Editorial: U.S. faces a big dam problem in Pakistan
By the Editorial Board | Posted: Monday, August 22, 2011 12:00 am
Last week, the McClatchy newspapers reported that the Obama
administration is considering providing seed money for a $12 billion
hydroelectric dam on the Indus River in northernmost Pakistan.
Just wait for Congress to get back from vacation. A lot of them,
Republicans and Democrats alike, are going to hate this idea.
It may be too late; the money would come from a $7.5 billion, five-year
civilian aid authorization that Congress passed in 2009. Sponsored by
Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Richard
Lugar of Indiana, the money is intended to shore up America's reputation
among the Pakistani people.
No doubt that won't stop some in Congress from screaming. Just because
the spending is authorized, it doesn't mean it has to be spent. And
since the Kerry-Lugar fund was passed in 2009, U.S. relations with
Pakistan steadily have gone downhill.
In fact, the total project footprint of the proposed Diamer-Bhasha Dam
begins on the Karakoram Highway just outside of Abbottabad — where Osama
bin Laden was hiding, right under the noses of the Pakistani military,
before he was killed on May 1.
The United States would provide about $200 million to get the ball
rolling. The Pakistani government hopes that would attract private
investors and help from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Money isn't the only problem facing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam. Its location
is in the mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan region, adjacent to the
Jammu-Kashmir state that India administers and claims as its territory.
The entire border area, including Gilgit-Baltistan, has been in dispute
since the India-Pakistan partition of in 1947. In any discussion of
where a nuclear war might start, Kashmir is always a contender.
And then there is China, India's not-so-friendly neighbor to the north.
China is investing heavily in Pakistan. For India, the only thing worse
than having the United States and the World Bank helping to build a dam
in Pakistan would be for the Chinese to build it.
There's little doubt that had the Diamer-Bhasha Dam been in place over
the last two years, it would have mitigated flooding that killed an
estimated 2,000 Pakistanis. Nor is there any doubt that energy-starved
Pakistanis could use the 4,500 megawatts of power that the 890-foot-tall
dam would generate.
Ninety percent of the $20.7 billion that the United States has sent to
Pakistan to buy its cooperation in the War on Terror has gone to the
Pakistani military, though military aid lately has been suspended.
Meanwhile, the Chinese buy friends in Pakistan by building nuclear power
plants. The Saudis build mosques and sell them cheap oil. The United
States sends them F-16s and bombs them from drone aircraft. We could use
some good PR in the civilian population.
But here's the rub: Pakistan could build its own dam if it reformed its
tax structure. The Carnegie Endowment has estimated that 10 million
Pakistanis earn more than $3,488 a year and thus should pay income
taxes. Only 1 in 4 does. Tax-dodging is the national pastime,
particularly among the elite, particularly among the members of Parliament.
That's an issue we'd like to see Congress debate.
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