Dasu Hydropower Tragedy: Accident or ‘Attack’?

Dasu Hydropower Project, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. (Representative photo)
Dasu Hydropower Project, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. (Representative photo)

The tragic incident of July 14 in which a bus carrying Chinese nationals working at Dasu Hydropower plant in Kohistan region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province alongwith Pakistan security staff plunged into a ravine killing 12 passengers (including nine Chinese workers) is getting curiouser by the day. Almost immediately after this news broke, Babar Awan (adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Parliamentary Affairs), while speaking in National Assembly [NA], referred to this incident a “cowardly attack” and in a veiled reference to New Delhi went on to add that such acts would “not divert attention from the special initiatives between Pakistan and its neighbours.”

With Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa [KP] Inspector General of Police [IGP] Moazzam Jah Ansari also saying that it “looks like sabotage,” the initial assessment of this incident was it was definitely an act of militant attack. In fact Babar Awan even went on to say that he would request Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed to share details of this “cowardly attack” with National Assembly members. However, the tearing hurry with which he concluded that this was a terror related incident and its almost immediate endorsement by KP IGP left little doubt in anyone’s mind that this assessment was patently motivated.

So, later in the same day, when Pakistan’s Foreign Office specifically ruled out the terror-angle by saying that the ill-fated bus had “plunged into a ravine after a mechanical failure resulting in leakage of gas that caused a blast,” it came as no big surprise. The day after this incident, Beijing in its Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, mentioned that in his meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi the previous day, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi had said that he was hoping that the Pakistani side could quickly find out its cause, conduct rescue and treatment work at all costs, deal with the aftermath in time, and prevent similar incidents from happening again.”

Nong Rong, China’s Ambassador to Pakistan talks to Pakistani officials at Dasu, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Yi also told Qureshi that “If it is a terrorist attack, the criminals must be immediately arrested and severely punished” and Qureshi reportedly assured Yi that “Pakistan will spare no effort to … thoroughly investigate the truth of the incident, lose no time in sharing the progress of the investigation with China, and do its utmost to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel in Pakistan.” Since Pakistan’s Foreign Office had just the day before confirmed that this unfortunate incident had occurred due to “mechanical failure,” his pledge to “thoroughly investigate the truth of the incident,” came as a rather surprising development as it cast a shadow of doubt on the credibility on his own ministry. 

However, what’s even more baffling is that soon after Qureshi gave this assurance to Yi, Pakistan’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted,Initial investigations into Dasu incident have now confirmed traces of explosives, terrorism cannot be ruled out.” He also added that PM is personally supervising all developments, in this regard Govt is in close coordination with Chinese embassy we are committed to fight menace of terrorism together.” So, in a matter of 24 hours, Islamabad inexplicably changed the cause of the Dasu bus accident, not once but thrice- from “sabotage” to “mechanical failure” and then back to “terrorism”– a rather poor reflection on Islamabad’s steadiness.

The logical question that arises is, why did Islamabad exhibit such shameful capriciousness while commenting on the nature of the Dasu bus incident? The answer is not very difficult to find. Readers may recall that during his press conference on the day of this accident, even though Pakistan’s Foreign Office had confirmed that this incident occurred due to “mechanical failure,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian instead said, “China is shocked by and condemns the bomb attack in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which caused Chinese casualties.” So, while Beijing may be more than 3,500 km away from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, but if the Chinese President Xi Jinping felt that the Dasu bus incident was a terrorist act, then what other choice did Imran Khan have other than to agree in toto? In fact, with the ginormous loans that China has given to Pakistan, the old English idiom- ‘he who pays the piper, calls the tune’ aptly explains Islamabad’s barefaced vacillation! 

Given the high level of public animosity against Chinese presence in Pakistan, various armed groups like those in Balochistan as well as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have been targeting Chinese workers, who have no reservations in taking responsibility for such attacks. Surprisingly, no one has taken responsibility for the Dasu incident which Beijing alleges is a “bomb blast” that claimed lives of nine Chinese citizens and left many more injured. So, while Islamabad continues to humour Beijing by confirming that “traces of explosives” had been found on the ill-fated bus, this so-called act of terrorism targeting Chinese workers will go down in history as the first such attack for which no armed group has taken responsibility!

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