WASHINGTON: The Pak­istan Embassy in the United States sent out an appeal this weekend, urging the Pakistani-American community to donate generously to a fund set up by the government to build Diamer-Basha and Mohmand dams.

But experts continue to debate the concept of building dams with public donations. The government hopes to raise a sizable portion of the fund from the Pakistani-American community, which is considered the most affluent among the Pakistanis living abroad.

“Imran Khan has got ample supporters and fundraisers within the Pakistani-American community. Still, I doubt there’s a critical mass of Pakistanis overseas with the financial capacity (much less the will) to participate in this campaign,” says Michael Kugelman, a Pakistan expert at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars in Washington, describing the appeal as “an ambitious ask”.

“Khan knows the diaspora better than anyone,” tweeted Xulqi Moon, pointing out that Imran Khan has travelled across the world, collecting funds. He has decades of experience of donations and charity collection and he will achieve his target, the supporter wrote.

The Pakistani embassy in Washington, however, did not get involved in the debate about whether it’s possible to build dams with donations.

Instead, it sent out a letter to influential Pakistanis in the United States, encouraging them to participate in the campaign.

The letter said that Pakistan had opened a special account at the National Bank of Pakistan in New York and asked Pakistanis to send their donations to NBP account #55302141, through routing #026004721 and swift code NBPUS33. The letter reminds donors also to mention their dates and places of birth in bank to bank information field of wire transfer instructions.

Mr Kugelman pointed out that one thing was left unsaid in the appeal to overseas Pakistanis to donate $1,000 each: “The diaspora isn’t quite as affluent as some think. Many won’t be in position to donate.”

Mr Kugelman, however, appreciated the government’s focus on the issue. “Credit is due to the Pakistan government for rightly identifying water as one of the country’s biggest challenges,” he said. “But instead of trying to crowd fund via the diaspora to build a new dam, how about focusing on repairing existing infrastructure, e.g. Tarbela? Less costly, less complicated.”

He advised the government not to discount “the demand-side aspects of water management” either.

He also referred to an estimate by a Pakistani water professional, Simi Kamal, that Diamer-Basha Dam could potentially generate 8 MAF of water, but simply repairing existing canal systems would free up more.

Johnny Bashir, a PTI supporter in Springfield, Virginia, said the government knew it could not raise $12 billion to build Basha dam from donations. But it wanted to raise as much as it could while working on other options as well. “So, Relax and do your part. If you don’t want to help, chill and let others do what they think is right for Pakistan.”

“Simple math: One Billion Dollars = 1,000 x 1,000,000 (one thousand million dollars). Total overseas Pakistani = 7.5 million. Expected cost = 12 Billion Dollars.,” wrote Khurram Shahzad, a Washington-based IT specialist.

“I am optimistic, but numbers don’t match-up.”

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2018