Repairing Another Crack in the CPEC

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Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the ISI chief Lt General Faiz Hamid have had their “strategic meetings” with Chinese counterparts on a variety of issues. They have assured China of addressing their key concerns over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects in the context of the July 14 Dasu incident in which nine Chinese workers had died. Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) Chairman, Lt Gen (retd) Muzammil Hussain also called on Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong on Friday and discussed the matters relating to the resumption of construction at Dasu dam. So, we can see all efforts are on for repairing another crack in the CPEC and Sino-Pak relations.
The Dasu incident has once again opened a Pandora’s box of domestic security measures for the foreign workers in Pakistan. Some of the international media, especially the Indian channels, have put in every effort to blow it up; linking it to Pakistan’s incapacity to provide security to foreign workers. The incident consumed 13 lives, including nine Chinese nationals.
Firstly, the sad incident was manhandled by the government officials who kept on giving conflicting statements. This occurred repeatedly despite having no factual position. Strangely, those sitting in government ranks do not feel ashamed for giving wrong or twisted information. They only need a camera in front of them to yell anything; without realising the consequences for the country’s image on the global screen and diplomatic relations.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid is one of the most senior politicians in the country. Still, he has to learn political and diplomatic maturity. His (and others) statements on the incident were quite confusing and chaotic like always. There should be some mechanism to collect, scrutinise and decipher the information before it is announced, responded to or disseminated by any government official. We are said to be very close to some of the most disciplined countries but unfortunately, we haven’t been able to learn anything from them. Behaving more responsibly would not only give the right information to the nation and other stakeholders but also stop the spread of confusion and chaos.
The Dasu incident is so crucial and critical for the Chinese government that it sent a 15-member team of Chinese investigators to visited the site with Pakistan’s security agency officials. Pakistan mentioned that “The investigation of the event is at its final stages and the highest institutions of Pakistan are investigating it. Fifteen individuals from China have been included [in the investigation] as well.”
On the other hand, the interior minister “completely reassured the Chinese government that the culprits, hidden hands and enemies of CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and China-Pakistan friendship would never be forgiven at any cost.”
The same rhetoric has once again emanated from Pakistan, this time for China.
The incident happened in Upper Kohistan where Chinese workers were being moved to an under-construction tunnel of the 4,320-megawatt Dasu hydropower project. The bus fell into a ravine after an explosion last Wednesday. This development has put a big question mark on the security of more than 60 thousand Chinese workers engaged in the CPEC and other projects. About 2500 Chinese workers deployed on the Dasu Hydropower Project have stopped the construction.
The World Bank approved US$ 3787.70 million for the Dasu Hydropower Project on June 10, 2014. Managed by the Federal Ministry of Water and Power, the construction on the project had to take off in 2017 but it was delayed for two years. It has to affect the actual loan closing date of May 31, 2024, besides raising the cost of the construction as an additional amount of US$ 700 was approved in March 2020 for the project.
Long delays are usual for the development projects in Pakistan. The Dasu incident is feared to affect the construction work on the project that is already lagging for two years. It is also feared that China would pull out its workers if their concerns are not addressed immediately and up to the satisfaction of the Chinese companies and authorities. However, the Ministry of Interior has also asked the security agencies to increase the protection of Chinese workers in Pakistan on the grave concerns and apprehensions of the Chinese government about the safety of their workers.
The incident seems to be preplanned
to dent the Pakistan-China development partnership that has received more hype and success recently despite Covid-19. It took place two days before the scheduled meeting of the Joint Coordination Committee of CPEC that was subsequently postponed.
One observation by the Pakistan government is that the Dasu incident was a terrorist activity by the Indian spy agency RAW but it has yet to come up with some evidence to prove its stance. Some are pointing fingers at the security lapses while some have termed the incident as a consequence of flawed management. Others have questioned why such an incident did not happen at the sites of Mohmand and Bhasha dams, which are said to be the more vulnerable places. Why was only Dasu subjected to protests and threats in the past? Why is the same Dasu now a victim of terrorism?
We should appreciate that the Chinese company, China Gezhouba Group Company (CGGC), has withdrawn the notification of termination of 2500 Pakistani employees after the “competent authority” [certainly of Pakistan government] had disapproved the notification of employment contract termination of Dasu Hydro Power Project issued on July 16, 2021. In fact, the CGGC wanted to completely shut down the construction work after the incident.

The writer is a freelance journalist and a broadcaster. He is Director (Devcom-Pakistan). He can be reached at devcom.pakistan@gmail.com and tweets @EmmayeSyed.