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Pakistan unveils first metro line under China's Belt and Road Initiative amid mounting debt

By Moneycontrol News

Beijing has invested more than $50 billion as part of the CPEC to upgrade infrastructure, power and transport links across Pakistan. Travel time across Lahore, a congested city with 11 million residents, has been cut to 45 minutes.

Pakistan opened its first metro line in Lahore, following years of delays, on October 26. The Orange Line Metro was funded in part by Chinese investment and provides a major fillip to the country's underdeveloped public transport infrastructure.

The project is the first large-scale technologically advanced rail transit project under the Belt and Road Initiative and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Dawn reported.

Stretching 27 kilometres and dotted with more than two dozen stations, the Orange Line will cut travel time across the congested city in Punjab province from two-and-a-half hours by bus to 45 minutes on the metro.

The metro cost more than 300 billion rupees ($1.8 billion) and has been partially funded by China under the CPEC.

The CPEC, which aims to connect the two countries through an ambitious series of infrastructure projects, is the flagship project of China's ambitious multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Beijing has been steadily pouring cash into Pakistan, investing more than $50 billion as part of the CPEC to upgrade infrastructure, power and transport links across the country.

The line opens follows years of delays, political controversy and growing questions about the massive amount of debt Pakistan has taken on in recent years through the China-financed infrastructure projects.

Critics have also blasted the project for endangering numerous historical sites across Lahore. Residents have held a series of protests, terming the project damaging for a number of heritage sites, including the iconic Mughal-era Shalamar Gardens, where over 600 trees had to be cut to make way for the route.

Read: Pakistan approves $7.2 bn railway line upgradation project under CPEC

Despite the delays and controversies, authorities are hopeful the new line will reduce traffic congestion in the city of more than 11 million, where commuters frequently spend hours in cars or buses daily due to grinding traffic.

Punjab province Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, Transport Minister Jahanzeb Khan Khichi and Chinese Consul General Long Dingbin jointly inaugurated the project on October 26.

"This project will provide world-class facilities to the public in Lahore," Buzdar reportedly said during the inauguration ceremony.

"This is the first state-of-the-art rail project in the country which has been successfully launched. This project has given a new dimension to Pakistan-China friendship as the CPEC project is the best example of partnership between Pakistan and China," Khichi said, as per the report.

Authorities expect about 2,50,000 people will be able to travel on the metro system daily.

Meanwhile, Chinese news agency Xinhua praised the opening of the metro line, calling it the beginning of "a new stage for the South Asian country in the public transportation sector."

The BRI was launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he came to power in 2013. It aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.

The BRI is seen as an attempt by China to further its influence abroad with infrastructure projects funded by Chinese investments all over the world.

The initiative also led to allegations of smaller countries reeling under mounting Chinese debt after Sri Lanka gave up its Hambantota port in a debt swap to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease.


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