As Pakistan is waiting to reap the benefits of $60 billion plus China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a silver lining has emerged for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the shape of World Bank-funded Khyber Pass Economic Corridor (KPEC). The project was approved on June 14, 2018 and scheduled to be completed by June 28, 2024. However, the KP and its newly-merged tribal districts (NMTDs) can benefit from the KPEC only if the project is expeditiously and seriously pursued unlike the deliberately-abandoned Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs).
The ROZs was a project by the United States to establish industries in the war-affected areas of KP and erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and give the products of these proposed industries a tariff-free access to American markets. But the sluggishness and malafide intentions of certain members of federal bureaucracy sealed the fate of the ROZs and deprived the region of a complete economic turnaround.
The KPEC is a project of immense economic and security importance. The project has two components. The first component of KPEC — Expressway Development — includes the construction of a four-lane Peshawar-Torkham Expressway (PTEX) and associated administrative infrastructure facilities. This part also includes the laying of fiber optic cables in trenches along PTEX, land acquisition and resettlement, afforestation, and technical and independent reviews and studies for the preparation of new related projects.
The second component — Development of the Khyber Pass Economic Corridor — has several subcomponents. The anchor of the Peshawar-Torkham Economic Corridor is a new expressway which will provide a reliable and safe driving environment with higher travelling speeds. The existing Peshawar-Torkham road is a part of the National Highway N-5 that traverses the historic Khyber Pass. The 400-year old existing carriageway is a 6.0-meter-wide two-lane facility with earthen shoulders. Improvement to the existing highway is constrained by heavy population settlements on either side, a railway line running along the road, and steep gradients and sharp curves that are difficult for large multi-axle commercial trucks to negotiate. Geometrics are inadequate to cater for the modern high speed heavy vehicular traffic.
The proposed expressway will be built on a new alignment and will be constructed as a dual highway facility with a 7.3-meter-wide carriageway on each side and 3.0-meter-wide treated shoulders. The expressway will reduce transit time and costs for regional and international trade goods using Peshawar-Torkham corridor. The proposed expressway could be an extension of the Karachi-Lahore, Islamabad-Peshawar Trans-Pakistan Expressway System as well as part of the Peshawar-Kabul (Afghanistan) Dushanbe (Tajikistan) Motorway.
The Economic Corridor Development component aims, in conjunction with other projects, to facilitate the development of marble and horticulture industries to maximise the benefits of the expressway. The main constraints in development include insecurity (including for women workers), difficult access to markets (hard and soft infrastructure issues), land (unsecured mining rights, lack of irrigated and industrial land), utilities, skills and finance (the latter being largely a consequence of other constraints).
The proposed KPEC route passes through the mountainous region which is a barren land with some dotted human settlements and cultivable area. Peshawar-Torkham area can be divided into two major geographical divisions: the rugged mountainous regions on the north and west, with one end touching the Afghan border, and the comparatively narrow strip of valleys.
The proposed project starts from the end of Peshawar Northern Bypass at the Takhta Baig Bridge from tehsil Jamrud of Khyber District and ends at the Torkham border. It passes through Peshawar, Jamrud, Baghyari Post, Lala China, Ali Masjid, Kata Kashta, Gagra Sar, Char Bagh, Gurjura, Wali Khel, Landi Kotal and Torkham. The proposed alignment mostly follows the valleys and hilly slopes.
The KPEC is of significance because it passes through the ancient and legendary Khyber Pass, which has been the main route of entrance to India for traders, invaders and conquerors from Europe, Central Asia, Arabia and Afghanistan. Thus, the route has been instrumental in cross-regional and inter-regional trade and commerce. The KPEC fulfils the long-cherished dream of traders of sub-continent, Afghanistan and Central Asia of economically integrating Central Asia with South Asia and the greater Middle East and Persia.
The KPEC becomes even more important once CPEC routes traversing Pakistan reach Peshawar. Here it is important to note that KPEC is not part of CPEC. However, China has been desirous of making Afghanistan a part of CPEC — a flagship project of Beijing’s $900 billion plus, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). So as soon as KPEC becomes functional, it would give a huge boost to CPEC and China’s BRI aiming to economically integrating the Afro-Eurasian landmass including nearly 60 countries.
