Opinion: Trouble between old friends?

Written By: Monika Chansoria
Delhi, India Published: Aug 06, 2018, 03:46 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Story highlights

China’s Belt and Road Initiative at large, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, in particular, have assumed the shape of becoming the official carrier for Beijing to expand its mounting footprint in the Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK region.

Pakistan is facing global rejection over the Diamer-Bhasha mega-hydroelectric power project located in the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region under Pakistan’s illegal occupation. Attempts to procure funding for the mega-project are becoming a nightmare for its already plagued economy. Following funding refusals by the World Bank as well as the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Pakistan began circulating claims that China has offered to build the dam by making it a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to the extent that Pakistan’s Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that Islamabad expects China to fund the project.

In what can best be described as a snub from China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in December 2017, the official Xinhua News Agency, quoting NDRC, reported that China was not taking ownership and/or operation of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. It further rejected the ‘inaccurate’ reports emerging in Pakistan’s media that China ‘placed strict conditions, including ownership of the project’. NDRC sought to clarify on the record that the Diamer-Bhasha project is not included in the list of energy projects under CPEC.

Having being left globally isolated and abandoned, in a latest July 2018 directive, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has asked for the construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam to begin immediately, while appealing to the general public to donate for the cause — assuring that donations would go in a Fund set up at the State Bank of Pakistan, and the source of income for these donations shall not be questioned. With the announcement that construction work on the Diamer-Bhasha project would start in the fiscal year 2018-19, the Supreme Court has asked for a committee to be constituted under the chairmanship of Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to monitor the progress of construction.

To be built in the Bhasha area, the dam is proposed on the Indus River — 165 km downstream of Gilgit and 40 km downstream of Chilas. The project has a gross water storage capacity of 8.1 million acre-feet, aimed at mitigating downstream flooding, coupled with a power generation capacity of 4,500 MW of electricity. Consistently been hit by obstructions at multiple levels, the project’s foundation stone was laid in 2011 and slated for completion by 2016. It was also known at that point that China had agreed to grant Pakistan $121 million in supplier credit to establish a link line between the Karakoram Highway and the Bhasha Dam site to help transport heavy machinery required for construction activities.

Notwithstanding its reluctance to fund the Diamer-Bhasha project, China evidently has kept close focus on exploiting the huge hydro-electric power potential of the region with additional projects that it’s officially funding as part of the CPEC corridor — namely, the Phandar Hydropower Station with an installed capacity of 80 MW and the Gilgit KIU Hydropower project with an installed capacity of 100 MW, both located inside Gilgit Baltistan.

The repeated delay continued with global multilateral lenders for the Diamer-Bhasha project. In 2013, the ADB attempted to rope in the World Bank to co-finance the project. Although Pakistan was banking on the ADB as the lead financier for the massive $14 billion worth ‘strategic project’, the ADB declined to release the funds for the Diamer-Bhasha dam project in October 2016, calling for governance reforms. While the ADB was reportedly providing an average of $1.5 billion to Pakistan annually, it constantly reiterated that Pakistan should seek improvements in implementing high standards for disbursement and timely construction.

What emerges perhaps most notably is that the Diamer-Bhasha project has emerged as a classic trademark project which symbolises violation of international norms and rule of law when it comes to the core subject of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Given that many CPEC projects, which are part of the BRI, are located in parts of Jammu and Kashmir, the Diamer-Bhasha project, or any other CPEC project for that matter, directly violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In reference to the Belt and Road Initiative, China needs to acknowledge that CPEC cannot be accepted as a connectivity initiative since it infringes these fundamental and universally recognised norms, principles, and laws. It is precisely for these reasons that the World Bank demanded a No-Objection Certificate from India when Pakistan approached it for funding for the Gilgit-Baltistan based Diamer-Bhasha hydroelectric project.

The classical description of sovereignty wherein it is regarded as a singular, unified concept, implying supreme political authority, no two or more entities could lay the claim to be sovereign within the same defined space. Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir area are classically symbolic of the above in the contemporary period.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative at large, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, in particular, have assumed the shape of becoming the official carrier for Beijing to expand its mounting footprint in the Gilgit-Baltistan and PoK region, and are a testament to China’s aggressive engagement strategy in the region. What needs to be highlighted and countered is that the BRI and CPEC projects in these regions blatantly violate and abuse globally established rules, norms and foundational principles. 

(Monika Chansoria is a Tokyo-based Senior Visiting Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA))

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article.)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)


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