Amid a cold war between the federal government of Pakistan (GOP) and the government of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) over the issue of building hydel power projects, China is taking a lead role in their construction in the region.

This increasing presence of Chinese companies in PoK comes amid the protest lodged by New Delhi against the “direct involvement” of China in rebuilding the Karakoram highway in Gilgit-Baltistan, the part of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State and annexed by Pakistan. The highway was severely damaged in the floods last year and the work to rebuild it is going on at fast pace.

With a huge potential to generate power mainly from two rivers — Jhelum and Neelum — flowing from Jammu and Kashmir, the GOP has paved the way for the Chinese companies for taking up work for large-scale power generation. Though there has been stiff resistance from PoK government to GOP's “unilateral” decision , but it has not hampered the work by the Chinese.

Neelum-Jhelum tunnel

The main attraction is a $2.16-billion power project being constructed by the China International Water and Electric Corporation (CIWEC). Sources said around 700 Chinese workers are stationed in Chattar Kalas, 20 km ahead of Muzaffarabad on the road connecting Kashmir with Pakistan. A barbed wire demarcates the site with the local government showing the cost of the project on a signboard outside it.

The project envisages constructing a tunnel between Neelum and Jhelum rivers (which meet at Domel in Muzaffarabad city) to divert the water from the former to the latter. The work on the tunnel is on and the people are expecting a leap forward in power generation. The project will generate 969 MW of power.

Sources maintained that there is substantial involvement of Chinese companies in raising the height of Mangla Dam in Mirpur to increase the capacity of this 1100 MW project by 12 per cent and overcome the loss of power generation due to siltation over the years since it was completed in 1967. Another project on which they are working is Kunaar-Patrind project, which will generate around 147 MW of power.

Contracts for two more upcoming projects have been awarded to China. They are the Kohala-Jhelum project of 1100 MW and Karot-Jhelum project of 720 MW. The Kohala project has, however, been controversy that it was awarded without proper bidding. Media reports suggested that setting aside the Pakistan Procurement Regulatory Authority rules and without holding International Competitive Bidding, the contract has been given to the state-owned China Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC).

However, local populace has no serious objection to Chinese presence. They are of the view that it would ease the crisis owing to power shortage. “So many countries have helped us after earthquake. Why are you allergic to China,” asked a teacher at University of “Azad Jammu and Kashmir.”

Other projects

Parallel to Chinese involvement, the Pakistan government's decision to unilaterally construct power projects in PoK had drawn flak from the PoK government. The go-ahead to the Public Private Investment Board (PPIB) of Pakistan was given by the Kashmir Council — a constitutional yet parallel government of sorts in PoK headed by Pakistan's Prime Minister. The PPIB is currently constructing nine hydel projects in PoK, capable of generating 2,700MW with a total investment of $6436 m.

Revival mode

Despite differences with Islamabad, PoK Prime Minister Sardar Attique Khan recently confirmed the involvement of foreign investors. “We are reviving our economy by bringing it on fast track. A large number of foreign investors are attracted to the region and we are providing them all the facilities. We are introducing private and public sector projects. We implemented an 84 MW power generation project in Mirpur on private-public partnership,” he was quoted as saying on his official website.

China is also learnt to be involved in laying of a number of roads in PoK. Sources said it is playing a significant role in the construction of roads such as Neelam Valley Road — from Muzaffarabad to Athmaqam — and the Tariqabad Bypass (Eastern) and Naluchi Bypass (Western).