Pakistan flips and flops on Bhasha Dam, then puts it on hold

In a series of gaffes, Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar first announced on 20th August that his government had supposedly arranged funds for the 4500 MW Diamer-Bhasha Dam estimated at a cost of 12 billion dollars.

Pakistan media reported that The World Bank (WB) had withdrawn its condition of seeking a no-objection certificate (NOC) from India for releasing funds for the dam.

Finance Minister Dar said,” We have convinced the WB that it is not legally necessary to seek the NOC from a neighboring country” (read India).

If such a waiver had indeed been sought and provided, only Dar was aware of it. Neither India, nor the World Bank, was aware of any change in the status of the proposed dam and it’s funding. No multilateral lending agency can fund projects in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or Azad Kashmir as Pakistan calls it, because the ownership of the area is disputed.

For the past eleven years, the Pakistani Government has been contesting this clause. While India has not given up its legitimate right over PoK and still considers Pakistan an illegal occupier of the land, its position on the dam is ambiguous. One source said that so long as the project proposals legally state that it is located in an area, which is disputed between India and Pakistan and its final disposition, is for parties to the dispute to settle and the project is meant for developmental assistance to Kashmiris, and then, India could take a favorable approach.

On the other hand, India could also hold back the NOC and create ‘a situation’ but it could not really block a project because it does not have the weightage in votes. It also would not like to internationalize the issue but slipping in an NOC in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir when the LoC was heating up would not have been politically prudent.

Hence Dar’s bombast came as a surprise. Then, came step two of the flip flop: Within a week of making that statement, the Pakistani Finance Minister made a quick turn around and said that a study needs to be conducted on the Diamer-Bhasha project, which would take two to three years so Pakistan would instead begin with the six billion dollar Dasu Hydropower project.

Experts in Pakistan expressed surprise at the flip flop because supposedly all feasibility studies on the Diamer-Bhasha dam are complete and even the engineering on the dam has been worked out so Dar’s claim that it needs to go back to the drawing stage was a complete eyewash. They say that the PML-N government has come under World Bank pressure to shelve the Bhasha dam and instead begin work on the cheaper project: the six billion dollar Dasu Hydropower project.

The mystery intensified with one Pakistan media report claiming that a former chairman WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority) had circulated a note to all concerned that the World Bank did not want the construction of the Bhasha Dam though the ADB and Friends of Democratic Pakistan were willing to finance the project.

Earlier the Pakistani Finance Minister with a lot of grandstanding even quoted ADB Vice President Xiaoyu Zhao supposedly about the Diamer Bhasha Dam in a statement which read: “We have now moved ahead and work to find a way to structure it and we are already looking at various models in this regard.” Whether it was a misinterpretation or deliberate quibbling is not clear.

But after two weeks of awkward statements Diamer-Bhasha has been put on hold and work is to begin on the 4,320MW Dasu project instead, as advised by the World Bank in the first place.

In March this year, the PPP government had announced that the Dasu project would be priority and not the Bhasha Dam. WAPDA Chairman Raghib Abbas said, “Diamer Bhasha Dam would remain the top priority of the country, however, owing to challenging situation the government would go for construction of Dasu Dam project and WB has already assured required financing for it.”

So what the PML-N government did was nothing more than jump around and come back to exactly what the PPP government had announced earlier.

This has angered the likes of venerable professors like Hafiz Saeed who see a hidden hand, read India, in the decision taken by the Nawaz Sharif government. Speaking to Pakistani television channels he accused India of waging Water Wars against Pakistan since it is incapable of waging a conventional war.

Taking cue from the chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the language press and television anchors saw this move by the Sharif Government as yet another capitulation to India. Meanwhile in India, sources said it had nothing to do with what was essentially a storm in a tea cup in Pakistan, nothing more.

Foundation stone for the Bhasha dam had been laid twice over by General Musharraf and Prime Minister Gilani and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan had been promised a lot but no funds allocated. The head of the Kashmir National Party in PoK Abbas Butt says, “ Yes Azad Kashmir is free, it is free of water, free of electricity, free of jobs and free of all essentials of life.” (ANI)