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Diamer-Bhasha ‘smartest choice’ for Pakistan: US

WASHINGTON: US officials and investors pledged support for the 4,500MW Diamer-Bhasha dam on Wed­nesday, calling it Pakistan’s “smartest choice” for economic development.

The remarks, made at a one-day conference on the dam, encouraged Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to say that Pakistan would soon overcome its energy problem.

“We have demonstrated our commitment, have acquired land and done the preliminary work,” he said. “The investors should come forward with the confidence that it’s a win-win situation for them.”

Later, briefing the Pakistani media, Pakistan’s Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani said the project would recover its cost in eight years and “start giving dividends”.

“More than 30 years in the making, the Diamer-Bhasha dam has the potential to accelerate broad-based economic growth across Pakistan,” said USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah.

“By convening this meeting, we hope to unlock opportunities for US businesses and investors, which will help make the dam a reality.”

“Investment in Diamer-Bhasha dam is the smartest choice for Pakistan,” said Daniel Feldman, US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mr Feldman assured more than 120 investors and business representatives that the White House and the State Department were committed to backing Pakistan’s efforts for meeting its economic and energy needs.

The finance minister told the investors: “We will offer whatever facilities you need because we need both the dams, Bhasha and Dasu.”

Ambassador Jilani gave a brief outline of the two projects.

Diamer-Bhasha will produce 4500 MW of electricity. It can also bring about “a revolution in agriculture,” by storing 8.1 MAF of water. It can water almost 30 million acres of land and can mitigate the adverse affects of floods.

It will also support other existing projects and enhance the life of Tarbela dam by 35 years.

The government has not only acquired land for the project but also has compensated those who would be displaced.

The total number of people affected by this project will be less than those affected by the Tarbela and Mangla dams.

The government has already done a study on possible environmental and social impact of the dam while the United States will do another study.

Minister for water and power Khawja Mohammed Asif, Secretary Finance, Secretary EAD and chairman WAPDA also attended the conference.

Ambassador Jilani said that although Pakistan was still trying to overcome the security problem, “security is no more a major concern for investors.”

He clarified that nobody in the international community had taken India’s objection to the project that it was being built on a disputed land – seriously.

“It’s not an issue, here in the US or anywhere else. No country can veto this project,” the ambassador said.

“This is being built within the parameters of the Indus Water treaty.”

The ambassador pointed out that a large chunk of the $12 billion the World Bank gave for economic development in Pakistan was for the energy sector.

The government had already spent $400 million on the project, had established an authority, built a residential colony for the workers and was now working on three model villages for those who would be displaced.

“We are serious about this project and trying to complete it within the stipulated period,” he said.

At another briefing to the media, US Ambassador to Pakistan, Richard Olson, said that while “everyone acknowledges challenges in the security environment in Pakistan,” it would not affect this project.

“The country has had democracy for six years, there was successful transition of power and the current political debate was also within the Pakistani constitution,” said the Ambassador when asked if Imran Khan’s sit-in could also have an impact on the project.

“We are supporters of the constitution, democracy and the rule of law.”

David Larry Sampler, who heads the Pakistan and Afghanistan section of USAID, said the investors were aware of “ups and downs of Pakistani politics” and had done business in other similar places.

Mr Sampler also disagreed with the suggestion that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan could also affect the Bhasha dam project.

“The US is not exiting from Afghanistan. We will continue to be robust and engaged in Afghanistan,” he said. “Our interest in this region remains strong.

Greg Gottlieb, head of the USAID mission in Pakistan, said US investors were interested in a wide variety of energy projects as the United States continued to work with the country to help it overcome its energy deficiency.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2014

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