PESHAWAR -- Efforts to protect the vital Karakoram Highway (KKH) are giving travellers and truck drivers more security from terrorists, kidnappers, robbers and cargo thieves.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Police in February set up a dedicated force to protect the road's users from criminals and terrorists, Hazara Regional Police Officer Mohammad Saeed Wazir told Central Asia Online.
The highway connects Gilgit-Baltistan to KP and to the rest of Pakistan.
About 200 KP police officers serve in the KKH Police Force (KPF), Wazir said, adding that they have 10 check-posts to protect vehicles on the highway.
The KPF replaces a convoy system that proved ineffective in securing the highway, he said.
KP officials set up the KPF to address the law-and-order situation, KP Inspector General of Police Nasir Khan Durrani told Central Asia Online.
"The KPF was set up to prevent attacks on buses and cars," Durrani said. "In the past many people were killed on their way to Gilgit-Baltistan."
KPF might be too small
To co-ordinate the protection of KKH users, police in every KKH-traversed district in Hazara Division have orders to rush to the scene if the KPF needs assistance.
The KKH attracts tourists throughout the summer as they seek scenic beauty in the mountains and respite from summer heat. It also lies on a busy international trading route.
The KPF, with only 200 officers, might be too small to guard the 390km of highway for which it is responsible.
KP Police have approached both the federal and KP governments for more funds and personnel, Muhammad Afzal, a superintendent of police serving at the KP Police central office in Peshawar, told Central Asia Online.
"The force needs more vehicles for patrolling the route, properly built check-posts and more officers," he said.
The KP Police are requesting money to hire 532 more officers and to build 20 more check-posts on the KKH, Durrani told Central Asia Online.
Better security, improved route could attract toursists
Better security means more tourists and more commerce, especially international commerce, observers hope.
"The federal and provincial governments should provide more funds and vehicles and hire more personnel to protect the KKH, where militant attacks have killed many people in the past," Qaisar Khan of Peshawar, a journalist for the Urdu-language daily Jang, told Central Asia Online.
A safer KKH will bring more tourists to Hazara Division and to Gilgit-Baltistan, he said.
KP officials are working to make that vision a reality.
At the same time, the Pakistani government is working on more infrastructure to serve travellers and truck drivers in the area.
Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in November 2014 inaugurated construction of the Rs. 30 billion (US $286.3m) Abbottabad Attock Highway, which is meant to provide an alternative route for KP residents heading to and from Hazara District and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Completion of the 60km-long highway is expected in 2017.