First bus service between countries promises to boost people-to-people contact, offer scenic journey
Islamabad: Taking Pakistan-China relations one step further, the two countries are set to launch a luxury bus service for the public and the business community.
The bus service — to connect Pakistan’s cultural hub Lahore with the Chinese city of Kashgar in Xinjiang, via Islamabad — will be launched on November 5, Muhammad Anwar, CEO of North-South Transport Network (NSTN), the company that will run the services, told Gulf News.
“The bus service is part of a larger regional plan to connect Pakistan and China through roads and railways,” Anwar said, referring to the $60 billion (Dh220 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The service will be operated by private company NSTN, under authorisation of the government of Pakistan. Anwar appreciated the support of both countries’ governments, and said the response from people has been overwhelming. “We are already receiving many calls, inquiring about tickets even before the official launch.”
Hailing the initiative, Pakistan Economic Forum Chairman Humayun Iqbal Shami said the bus service would strengthen people-to-people contact between Pakistan and China. Citing the example of Europe’s convenient train services, he said: “Pakistan and China can also introduce a similar, affordable train service to enhance tourism and business activities.”
Talking to Gulf News, Karachi-based businessman Tariq Shadaab hailed the service as a big move to facilitate Pakistan’s business community. “It will boost businesses, enhance trade and improve people-to-people connectivity,” he said.
The launch of the bus service coincides with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ongoing China visit.
‘Memorable journey’ with scenic views
NSTN’s management claims it to be a “memorable journey” as the bus passes through Pakistan’s most scenic routes in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region. Snow-capped mountains, green valleys and sparkling lakes can all be seen en route.
The luxury Lahore-Kashgar bus service will cover the one-way journey in two days (nearly 30 hours). It will run four days a week, starting Monday, Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday from Lahore to Kashgar, and similarly from Kashgar-Lahore on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The journey will start at 12pm (local time) from Lahore and the first stop will be Islamabad and the northern city of Mansehra for breakfast, and later for lunch at Besham. Travellers will be offered evening tea at Chilas and dinner at Gilgit. Passengers can enjoy some leisure time from 8pm to 2am (local time). The next day, the bus will stop at Sost for breakfast and immigration, and later at Khunjerab Pass for checking before reaching Kashgar in China.
The one-way bus fare is Rs13,000 (about $105) and the return ticket is Rs23,000 (about $190), with the cost of food included. Passengers need a valid visa and ID card and will be allowed 20kg of luggage. Special security measures have also been taken to ensure passengers’ safety.
Indian protest rejected
The news of the bus service was met with criticism across the border. India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar lodged protests with both Pakistan and China, claiming it as a violation of India’s claim over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
The Pakistan Foreign Office strongly rejected Indian protest. “We reject the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ purported protest and statement regarding the bus service through CPEC. India’s repeated regurgitation of claims over India-held Kashmir can neither change the facts of history, nor the legality of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” FO observed.
Earlier, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also rebuffed India’s objection, saying: “CPEC is an economic cooperation initiative which targets no third country. It has nothing to do with territorial sovereignty disputes and will not affect China’s principled position on the Kashmir issue.”