WASHINGTON: For Pakistan, building Bhasha Dam was as important as completing the country’s nuclear programme once was, Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal told a meeting in Washington on Tuesday. “It is a matter of life and death for us now,” the minister said while explaining to an audience of US scholars and researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, why the present government was committed to this project.
“We have decided to build this dam at any cost, even if it requires us to tighten our belts.”
The Bhasha dam project, he said, was “as important as Pakistan’s nuclear programme once was, if not more”.
Mr Iqbal said he would seek the World Bank’s support for the project when he meets its president. “If the dam is not built now, in the next 10 years or so we will have a water crisis so acute that people will forget the energy crisis,” he warned.
Not building the dam, he said, would have negative consequences for entire South Asia and beyond as it would threaten Pakistan’s food security and create a new population of “millions of half-fed and unemployed people”, said the minister who also addressed members of the Pakistani media after the talks.
The government had already contacted friendly governments and international financial institutions, including the United States, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, seeking their support for the project, Mr Iqbal said, adding that the government also was trying to form an international consortium to finance the dam.
“We are determined to start the project as soon as we can,” he said. “And we hope international financers realise the seriousness of the situation.”
The minister said that there’s a national consensus in Pakistan on this issue as all political parties were backing the government’s decision to build the dam “for a better tomorrow”. The dam, he said, was “a safety net” to prevent a “drought like situation and to protect our future generations”.
Responding to a question, the minister advised all political parties, including Tehreek-i-Insaf, not to exploit the situation arising out of Hakeemullah Mehsud’s elimination for domestic political gains. “This is not an issue to exploit for political gains,” he said, “and this is not the time.”
The country, he said, was passing through a very difficult phase and “adventurism at this stage will have very dangerous results”.
Mr Iqbal said that Imran Khan also had participated in the all-party conference that decided to engage the Taliban in peace talks and since the government was committed to the decisions taken at the APC, he should back the government.
Without naming the United States, the minister urged “all friendly nations to refrain from actions that could threaten peace and stability in the region”.