievances of the local population, the government of Pakistan should immediately introduce special packages.