China temporarily reopens Khunjerab Pass to facilitate trade activities

Gilgit: The Chinese government has temporarily reopened the Khunjerab Pass, a crucial northern land route connecting China and Pakistan, officials here said.

This reopening, scheduled from January 2 to January 16, is primarily intended to facilitate trade activities. Situated at an elevation exceeding 4,600 meters (15,000 feet) above sea level, the Khunjerab Pass serves as the highest paved international border, linking Pakistan and China. The pass is conventionally closed from November to March each year due to extreme cold weather conditions.

The border crossing, which links Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) autonomous region with China’s Xinjiang, had previously reopened in April 2023 after nearly three years of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

China and Pakistan, being major allies, are engaged in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a significant project under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with over US $ 65 billion pledged for infrastructure development in Pakistan.

During a visit to China in October of the same year, Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar had announced plans to transform Khunjerab Pass into an ‘all-weather’ border. However, the pass has remained closed since December 1 due to harsh winter weather.

GB Collector Customs Mohammad Arshad Khan said China had agreed to open the border during the specified period (January 2-16).

This temporary reopening aims to allow the passage of a few Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) consignments and address the issue of Chinese containers stranded on the Pakistani side since December 1.

TIR is an international customs transit system that simplifies border procedures for road transport, reducing the administrative burden for customs authorities.

According to a letter issued by the Chinese embassy in Pakistan, only transportation vehicles, drivers, and cargoes will be permitted to pass during this period. Approximately 25 empty containers, along with Chinese drivers who were stranded in Pakistan, are expected to cross the Khunjerab border into China.

Around 22 transit consignments under TIR will move from Pakistan to China and the Central Asian Republics (CARs), while three export consignments and eight project consignments meant for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam are set to traverse the border.

Mehboob Rabbani, a member of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) from GB, highlighted the benefits of the temporary opening for traders.

He noted that numerous containers had been stranded on both sides of the border since December 1, following Pakistan’s announcement that the pass would remain open throughout the year.

Rabbani anticipates the arrival of stranded goods and foresees positive impacts on local laborers and transporters due to the resumption of business activities.