A senior Pakistani official has said Islamabad has not changed a major proposed trade route that will link western China to the Arabia Sea through more than 2,000 kilometers of roads and rail tracks across Pakistan.
For the past several weeks, politicians in the western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces have been criticizing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's administration for diverting the nearly $45 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to go through Punjab.
The eastern province is considered a key support base of Sharif and already claims a large part of Pakistan's resources and dominates most national institutions.
Pervez Rashid, Pakistani information minister and top government spokesman, told RFE/RL Gandhara on February 4 that Islamabad has no plans to change the path of the corridor that will see the reconstruction of massive rail and road networks and accompanying industrial zones.
"[It] will connect Kashgar [in western China] to Gwadar [a port on the Arabian Sea in Balochistan]," he said. "It goes through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, [the city of Mianwali] in Punjab and enters Balochistan. This is the original route, which is unchanged, and we’ll work on it."
Rashid termed the alleged changes to this original route a "misunderstanding."
He said Islamabad has plans for major roads to link Punjab's capital Lahore to Karachi, Pakistan's key commercial hub and main port. "We have [existing] motorways that we want to connect to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and that is the apparent reason for this misunderstanding," he said.
But leaders from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are still not convinced. Pakistani media reported that lawmakers from the two provinces raised the issue in the upper house or senate of Pakistani Parliament on February 3 and warned that diverting the route to Punjab could put "Pakistan’s territorial integrity in jeopardy."