The Karakoram Highway with a total length of 1,300 km connects the Pakistani provinces of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan with China’s western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. On the Chinese side it becomes the China National Highway 314. It is the main artery between China and Pakistan since it is the only overland link between the two countries. The highway passes through the Karakoram mountain range at an elevation of 4,714 meters making it a popular tourist attraction. It was built by the governments of Pakistan and China in 1959 and opened in 1979. About 810 Pakistanis and about 200 Chinese workers lost their lives during the construction work. Landslides, earthquakes and floods are not uncommon in the region, frequently damaging parts of the highway. A reconstruction and upgrade of the Karakoram Highway is underway under the framework of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is said to be essential in the economic success of the Gwadar port. The reconstruction and upgrade is divided in different parts and phases.
Karakoram Highway (N-35 or National Highway 35)
Transport (Road Infrastructure)
Kashgar, Xingjiang China / Hasan Abdal, Punjab Pakistan
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
Different parts of Karakoram Highway
Hasan Abdal-Havelian: 54 km, upgraded to a 6-lane highway which upon completion will be referred to as E-35 expressway, or Hazara Motorway,
Thakot-Havelian: 137 km, to be partly upgraded to a 4-lane dual carriageway and a 2-lane highway. The upgrade of this section is also known as Phase II,
Thakot-Raikot: 279 km, some sections will be completely rebuilt, some only upgraded. Within this section fours dams are planned,
Gilgit-Skardu: 175 km, to be upgraded to a 4-lane Highway.
Phase II comprises of upgrading and reconstruction of the section from Thakot-Havelian: Ground breaking ceremony took place April 28, 2016.
Thakot-Raikot: Completed January 2017
On July 5, 2013 Li Keqiang and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif signed a memorandum of understanding stating the establishment of a joint committee to oversee the upgrade and realignment of the Karakoram Highway.
Section Havelian-Abbodtabad-Mansehra May, 2018
Thakot-Havelian: December, 2019
Financing, engineering design, procurements, construction
Projected Total Project Costs
USD 1,3 billion for the Thakot-Havelian section
China’s Export-Import Bank provides a low interest rate (around 1,6 percent) concessional loan, which covers part of the costs of the upgrading and reconstruction of certain highway sections. The Thakot-Havelian section is 90 percent financed through a loan by China’s Export-Import Bank. The China Development Bank will also finance part of the reconstruction of the Hasan Abdal-Raikot section. In December 2017 China stopped funding for construction of the section Raikot-Thakot, with referring to high-level of corruption.
Pakistan National Highway Authority (NHA)
Due to the nature of the concessionary loans contracts have been awarded on a government-to-government basis not complying with international competitive bidding standards. Chinese firms received the contracts for the engineering design, procurements and construction.
The Karakoram Security Force, which was established in 2008 to monitor security on the highway but has by now been incorporated into the regular police force, is responsible for the safety of Chinese projects along the Karakoram Highway. Nevertheless, security concerns remain due to attacks on foreigners.
Due to the high altitude of parts of the highway as well as its narrow and curvy roads fatal accidents are frequent on the Karakoram Highway. In order for the Highway to deal with a more frequent CPEC traffic the extension and upgrading of the Karakoram Highway is essential.
Additional Project Information
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The highway cuts through the collision zone between the Eurasian and Indian plates, where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan come within 250 kilometres (160 mi) of each other. Owing largely to the extremely sensitive state of the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, the Karakoram Highway has strategic and military importance to these nations but particularly Pakistan and China. The border crossing between Pakistan and China is only open during the summer months.