On July 5, Pakistan and China signed the accord for construction of 700 MW Azad Pattan Hydro Project at a cost of $1.5 billion which will be entirely foreign investment. The project also envisages the creation of 3000 jobs. Earlier on June 25, 2020 an agreement for the launch of 1142 MW Kohala Hydropower Project at a cost of $2.4 billion was also signed. Prime Minister Imran Khan performed the ground breaking ceremony of the project on June 26, 2020.

Chinese state-owned power developer, China Three Gorges Corporation (CTGC), the state-owned power developer, had won the right to develop the dam on January 7, 2015. It is the largest greenfield project among China’s hydropower overseas investments to date. Located in the north-eastern region of Pakistan in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) on Jhelum River, the project has been listed as the “Actively Promoted Project” in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) since August 2014, with both the governments of China and Pakistan keen for fast-track implementation of the project for providing cheap and reliable electricity to the National Grid of Pakistan and AJK. The project is being developed on the ‘build-own-operate-transfer’ basis.

The government also signed a Rs442 billion contract with a joint venture of China Power and the Frontier Works Organisation for the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam on May 13, 2020. The project will produce 4500 MW of electricity. The Chinese state company holds 70 percent and the FWO 30 percent share in the consortium. The dam will also store 10 cubic kilometres of water that would be used for irrigation and drinking.

The idea for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha dam was floated by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1998, but could not be translated into reality due to a variety of reasons including the withdrawal of support by the Asian Development Bank and World Bank after objections raised by India, which claimed that the dam was being built in a disputed territory. India has also made covert and overt efforts to sabotage CPEC and even lodged a protest with China in that regard. It has again protested to China on its participation in the construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam, a claim firmly dismissed by the latter.

The credit for revival and going ahead with its construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam without doubt goes to the PTI government, particularly Prime Minister Imran Khan, who in view of the importance of the project, found an alternative avenue to raise required finances and asked WAPDA to have it launched without further delay. It is hoped that the project would be completed within the stipulated time.

There is no doubt that the country needs to focus more vigorously on the development of all the existing potential for producing energy from renewable resources in the future to meet its burgeoning energy needs and also to minimise the impact of climate change.

These three projects located in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are attracting such huge amounts of direct foreign investment at a time when Pakistan’s economy is in the doldrums, battered by coronavirus. This will surely prove to be a shot in the arm for Pakistan’s economy as well as the economies of both the regions, besides generating much-needed power to transform the agricultural economy into an industrial economy and ensuring energy security.

In the modern era of industrialisation, energy security is considered the lifeblood of the economies. It is about development, sustainability of the development process and enhanced standards of life. No country in the world can conceive economic progress and prosperity and the accompanying clout that it gets in managing international affairs without achieving energy security. Consequently, all the countries aspiring to join the club of developed nations put a lot of emphasis on energy security. Even the already-industrialised nations lay great emphasis on developing new sources of energy to cater to their future needs.

Unfortunately, greater reliance on fossil fuels to produce energy has created formidable challenges for all of humanity in the form of global warming and consequential climate change, which is considered to be the biggest existential threat to the dwellers of planet earth. It is estimated that 80 percent of the global energy needs are met from fossil fuels.

Renewable energy sources produce little or no global warming emissions. The other advantage of renewable energy sources is their perennial availability as against the exhaustible sources of fossil fuels. Yet another appreciable advantage is that the energy produced from them is much cheaper than the one generated through fossil fuels. Ever since the global warming and climate change issues have become the focus of developing as well as developed nations, the emphasis has rightly shifted to meeting energy needs from renewable energy sources.

For an energy-starved country like Pakistan, which has to spend huge amounts on the import of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas required for production of electricity, the significance of changing the energy mix through renewable resources can hardly be overemphasised. Pakistan is also one of the seven worst-affected countries by climate change and global warming triggered by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases—which trap heat contributing to global warming—into the atmosphere. The construction and early completion of the newly-launched hydel power projects will surely change the energy mix of the country besides accruing multiple benefits to its economy including an appreciable cut in the import bill.

According to reliable sources, the current energy mix of Pakistan is formed of 64 percent fossil fuels, 27 percent hydropower and 9 percent other renewable sources and nuclear power. That indeed is a dismal scenario at the moment. While Pakistan has strong potential for producing renewable energy, it is still far behind much of the world in developing these sources. It is a matter of great regret that a crucial project like the Kalabagh Dam fell victim to regional politics and the country was deprived of the opportunity to develop a renewable source of energy which could have gone a long way in meeting the energy needs of the country and saving it from the energy crisis that we have been facing for quite some time.

However, as they say, it is never too late. The direction has been set and now there is a need to pursue that course with unswerving determination and commitment and not allowing vested interests to derail the effort.

Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The writer is a freelance columnist.