Pakistan may change name of Bhash Dam

  • China wants to avoid Indian objections on mega projects

China has reportedly asked Pakistan to change name of the much-delayed Diamar Bhasha Dam to avoid rising Indian objections on the mega projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), being initiated in the Gilgit Baltistan region.

According to sources, Chinese side negotiating for the investment of $15 billion on the mega projects wants the name of the dam as Bhasha Dam excluding the name of Diamar, a district of Gilgit Baltistan to avoid ‘reservations’ related to the Kashmir issue.

The condition of the change of the dam’s name is being taken an ‘easy’ task by Pakistan despite the fact that entire dam is designed to be constructed in Diamar while power houses of the project in Basha, a part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

A source familiar with the development said that China has agreed to fund the project but asked Pakistan to ensure that no local or international dispute should be attached with the mega project. “In official meetings, the Chinese side usually refers the dam as the Bhasha Dam instead of its full name,” he said.

However, official sources at the Ministry of Planning and Development could not be contacted for comments. The change of the name in papers may be strongly objected by Gilgit Baltistan especially residents of Diamar who are already demanding royalty of the project.

According a retired bureaucrat of the area, this will be highly unjustified move if identity of the area is hided despite their sacrifices by vacating their homes and native land/properties for the dam in larger interest of the country. “The national interest was not given due importance by others in Kalabagh Dam’s case,” he said.

He opined that there was no need to worry about Indian objection since Diamar has ‘never’ been part of Kashmir and it was annexed to Pakistan in 1951 through a bilateral agreement. Since the dame is being constructed on territorial limits of Gilgit Baltistan, the credit or full identity of the dam should not be different with the ground reality, he said.

It may recall here that the government has almost distributed Rs 58 billion in terms of the land compensation to the dam victims in Diamar so far and land acquisition process was almost complete. Recently, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal had said that Diamar Bhasha Dam would be constructed under CPEC.

He said that a Chinese company was shortlisted and a local partner would build the dam over a 10-year period, and work should begin in the next financial year. He also said that the dam was the most critical for food security in Pakistan, so is a very high priority project for Pakistan.

Pakistan and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in December to help fund and develop Pakistan’s Indus Basin dams, though no timelines have been released. Pakistan estimates there is 40,000 megawatts of hydro potential.

The Diamer Bhasha Dam and reservoir would displace more than 4,200 families in nearby areas and submerge a large section of the Karakoram Highway, Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority estimates.

The minister said that Pakistani and Chinese engineers were also surveying other projects, including the 7,100mw Bunji hydro power project that would be the first in the cascade that stretches down to the Tarbela Dam near Islamabad.