China and Pakistan have launched a luxury bus service passing through Pakistan-administered Kashmir from Lahore to Kashgar city in China’s Xinjiang province, following India’s objections with regard to the route, PTI reported.
On Monday night, the bus service began its first journey from Gulberg in Lahore and comes under the countries’ initiative to connect via road under the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The CPEC was launched in 2015 and is a planned network of roads, railways and energy projects linking China’s resource-rich Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region with Pakistan’s strategic Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.
The bus service was due to begin the previous Saturday. However, it was rescheduled for Monday following intense agitations over the acquittal of Christian woman Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case.
Chairman of Pakistan Economic Forum Humayun Iqbal Shami called it a big day in relations between Pakistan and China.
“The countries which carry better and convenient means of communication between them have more opportunities of strengthening people-to-people contacts,” he said.
The bus will take 36 hours from Lahore to reach the Xinjiang province in China’s far west.
The Lahore-Kashgar bus will run four days – Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday – a week from Lahore and will be available from Kashgar on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The bus will have five stopovers before crossing into China at Khunjerab and will require a valid visa and ID card.
The one-way fare is Rs 13,000, while a round trip will cost Rs 23,000.
A private bus service – Shuja Express – is plying 15-seater luxurious buses on the route. Passengers are allowed 20 kilogramme of luggage and will be charged more in case of additional weight. The cost of food and rest area in Gilgit is included in the ticket price.
Last week, India had lodged strong protests with China and Pakistan against the proposed bus service and had called it “India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang defended the bus service, saying its cooperation with Islamabad has nothing to do with the territorial dispute and will not change its principled stance on the Kashmir issue.
Pakistan rejected protests by India against the bus service to China.
“We reject the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) purported protest and statement regarding bus service through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),” Pakistan’s Foreign Office said.