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EDITORIAL: The water resources ministry's revelation, before the National Assembly's standing committee on water resources, that work on Dasu Dam hasn't resumed since the suicide attack on Chinese workers on July 14 is very bad news for Pakistan. First, the Chinese government was upset that Pakistani authorities tried to downplay the incident by suggesting that the bus carrying the workers had plunged into a valley somehow on its own. And only later, when according to a few reports the Chinese themselves presented evidence confirming a suicide attack, did local agencies confirm it and spring into action. At least that's what the headlines say. But Beijing is clearly not very impressed with the progress. Because, secondly, another issue that hasn't been resolved is compensation for killed workers, which has lingered long enough for China to simply refuse to turn the switch back on.

The first couple of questions such things raise, of course, are why has this happened and, even worse, why hasn't anything been done about it in all this time? Surely, the government doesn't need to be reminded that the Chinese stepped back after the attack on their workers at the Mohmand Dam as well, and only very high-level diplomatic engagement was able to untangle that particular knot. Secretary Water Resources Dr Shahzeb Khan Bangash informed the committee that negotiations with the Chinese were under way, but that was hardly breaking news because the impasse has occurred despite these talks, which have lasted almost three months now. Surely that means that, at least in the Dasu Dam case although work on most if not all mega hydropower projects is paused for the moment, whatever compensation we have offered not is agreeable to them. And since we need them to work on our dam more than they need to come here and do that work, why are we taking so long to come to an agreement that will, at least, get the work restarted?

This logjam will soon cause many secondary problems as well. It's not just that work on the dam has stopped, it's that the entire logistical supply chain has to be put on hold as well; something that makes the fate of payments already made very uncertain. And since markets hate nothing more than uncertainty, not even bad news, this can soon become a lose-lose situation for everybody. All this wasted time is running into serious money, and gracious though the Chinese "iron brothers" are, they are not going to foot this bill. Then there's the politics. The perception that Beijing's patience is wearing thin, not just because of all the attacks but also slow progress on CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), is also a very serious concern.

China is very important for us because it is our biggest foreign direct investor and also our shield when international pressure picks up. Therefore, shocking as it is that the Dasu Dam compensation talks have dragged on inconclusively so far, Islamabad must bring this matter to a proper conclusion immediately. There's a lot more also to be done, of course, because the way the security situation is deteriorating there's no telling when the next attack on Chinese workers might occur. So, security arrangements have to be fine-tuned as well.

It's not surprising that these developments have more or less coincided with the change of guard in Afghanistan, just when Pakistan is once again in the international glare for no fault of its own. The best thing for the government to do would be to put its head down and work on its own problems. And since number-one among them is energy, something the PM himself has admitted, it would be a very good idea to get mega hydropower projects back on track. Surely, the government knows just what to do to sort these things out. And it also knows that already it might have wasted too much time.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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