While Pakistan and China are taking steps to keep Gwadar Port operational for trade activities, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route at Khunjerab Pass remains closed for over a year.
The only land route between the two countries, which was closed on 1st December 2019 as per the annual four-month closure of the border, could not open in April 2020 due to the outbreak of the pandemic in both countries.
Although trade activities on other borders of the country, which were also closed for a few weeks during the country-wide lockdown, resumed despite the pandemic issue, the border at Khunjerab remained closed.
“The border has been closed for indefinite time. Since it usually remains closed between December and April, we should not expect any development on resumption of bilateral trade before April 2021,” said an importer and office bearer of Gilgit-Baltistan Chamber of Commerce while talking to this scribe.
“As bilateral trade had resumed worldwide with implementation of Covid SOPs, Pak-China border should also have been opened for trade. We couldn’t understand the rationale behind keeping airports opened and borders closed during the pandemic,” he added.
It may be noted that the Pak-China border was opened for a few weeks in July to facilitate the release of stranded containers and later in September to shift medical material gifted by Chinese government to GB to deal with Covid-19. Two containers carrying medical equipment donated by the Xinjiang province to Gilgit-Baltistan police department had arrived at the Khunjerab pass following its temporary reopening.
Traders had earlier requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ask Chinese authorities permanently reopen the border, as thousands of people affiliated with border trade had become jobless due to its continued closure.
Subsequently, the ministry had written a letter to the China embassy in Pakistan on August 18, proposing that the border should be kept opened till December 31 to facilitate trade activities.
Usually the border remains open for trade and travel from 1st May till November-end every year.
According to sources, Pakistan initially was concerned about the opening of the border in April 2020 after the outbreak of the virus in China but later the Chinese government was reluctant to open the border as the number of Covid patients was increasing in Pakistan as well.
The GB government, due to its geographical proximity with China and frequent movement of people and goods between the two countries, had also requested the federal government to delay the reopening of the border crossing for trade as a precautionary measure.
Sited at over 4,600 metres above sea level, Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved border crossing in the world on the fabled Karakoram Highway which traders and travellers have to traverse to transit between Pakistan and China.
Traders believe without the reopening of Khunjerab border in GB, the operation of Gwadar port may not be fruitful.