To a visitor to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) travelling from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad, the Chinese presence cannot go unnoticed.
For instance, there are saffron tents of Chinese workers on the banks of the Jhelum and the Neelum rivers and signboards in the Mandarin asking drivers to slow down.
Pakistan has opened up the PoK to foreign investment after the 2005 earthquake, which left 80,000 people dead.
From offices to schools and from medical colleges to power projects, foreign countries are rebuilding the PoK capital, with China taking the lead in developing road infrastructure and building major power projects, along with the Water and Power Development Authority of Pakistan.
The Rs. 274.88-billion Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project will generate 969 MW, enough to solve the severe power shortage in the PoK and the neighbouring Islamabad.
The biggest is the Kohala project, which is set to generate 1,100 MW. By 2020, Pakistan aims to generate around 2,569 MW in the PoK. At least 15 smaller power projects are being implemented here.
“Around 3,000 Chinese workers are stationed in Azad Kashmir [the PoK]. The three power projects are set to generate huge revenues,” Raja Farooq Haider, 60, former Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the PoK, told The Hindu . “Chinese workers here take help from interpreters. They come to our markets but avoid mingling with the population.”
Mr. Haider, a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the main contender for Prime Minister in the upcoming elections, wants Pakistan to renegotiate revenue share once the projects are completed. “We want revenue share at the source, and not royalty anymore. Also, the charges per unit of consumption should be dropped further,” he said.
China has already invested in a big way in constructing the 1,300-km Karakoram Highway that runs through Gilgit-Baltistan, part of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir. It is also widening the Jaglot-Skardu road by up to 20 metres to increase the volume of traffic.
Mr. Haider is buoyed by Pakistan’s decision to allow foreign countries to invest in the PoK. Nearly 1,000 foreign workers, besides the Chinese, are working in that part of Kashmir. Saudi Arabia is helping build a university, Turkey has come up with government offices and Kuwait has invested around $100 million in the rebuilding of infrastructure. South Koreans are also working here.
“The 2005 earthquake almost flattened this Kashmir. But Pakistan is allowing foreign countries to rebuild it,” said Khawaja Farooq Qadri, a local businessman.
Pakistan takes pride in Chinese investment in the region. “China is our all-weather friend. It is not like others who use us as a girlfriend meant for rainy days,” Senator Mushahid Hussain, a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid) said about new surface links with China.