Karakorum Highway... Or Killerway?

Karakorum Highway... Or Killerway?
This 1300 km long highway connects the north of Pakistan (Gilgit Baltistan) with Pakistan. With the construction of this highway economic activity in Gilgit Baltistan starts to boost. But in the last few years road accidents on the KKH have increased. This has become serious issue for the travellers of KKH, such as on March 5 2023 where passenger bus bounded to Skardu had an accident at KKH near to Chilas in which three people died and 22 injured and on 9th February 2023 more than twenty people lost their lives at KKH due to the collision of a high-speed bus and a car.

The increasing trend of road incidents at KKH can be linked to the lack of proper public transportation policy. In the developed countries, policies for road safety, especially to the hilly and mountainous, are formulated and implemented but in Pakistan, there is no such mechanism. In 1965, the Pakistan transportation ordinance was introduced and still it is implementing without any amendment besides huge changes in the transportation sector from 1965 to 2023.

In the case of Gilgit Baltistan, there is no such thing as transportation governance. In developed areas special for mountainous and hilly areas transportation policies are designed very carefully. In Gilgit Baltistan, there is no system which can test the fitness of the drivers and vehicles. In the past NATCO was the only Transport Company in Gilgit Baltistan, now more than dozen private companies are running on KKH on daily basis. By Law, every public transport carriers should carry inspection of carriers after every six months. But in the case of Gilgit Baltistan, there is no regulatory body which ensures the fitness of the vehicles. In addition to this in Gilgit Baltistan during issuing of driver licenses, there is no testing mechanism. After submission of a certain amount of fee and form, driving licenses are issued.

When a driver completes one trip from Gilgit Baltistan to Rawalpindi, without any proper rest and sleep, the very next day he starts his trip from Rawalpindi to Gilgit Baltistan. This is one of the main reasons for the increasing number of road accidents on the KKH. Besides this at KKH, there are many dangerous and sharp turning points, drivers drive buses and vehicles at very high speeds. Such careless acts by drivers are also associated with the increasing trend of road accidents.

Only transportation companies and drivers are not only responsible for the increasing number of road accidents. The Government of Gilgit Baltistan along with different national authorities such as the National Highway Authority (NHA) and FWO are also equally responsible for losing precious human life in KKH road accidents.

Questions arise here, why do a large number of people from Gilgit Baltistan travel to down areas of Pakistan? The biggest reason is the failure of the government in providing basic necessities of life such as quality education, and health facilities. Due to lack of the educational and health facilities people travel from Gilgit Baltistan. As most people belong to low middle income, they use buses as a mode of travel. Due to this point, the government of Gilgit Baltistan is responsible for the increasing number of road accidents.

As the construction and repair of KKH come under the control of FWO and NHA. The lack of international standards in the construction and repair of roads is also responsible for accidents. During the construction of roads in hilly and mountainous signboards are placed at dangerous points, but unfortunately, there are on signboards are displayed.

Reforms in the transportation governance of Gilgit Baltistan have become necessary. The government needs to adopt action mechanism instead of reaction mechanism. After the such type of any event, the government of Gilgit Baltistan follows reaction mechanism such as sealing the victim bus company. As the formulation of transportation policies comes under the control of the provincial government. There is also a need to design proper transport consultants with experts and implement the policies as soon as possible.

The excise and taxation authority of Gilgit Baltistan is also the transport regulatory authority. Capacity development, training and programs have become necessary for this authority. This authority should be trained to check the fitness of the vehicles and the drivers according to the laws. The driver licensing mechanism should be issued after proper skills assessment. To deal with over-speed issues scientific speed checkers need to be installed at every dangerous and sharp point. Due to the low wage of drivers, they are compelled to complete two ways trips without proper rest, the government along with transport companies need to develop a salary package which increases after some time interval. For the training of drivers, special training programs and seminars also make it necessary for the drivers to travel at KKH.


Wajhullah Fahim is a research student at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad.