HBL is the standout winner of this award, for four connected reasons. First, because HBL is the biggest bank in Pakistan. Second, it’s the biggest provider of infrastructure financing in Pakistan. Third, it is clearly China’s most-trusted local commercial banking partner in south Asia – see our award for best regional bank of the year for BRI. And fourth, because Pakistan is the beating heart of China’s Belt and Road Initiative – no country has benefited more, or bought in so deeply, to president Xi Jinping’s vision of a new geopolitical trade map that starts in China, but ends up pretty much anywhere in Africa, Europe or Asia.
HBL, headquartered and listed in Karachi, is Pakistan’s largest lender by assets and the bank best equipped to make the BRI a reality in the region. Over the last year, it has kicked off a host of big new infrastructure projects at home, funded by itself and its mainland financial partners, and built in large part by one or more of China’s big-ticket construction and engineering firms.
Take the $2.9 billion M5 motorway that will, when completed later this year, link Multan in Punjab province with Sukkur, 400 kilometres away in Sindh. Or the $2.4 billion M3 six-lane motorway set for completion in 2019, that will connect Abdul Hakeem in the centre of the country, with the trading hub of Lahore in the northeast. Both are huge and long-standing projects (the M5 was first devised back in the early 1990s) that are only now, thanks to China’s money and HBL’s contacts and financial expertise, nearing completion. Ports, highways, power plants, transmission lines – if a big infrastructure project, imagined by China, part of BRI and located in Pakistan – is either in the pipeline or nearing completion, you can bet HBL is a key part of it.