Gilgit-Baltistan: Pakistan’s Energy Crisis and U.S. Interests

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If all goes well, then the U.S. government is to sign off on providing Islamabad with $1 billion to complete its Diamer-Bhasha dam, with the offer reportedly being finalized during the upcoming Pakistan-U.S. strategic dialogue on energy later this month. If approved, the project will be the U.S. government’s largest foreign aid project to Pakistan.

The Diamer-Bhasha dam straddles the Indus River in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region of occupied Kashmir. The Diamer-Bhasha dam when complete would both produce 4,500 megawatts of electricity as well as store 8.5 million acre feet of water that Pakistan could use for irrigation and drinking.

What is most extraordinary about Washington’s purported efforts is not only that it is willing to delve into the Pakistani energy cesspool, but it is willing to do so in an area that has been contested by Pakistan and India since 1947, the major source of Muslim guerrilla insurgency for the last 64 years.

Apparently there are elements in Washington’s bureaucracy realizing that Pakistan’s population’s increased access to reliable electricity and water sources are in fact useful corollaries to UAV strikes in wining “hearts and minds.”

It is not as if Pakistan’s energy woes are new – since 2006 Pakistani energy analysts have warned of an impending energy crisis. Pakistan’s government has implemented rolling blackouts across the country and earlier this year government officials announced that it will take at least seven years to build up electrical generation capacity to support the entire country. The black outs have taken a huge economic toll on Pakistan’s textile industry and have resulted in plant shutdowns and layoffs.

Any U.S. aid will doubtless have a fair percentage of its money “diverted” – President Zadari, when merely Prime Minister Bennazir Bhutto’s husband, was known as “Mr. Ten Percent’ for his alleged take on foreign projects.

That said, the issue remains one of “hearts and minds,” as the U.S., according to Holbrooke’s comments, now increasingly view the “Ak-Pak” theater of military operations as a unified one.

So, what can Islamabad offer its disaffected population to support the central authorities?

Electricity and access to water could go a long way towards convincing incipient jihadis that their government does indeed care, and that supporting it as opposed to tacking it could produce further benefits.

Consider – the Obama administration for fiscal year 2012 is requesting $120 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, a figure which pales into insignificance alongside the modest $1 billion allocated to complete Pakistan’s Diamer-Bhasha dam.

By. John C.K. Daly of OilPrice.com

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