Chinese workers in Pakistan skip lunar new year holidays to speed up highway project

Xinhua News Agency


Giving up plans to return to their hometown for family reunion during the lunar New Year, hundreds of Chinese road workers stayed in the construction sites of Pakistan's Karakorum Highway (KKH), to ensure an early completion of the project.

The KKH, which is part of an arterial road from Pakistan's north to south, is the only land route that connects China and Pakistan.

The KKH improvement plan is a flagship project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that will improve connectivity, facilitate local economy and people's lives in the less developed country.

The first phase of the project, to upgrade roads in the northern part of the KKH, was completed in 2013, while the second phase, with new second-grade roads and a highway linking Havelian and Thakot to be built, began in September last year, Hu Junquan, general project manager of the second phase of the project, told Xinhua on Sunday.

Hu, who is with the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), has been working abroad for 15 years. He said he had spent the Chinese lunar New Year many times at project sites in foreign countries, away from home and family.

"I really feel sorry for my family and I also appreciate them for their understanding of my job and duties," Hu said.

At the KKH second phase project site, some 900 Chinese workers stayed at work at the beginning of the Year of Rooster, a year standing for diligence in Chinese tradition.

To make sure the project can be completed according to schedule, the CRBC workers only had two half-day breaks during the festival and continued to work around the clock on all sections of the 118-km long road project.

According to Hu, the project including a total of 105 bridges and 67 tunnels will be constructed in 42 months, and most of the construction are in dangerous mountainous areas.

In face of the poor geographical conditions, Hu and his colleagues had to be very careful and made progress painstakingly when handling tunnels, such as the Tunnel of Abbottabad. Currently, only about half a meter of earth could be excavated a day for the 1,700-meter tunnel.

"My Chinese colleagues are very, very hardworking. They are also very good people," Ehtisham Khan, a retired Pakistani Army major who now serves as a security coordinator at the project's main camp, told Xinhua.

Khan said following the KKH project, industrialization will expand, traffic will be connected from China to Pakistan's Gwadar, which will be very good for both countries.

He added that in the northern part of the KKH, road conditions have been greatly improved, compared to decades ago when he went there as a soldier.

"When I joined the project seven months ago, I only knew it is a project that will link Havelian and Thakot, but with the passage of time, I have learned that this is a game changer for local people. The project, also the entire CPEC, will bring a lot of business and jobs to the locals," said the retired major.

According to him, about 700 ex-armymen have been reorganized as a police team to protect the project and all its sections, while some of his neighbors have also been hired by the CRBC for the KKH second phase construction.

According to Hu, some 1,600 Pakistanis are working in the construction field along all the sections from Havelian to Thakot.

Hu said approximately 15,000 jobs will be provided to Pakistanis from senior managers and engineers to common road workers and truck drivers.

"We will provide training to the Pakistani employees so as to increase their skills. They will enjoy paid annual leave, the same as their Chinese colleagues. We also provide endowment insurance for them," said Hu.

Hu said when the entire KKH project is finished, connectivity from Pakistan's north to Islamabad will be dramatically improved and the arterial road will also support peripheral business development and enhance social stability and defense in northern Pakistan.

The second phase of KKH is expected to be completed in February 2020, he said. At that time, traveling time from Islamabad to Khunjerab which borders China will be shortened from two or three days to about one day.

"And we can expect more frequent trade between China and Pakistan," Hu added.