Free trade zone status for Hunza sought
24 November 2006
Hunza: Businessmen and public representatives of Hunza have asked the government to declare the strategically important valley free trade zone and give compensation to the people affected due to expansion of Karakoram Highway and ban import of farm products from China. They have also sought allocation of scholarships and seats in Chinese universities for the local students, allocation of substantial amount from the revenue generated through border trade for the development of the valley and provision of electricity and gas on subsidised rates to the local community, health screening system at Sust border post. “The government should acknowledge the strategic importance of Hunza situated at an important knot of energy and trade corridor linking Pakistan with China and Central Asian Republics (CARs), and protect the interests of the local people,” said a set of recommendations sent to the government by business and community leaders of the valley through deputy chief executive of Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan), Ghazanfar Ali Khan. All Hunza Business Association President Fida Hussain, Ikramullah Baig of Bolor Research Forum and others have also asked the deputy chief executive to highlight the importance of the valley during talks between Presidents of Pakistan and China. “Hunza due to its geo-strategic importance is offering new avenues and prospects for investment and it is the duty of the leadership to project the interest of local people during strategic talks at high levels,” said Fida Karim. The realignment and expansion of Karakoram Highway, lying of railway track, gas and oil pipelines, Sust Dry Port issue, bilateral border trade and projects under way in Northern Areas with the assistance of China, according to sources, would be discussed in meetings between the two sides. Besides, Mr Fida said, the valley is situated at the junction of an important and strategic knot linking Central Asian Republics (CARs), China and Pakistan. This provides another prospect to connect CARs and China to Gwadar Port via Hunza. He recalled that President Gen Pervez Musharraf during his last visit to Northern Areas also highlighted the importance of Hunza as an energy corridor and gateway to CARs and announced the construction of gas pipeline and railway track between the two countries through this route. The Pakistan government since the opening of the KKH is fetching revenues in billions and on the other hand the local people are not getting optimum benefits according to its potentials, he observed.Mr Fida said the socio-economic development of the local community depended on the border trade and related activities and asked the government to spend a substantial portion of the revenue on social welfare to improve the living standards of the people. He also sought representation of the local people in negotiations at various levels to protect their interest; allow free passage of local people and vehicles in certain regions at border areas in China. The recommendations also sought compensation as per the international standards for lands used for expansion and reconstruction of KKH and laying down of railway tracks and gas and oil pipelines. The recommendations also said that the local community is subsisting on marketing of different agricultural products to down-country. During recent years these items have been imported from China. If this trend continues the local people will lose the only source of income and sought a ban on import of farm produce and fruits from China.