By James Lamont and Farhan Bokhari in Lahore
Published: May 25 2011 18:02
Pakistanï¿½s main opposition leader and former prime minister has appealed
for Chinese expertise to build hydroelectric dams to help his country in
urgently overcoming crippling power ï¿½shortages.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Nawaz Sharif said Islamabad
should call on Beijing to use its infrastructure capabilities to supply
hydropower to Pakistan.
"Energy is the number one priority. We have to reform the existing
system. We should invite the Chinese to build dams [for
hydroelectricity]," he said.
"There is no time to waste. Our [parliamentary] elections are two years
away. Why canï¿½t the government do this [with China] today?"
Mr Sharif's call coincides with a request by Pakistan for China to
supply a naval port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea that may give anchorage
to vessels from both Pakistan and China.
Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan's prime minister, returned from a visit to
China last week with the promise of early delivery of 50 JF-17 fighter
Last year, Pakistan and China signed an agreement for the construction
of the Bunji dam in northern Pakistan. The Chinese counterpart was the
China Three Gorges Project ï¿½Corporation.
The Bunji dam is one of eight hydroelectric projects the government has
identified across four provinces. It will have 7,000MW capacity.
The hydroelectric plans, alongside other infrastructure projects, are
causing alarm in neighbouring India, sensitive to water issues and the
expanding influence of China.
The enthï¿½usiasm for China shows that there is bipartisan support among
the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and the ï¿½ruling Pakistan
People's party to lean on Chinese ï¿½assistance.
Beijing has steadily increased its footprint in Pakistan. It provides
nucï¿½lear expertise to help run Pakistanï¿½s power plants and has built the
Karakorum Highway that links the border with China to Pakistan's heartland.
But some diplomats say that Chinaï¿½s relationship with Pakistan is purely
commercial rather than developmental. They say that Beijing seeks
business with its neighbour rather than offering ï¿½assistance.
When premier in the 1990s, Mr Sharif was responsible for introducing a
series of economic reforms that helped Pakistan reach higher levels of
investment and economic growth. Pakistan also conducted its nuclear
tests during his rule.
Referring to recent terrorist attacks, Mr Sharif said: "Our economy is
going down the drain because of these bomb explosions, because of the
internal situation which is getting from bad to worse because of
Mr Sharif identified crippling power shortages as the other most
destabilising cause of a broken economy, saying that the business
community and population at large were "really fed up".
"In terms of economy, [the governmentï¿½s] biggest failure is energy. They
have not been able to do anything," he said.
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