President General Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday, while inaugurating the Sust dry port, said that the high altitude facility near Pakistan-China border would bolster bilateral commerce to new levels and would facilitate the realisation of Pakistan''s potential as the hub of intra-regional trade.
The President said: "This landmark project is poised to impart further depth and strength to Pakistan-China economic and political ties as well as help expand Pakistan''s commerce linkages with the regional countries including Central Asian states." The port has been jointly built by Pakistan and China.
Musharraf spoke of Pakistan''s central geo-strategic location at the heart of regions including western parts of China, Central Asian states, Afghanistan, Iran, India, and the oil-rich Gulf countries, and envisioned a pivotal role for Pakistan in augmenting trade among them.
"Such is Pakistan''s geo-strategic strength. It would play a vital role in promoting trade between members of major regional groupings including Saarc, Economic Co-operation Organisation (ECO) and Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) as trade interaction between the regional countries has to take place through Pakistan," he said.
About the importance of the 10,000 ft high Pakistan-China Sust Dry Port, the President said that the state-of-the-art facility, an elaborate network of infrastructure being put in place across Pakistan and improvement in Karakoram Highway would provide to China shortest access to the Middle East and other world markets through Pakistan''s deep-sea ports, including Gwadar.
Pakistan, he said, would become a trade and energy corridor for China and the landlocked Central Asian countries.
The President said: "We are talking of Pakistan-China inter-connectivity in terms of energy and trade, improvement in the Karakoram Highway (KKH), development of railway link and gas and oil pipeline linkages and even fibre-optics connectivity along the KKH under one project simultaneously will open up immense prospects of trade and economic growth."
He said that completion of KKH was hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the world, and added that "we are capable of creating the 9th and 10th wonders in the form of railway and pipeline linkages between Pakistan and China."
He also referred to strengthening of quadrilateral arrangement between Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan while stressing the country''s importance in making use of regional opportunities for mutually beneficial economic growth.
The President was flanked by PML President Shujaat Hussain, Secretary General Mushahid Hussain, Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas Tahir Iqbal, and Advisor to PM, Dr Salman Shah.
In local perspective, President Musharraf said that the Sust Dry Port would open new vistas of employment opportunities for the people, and would lead to their socio-economic development.
"The government is committed to the uplift of the people of these beautiful areas, and I am sure that the construction of Bhasha-Diamer dam, the widening of KKH, and commencement of services at Sust Dry Port would fetch tremendous gains to the local people and bring them at par with the developed parts of the country," he said.
According to the officials, the dry port has the capacity to handle 40 Chinese containers a day, and this would be increased to 400 containers per day in the future.
President Musharraf observed that the Sust port would not only enhance trade and economic linkages between Pakistan and China but, through increased co-operation, would also help forge deeper links between their peoples.
Earlier, Dr Salman Shah told the gathering that the construction of Sust Dry Port had made it the first formal dry port linking the two countries--Pakistan and China--and added that it would prove to be an important step towards intensifying bilateral economic co-operation.
He said that China''s vast market offers great opportunities and Pakistan is centrally located to provide it a trade route to the Middle East and other world markets.
The silk route dry port, he said, currently generates Rs 714 million per year, with Pakistan importing Chinese goods worth Rs 2.4 billion and Pakistani exports amounting to Rs 180 million.
Welcoming the President, the Deputy Chief Executive of Northern Areas, Ghazanfar Ali Khan, said that the trading activity would multiply with the commencement of the new dry port facilities and added that the revenue generation would be Rs 20 billion per annum.
He drew President''s attention to some of the problems faced by the local people in terms of their rapid economic growth, and demanded relief in SMEs and agro loans to be extended to them. The Chairman of Pakistan-China Sust Dry Port Company presented traditional a long coat (Chugha) and cap to the President on the occasion.

Copyright Associated Press of Pakistan, 2006

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