Azad Kashmir: Bringing Water, Power & Beauty to Pakistan & CPEC

AJK's Secretary Tourism Ms. Midhat Shahzad argues that while Azad Kashmir's strategic location and water resources are crucial to the success of CPEC, AJK waits for fuller integration into CPEC with the development of Mirpur, SEZ and Tetra M Road network.

Azad Kashmir and CPEC

Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) by virtue of its strategic location brings immense significance to the concept and impact of CPEC for both China and Pakistan – yet this is not fully understood by most. AJK’s northern borders lie in the foothills of Himalayas that extend towards western China through Gilgit and Baltistan (GB) with which AJK is connected through bonds of history, culture, geography -and politics.

Both AJK and GB are part of the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir as clearly defined under the UN resolutions. But this is not enough, AJK’s hills and valleys sit astride the mighty rivers feeding the plains of Punjab and providing the best locations for generating most economical hydro-electric power for the region.

Read more: China Three Gorges: World’s largest hydropower company is symbol of Pak-China friendship

Azad Kashmir and CPEC

This is the potential that is finally being realized in the form of four HPP projects: Karot, Kohala, Azad Pattan and Mahal. These projects have remained under study and debate for decades and should have been realized a long time ago. And that is why the credit goes to CPEC for breaking the decision paralysis and turning these much-needed initiatives into reality.

Karot Hydro Power Project

This 720 Mega Watt (MW) power project is an under construction run-of-river concrete-core rockfill gravity dam in Azad Kashmir, planned on Jhelum River near Karot village around 1.7 kilometers upstream of Karot Bridge and 74 km upstream of Mangla Dam. The Project site is accessible through the “Islamabad – Kahuta – Kotli Road” approximately 29 kilometers from Kahuta, and 65 kilometers from Islamabad.

The project is sponsored by the Chinese state-owned company China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG). It is the first investment project of the Silk Road Fund and is part of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. Under construction, with almost 76% work completed this plant is expected to be operational by December 2021 – will be providing electricity to Pakistan’s national grid.

Kohala Hydro Power Project

This 1124 MW project with an estimated cost of US $2397 million (US $2.4 billion) is a proposed run-of-the-river, a high head project of 316 meters located near Kohala, in Azad Kashmir. In June 2020, the project’s tripartite agreement was signed with KHCL and PPIB, work is about to start, and the project is expected to supply its electricity into the national grid by June 2026.

The diversion dam site is on Jhelum River near Sarran Village 40 km upstream from Muzaffarabad, and a 20 km long tunnel connects to the powerhouse, which is located at Barsala 7 km upstream from Kohala Bridge. China Three Gorges Corporation (CTGC), the state-owned hydropower developer, won the right to develop a hydro-electric dam in Pakistan on January 7, 2015. The Kohala Hydropower Project will be CTGC’s largest investment in Pakistan.

Azad Pattan Hydro Power Project

This 700 MW project with an estimated cost of around US $1446.735 million (US $1.5 billion), once again on the Jhelum River roughly 7 km upstream of Azad Pattan Bridge in the Sudhanoti District, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and 90 km from Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan.

In 9th JCC Meeting dated 05.11.2019, the Azad Pattan HPP was included in CPEC list. Upon finalizing the Engineering, Procurement and Construction contract (EPC) and other associated costs, the project company, China Gezhouba Group, submitted its EPC tariff proposal on June 23, 2017. The agreement, between this state-owned Chinese company and Pakistan, was finally signed on July 6, 2020, and the project is scheduled for completion by 2026.

Read more: Thar Coal: Pakistan’s best bet to ensure energy security?

Following an intensive evaluation process, NEPRA had determined the tariff in May 2018; the average tariff for the next 20 years is US ¢ 4.83/kWh (levelized US ¢ 5.20/kWh). This has, therefore, the distinction of being the lowest tariff of all the large private hydropower projects (over 500MW) on rivers in Pakistan.

Mahl Hydro Power Project

This 640 MW, run of the river project, with an estimated cost of around US $1281 million (US $ 1.3 billion) is at the advance stage of signing and inclusion of Mahl HPP in CPEC may be processed with the signing of its agreement soon. NEPRA did tariff determination in Jan 2019.

It will be located 5 km upstream of the confluence of Mahl River with the Jhelum River on the boundary between the state of Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and the province of Punjab with some portion of the dam in the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).

Azad Kashmir and CPEC

Implementation of Mahl project will bring energy (2,934 GWh), security, save foreign exchange in billions of US dollars over the life of the project, create thousands of jobs, stabilize socio-economic lifestyle of the people of Pakistan and the State of AJK and provide the much-needed energy on a sustainable basis for the rapid growth of Pakistan.

Strategic Connectivity across AJK, Punjab & KP?

While the paralysis around long stuck hydropower projects has been broken, the same is not happening in case of strategic connectivity across the regions of AJK, Punjab and KP. A classic case of this lack of understanding of AJK’s strategic potential is reflected by the continuing paralysis, in Islamabad, around what is commonly referred to as “Tetra M Road” or sometimes as AJK-KP Highway and the Mirpur SEZ.

Mansehra-Muzaffarabad-Mirpur-Mangla Road (MMMM -Tetra M)

In 6th Meeting of JCC on 29.12.2016 in Beijing, it was agreed in principle to include the project under CPEC portfolio. In the minutes of 8th JWG on Transport Infrastructure, the project was considered with the status that “No clear consent was given by the Chinese side.” PC-1 is with NHA and has not been approved.

This 200 km highway, with an estimated cost of Rs. 300 billion, has the potential of connecting western Punjab, AJK and KP from the other side of River Jhelum. It will reduce distances between Punjab and Mirpur (50 KM) and between Muzaffarabad and Mansehra -and more importantly, it will significantly improve the regional connectivity between Mangla, Mirpur, Bhimber, Kotli and Muzaffarabad by providing an all-weather road from the other bank of Jhelum.

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For past 70 years plus, travelers from Mirpur and Jhelum region have to first approach Islamabad for taking Rawalpindi Murree Muzaffarabad Road for AJK’s capital. Tetra M can connect the people of AJK, reduce distances, foster economic development and international tourism in a region with stunning beauty – offering hundreds of sites for hotels, motels and lodges overlooking hills, streams and ravines.

It is expected that robust efforts will be made by CPEC Authority to assess its potential and impact, and a fresh case will be made for its inclusion into CPEC. A similar approach is needed in case of SEZ planned for Mirpur.

Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Mirpur

In 6th JCC Meeting on 29.12.2016 in Beijing, the project was approved for inclusion under the CPEC portfolio. Feasibility study and Master Plan was conducted by the consultant in November 2018. The complete project was envisaged to be around 1000 acres, with mixed industry to develop; site of about 50 acres was initially identified, and its acquisition is under process – however, no real progress has taken so far.

Azad Kashmir and CPEC

Mirpur’s proximity, 28 km from GT Road, potentially greater connectivity with Punjab by improving road networks from Jhelum/Gujarat side and the presence of Mirpur origin European diaspora make it an ideal location – the only one in AJK – for a successful SEZ.

Projects: Socio-Economic Potential

AJK Government has already conceived, in line with PM of Pakistan, Imran Khan’s repeated emphasis on socio-economic emphasis in CPEC, some projects to be included in CPEC PhaseII. These future potential projects, with limited budgets, have huge potential for societal transformation as can be grasped in a glance. (See table above ) AJK government proposes a “Development and Feasibility Master Plan” for four “Integrated Tourism Zones” in AJK with an estimated cost of Rs. 400 million.

It wants “Upgradation of Emergency Departments” at 11 AJK Hospitals and provision of medical equipment and materials with an estimated cost of Rs. 307.593 million. And will propose a “Burn Center Department at AIMS Muzaffarabad” with an estimated cost of Rs. 230.906 million. Similarly, it will like to invest around Rs. 332. 079 million in a project “Drinking Water Supply Equipment” to improve quality of water supplies.

It has conceived a “Pak Vocational Schools Equipment, Upgrading and Renovation Project” with an estimated cost of Rs. 1846.000 million. And it wants to develop “China Pakistan Joint Agriculture Demonstration Stations” with an estimated cost of only Rs. 63.850 million.

Read more: PM Imran Khan unleashes a dream: First CPEC SEZ takes off!

Finally, the AJK government wants to undertake an initial study to explore the region’s “Buddhist Heritage” for it believes that Buddhist trails via Gilgit Baltistan to Kashmir or Mansehra to Taxila via AJK may be another interesting project to be financed by CPEC portfolio.

This initial study can help show way towards fostering religious tourism on the pattern being conceived in KP within a small budget of Rs. 6.2 million. As mentioned in the outset, these conceived projects are almost all low budget with huge potential socio-economic impact and will deepen the footprint of CPEC across AJK.

Mrs. Midhat Shahzad, is a dedicated innovative senior civil servant in AJK, currently serving as Secretary Tourism, Information and Information Technology. She can be reached through her email: MidhatSecy@gmail.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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