Diamer-Bhasha Dam and India’s Discomfort

By Taimur Khan


by Taimur Khan

At the cost of sounding cliché, it needs to be reiterated that India has always been and still is, in denial about the reality that is Pakistan. For the last seven decades, the former has left no stone unturned to destabilize the latter and to create chaos and insecurity in the country.

Latest example of India’s animosity towards its western neighbour is the country’s shenanigans against the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam (DBD). Ever since the project was inaugurated back in 1998, India had embarked on a propaganda campaign against it.

India’s concerns and apprehensions regarding the DBD are actually a part of the overall ambit of its negative approach towards Pakistan. India claims that its concerns regarding the DBD are based on socio-cultural, ecological and geo-political aspects but in reality, those concerns are concocted and malicious.

In 2006, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stated that it has contested the construction of DBD because it is located in a district of the Gilgit-Baltistan region that is a part of Kashmir which is an integral part of India. Concerns by India have also been raised regarding the destruction of cultural and religio-historical assets (mainly Buddhist) that are located in the vicinity of the DBD. Another concern raised by India regarding the dam’s construction is that it is going to be constructed in a seismically sensitive zone.

As mentioned earlier, India’s concerns and apprehensions regarding the dam are grounded in malice and concocted by ill-intention due to which there are many discrepancies and weaknesses in its arguments as well.

For starters, Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Pakistan and India does not have any locus standi in any matter pertaining to the region. Secondly, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) is a disputed territory (as per United Nations Security Council Resolutions) and not an integral part of India. Claiming J&K as Indian union territory is incorrect and has no legal standing whatsoever.

Furthermore, it is incorrect to say that many cultural and religio-historical assets will be ‘destroyed’ due to the construction of DBD. There are several petroglyphs dating as far back as 6th millennium BC located in the vicinity of the dam which will be “submerged” not destroyed once the dam is built. There is a difference.

Now, moving on from highlighting India’s petty attempts to shed negative light on the construction of DBD, it is important to bring into focus the purpose and positive aspects of this project as well.

The construction and successful operation of DBD is being termed as a stimulus for Pakistan’s dwindling economy. This project will result in creation of 16,500 direct jobs along with creating employment opportunities in several other industries and sectors as well.

According to Chairman Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), the project would have a gross storage capacity of 8.1 MAF (million acre-feet) and a power generation capacity of 4,500 MG (megawatts) with an annual generation of 18.1 billion units.

The DBD will serve as one of the main storage dams in the country beside Mangla and Tarbela dams. It will not only help in reducing the downstream flooding by Indus River but will also significantly reduce the flood losses. Furthermore, the dam will have 6.4 MAF usable water-storage capacity and irrigate 1.2 million acres of agricultural land as well. This will aid in decreasing the burden on the existing main storage dams of Pakistan and extend the life of Tarbela dam by 35 years!

Adding further to the ‘pros’ of the project,  besides reducing intensity, quantum and duration of floods and reduce magnitude and frequency of floods in the River Indus downstream, it is estimated that the DBD will help augment the acute irrigation shortage in the Indus Basin that has been a result of siltation in existing water reservoirs of Pakistan.

According to Pakistan’s Minster for Water Resources Mr. Faisal Vawda, the DBD project will be completed in 2028 (as per timeline) and its cost is estimated to be around PKR. 1,406.5 billion. The construction of this dam will reduce the energy and water shortage in the country but it will also be extremely beneficial for the environment.

Existence of the dam will help in growth of trees and vegetation around the reservoir which would help in reducing adverse effects of climate change, automatically addressing the “ecological & environmental concerns” raised by other countries.

There is no denying the fact that a considerable population will be displaced and agricultural land will be submerged but the govt. of Pakistan have already taken measures to address these issues as well. Due to the dam’s construction, 31 villages (approximately 35,000 people) will be displaced and an area of 1,500 acres will be submerged.

The total financial outlay of the DBD includes special funds for the resettlement of the displaced population and adoption of confidence building measures for the social uplift of the local people that includes construction of 9 model villages, new infrastructure (such as roads, schools, health centres, clean water supply etc.), besides development of new tourism industry in close proximity to the dam area.

The new water reservoir will also provide impetus for the development of the non-existent fresh water fishing industry which will in turn boost the local economy and generate more employment for the local population.

There is no doubt that in this process, valuable historical heritage will be submerged which was significant for Pakistan’s tourism industry but in the larger scheme of things, this is a price that the country has to pay. Aside from having substantial positive trickle-down effect on different sectors of the Pakistani economy, the DBD project will ensure provision of clean energy and make power generation facilities an attractive investment opportunity for local and foreign investors as well.

India’s political, diplomatic and ecological campaign against the construction of DBD is standing on clay feet. It is a testament to India’s ill-intentions and zero-sum mind-set that cannot bear to see the economic and political stability of its neighbours.

Rather than trying to sabotage development initiatives in Pakistan and rest of its neighbours, India should first explain (to the int’l community) its tendency to blatantly ignore international law by using domestic legislations unilaterally to bring about demographic and political changes in internationally recognized disputed regions (case and point Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir – IOJK).

India needs to explain the illegal approval and fast tracked construction of six hydro projects (Sawalkote, Kwar, Pakal Dul, Bursar and Kirthai I and II) in IOJK in complete disregard for the Indus Water Treaty (IWT). Many local and international environmental groups have also showed serious concerns this Indian move regarding this move and questioned whether India has followed proper procedures in fast-tracking projects in a “highly seismic area”.

And India has the audacity to question the construction of DBD where the Pakistani govt. has done its due diligence and approved the project after deliberation with 12 top-ranked national and foreign consultancy firms such as Poyry and International-Stantec to name a few.

In the past, several international lending agencies backtracked from financing the DBD due to India’s opposition and lobbying. To India’s dismay Pakistan was able to sign a contract worth of Rs. 442 billion with China Power in May 2020 for DBD project.

This development further fanned India’s insecurities and prompted a pressure campaign, where it painted a picture of growing Chinese influence in the region to the US and other Western countries (playing on West’s – particularly the US’ insecurities vis-à-vis China).

India’s insecurity, stemming from its absolute gains world-view should not stop Pakistan from moving forward with developmental projects like the DBD. International support for the DBD and other projects such as the US funding for Satapra Dam near Skardu not only adds to India’s misplaced geo-political concerns but also gives legitimacy to Pakistan’s case regarding IOJK.

The international community should not fall prey to Indian propaganda against developmental projects in the region. Rather, it should hold India accountable for its complete disregard for international law by acting unilaterally in internationally recognized disputed territory. It should demand answers from India regarding the environmental, socio-cultural, political and strategic impacts stemming from the projects it has initiated in the disputed region.