KPEC is not only a route or motorway, but a complete project of economic development. It would benefit Peshawar, KP and specifically the Khyber district extensively. Although Peshawar is a sizable Pakistani city with satisfactory infrastructure, it severely lacks industrial establishment despite having colossal trading and consumption potential. Peshawar is an ancient Pakistani city which once used to be a hub of Central Asia, South Asia cross-regional commerce and trade. The KPEC could be instrumental in enabling Peshawar to realise its true economic potential.
The population of Khyber district, according to the provisional results of the 2017 national census, is 986,973 with annual growth of 3.92 percent and population density of 212 per Sq.km with an average household size of 9.9 per household. The Khyber district consists of four Tehsils; Bara, Landi Kotal, Jamrud and Mulla Gori. The area has a deep entrenched tribal structure.
The communities of the KPEC project area lead their lives under strict tribal code and cultural practices. The four main tribes of Khyber are Afridis, Shinwaris, Mollagoris and Shilmanis and this project may affect Afridi and Shinwari tribes. Land is collectively owned and a fundamental marker of the identity of a clan.
The communal land, managed under unwritten customary laws (Rawaj), passed down through oral tradition which has now been adopted by the tribes and have become the model for accepted norm for members of a tribe. The patrilineal and descent invoke claim rights to inherited land and assert their dominant position through shares in land. The main source of income of local people depends on transportation and rearing of livestock.
The prevailing security situation over the last few years has retarded the pace of growth in education sector. Females are particularly unable to access middle and secondary schools. The socio-economic development indicators are worst as illiteracy is prevalent and poverty widespread. The KPEC would fundamentally change the social and economic complexion of the area by giving the inhabitants of Khyber district constant and easy connectivity to Peshawar and down country as well as to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
According to Zahidullah Shinwari, former president of Sarhad Chamber of Commerce & Industry and a well-known industrialist from Khyber District, “It is one of the most important projects in the history of KP, especially NMTD and could be a revolutionary step in the development of the region by connecting CPEC with Afghanistan and CARs which is a $50 billion potential market for Pakistani exports. The KPEC project would immensely increase Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan and beyond. It would be instrumental in economic revival and rehabilitation of KP.”
The KPEC Component-II investments seek to facilitate improvements in the productivity of existing enterprises in tribal areas and encourage private investments in the area. Two target sectors are marble production, a sector in which NMTD has 446 processing units (which account for 20 percent of Pakistan’s total marble production); and horticulture. Both sectors have great potential for export. Although marble exports are currently limited, the mineral can fetch prices around five to ten times higher in international markets than in local markets. Fruits and vegetables, which may be further processed, already comprise a substantial share of export volume through Torkham. Both sectors have substantial participation by SMEs, and given their relatively high labour intensity, show great potential for employment of internally-displaced people (IDPs), women and youth.
According to a study conducted by consultants for National Highway Authority, the implementing agency of the KPEC, alignment has been finalised under Component-I, while actual activities to be financed under Component-II are not clear at this stage. Therefore, hybrid approach is being followed where site specific Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA) for component-I and Environmental Management Framework for activities under component-II have been prepared.
According to Adnan Saleem, Senior Urban Planner at the Provincial Urban Policy Unit, thus far no significant progress has been made on the urban development subpart of the KPEC. However, he says the project has a huge potential to trigger large-scale urbanisation with associated benefits in the region. “Therefore, it needs to be implemented on a fast pace.”
Shinwari also agrees, saying, “KPEC should be initiated as soon as possible. It is not only feasible but would also tap the huge natural resources of the area besides attracting foreign investment as well as public-private partnership. The process on KPEC implementation is slow but we are optimistic about its early commencement because it is greatly beneficial for Pakistan.”
Given the KPEC importance and its potential of economic growth, it would a historic mistake to let go the project and any laggardness and red-tape in this connection must not be allowed. Around $480 million for KPEC have already been approved by the World Bank and there is no hurdle in the swift implementation of the project.