HARIPUR: A Chinese company has suspended civil works at the Tarbela 5th Extension Hydropower Project and “laid off” over 2,000 workers after the killing of Chinese nationals in a suicide attack in Shangla district, official sources said here on Wednesday.

Five Chinese engineers working on the Dasu Dam perished as an explosive-laden vehicle hit the bus they’re travelling in on the Karakoram Highway in the Bisham area on Tuesday.

No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing.

The suspension of work on the 1530 megawatts Tarbela extension project (T5) was notified by the manager (administration) of the Power Construction Corporation of China.

He also revealed in the notification that the project’s “all site workers and office staff members had been laid off until further orders due to security reasons.”

It also lays off 2,000 workers for ‘security reasons’

However, the manager said only the staff members called by the heads of their respective sections would come to work.

When contacted, general secretary of the Awami Labour Union at the Tarbela project Aslam Adil confirmed the development but insisted that under labour laws, the workers laid off hadn’t lost jobs and were entitled to receive half of their salaries until they resumed duties.

He said he hoped that the situation would return to normal in a few days, leading to the return of employees to work.

“Authorities are going to enhance the security of project employees on their demand,” he said.

The union leader said the suspension of work won’t cause a “long delay” in T-5’s completion, which is slated for May 2026 with the assistance of the World Bank ($390 million) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank ($300 million).

The Wapda officials claimed that the project would begin power production before the 2026 deadline.It may be added that Tuesday’s attack on the Chinese workers was second of its nature. The first such attack was carried out on July 14, 2021 at around 7.30am, a few kilometres from Dasu Dam’s site in Kohistan, leaving nine Chinese engineers and four Pakistani workers dead while over 23 sustained injuries.

The then foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had accused militants backed by the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies for the attack. Premising his claim on the investigation Mr Qureshi had dubbed it the outcome of a “nexus of Indian RAW and Afghan NDS”.

The then investigation teams from Hazara range police traced the involvement of 12 accused including the alleged suicide bomber later identified as Amanullah alias Khalid and arrested six of the accused. They included Mohammad Hussain, his son Fazale Hadi, Mohammad Ayaz, Shaukat Ali, Anwar Ali and Abdul Wahab. The undertrial prisoners were later shifted to Haripur central jail where their trial was conducted through video link.

Following completion of trial, the Anti-Terrorism Court’s judge Sajjad Ahmed Jan, on November 10, 2022, awarded death penalty to Mohammad Hussain and Mohammad Ayaz while four accused were acquitted and five others nominated in the FIR remained absconders at the time of court’s final order.

Meanwhile, the Haripur police have heightened the security around the camps and residences of Chinese nationals working on T-5 Hydropower project.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2024

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