MUZAFFARABAD, Sept 7: Muslim Conference (MC) chief and AJK Legislative Assembly member Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan briefed newsmen here on Saturday on the “benefits of Mangla Dam extension for Pakistan and the Kashmiris.”

Mr Attique and the acting AJK premier, Syed Mumtaz Ali Gillani, had held a meeting with Federal Minister Nisar A. Memon the other day in Islamabad where it was decided that President Gen Musharraf would perform the ground-breaking ceremony of the project later this month.

The plan is opposed by the main opposition party of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir, People’s Party.

Speaking to the newsmen, Mr Attique said the Pakistan government had agreed to meet all the genuine demands of the Kashmiris before kicking off upraising of the dam.

He told them: “The Musharraf government has also agreed to resolve the 40-year-old outstanding issue. He deserves credit for showing keen interest in Kashmir and the Kashmiris.”

“The Mangla Dam extension is basically the project for consolidation of the economy and prosperity of Pakistan,” Mr Attique, flanked by Mr Gillani, claimed.

He said it was yet another opportunity for the Kashmiris to exhibit their solidarity with Pakistan. “The Kashmiris must not forget that whatever is in the interest of Pakistan is in their own interest as well”, he said.

In reply to a question, he claimed that there did not exist any pact between the governments of AJK and Pakistan regarding the initial construction of the dam. “However, there had been some correspondence between the two sides and the copies of those letters are available with me”, he said.

But AJK People’s Party chief and leader of the opposition in the assembly, Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry, told the reporters in his chamber: “There is no justification to raise the height of the dam, particularly when the people of Mirpur are against it. The government of Pakistan, I demand, should shelve this controversial project”.

He threatened that his party would launch strong protest if the federal government showed ‘stubbornness’ in this regard.

“Instead of spending Rs60 billion on the upraising of the dam, Wapda should either go for its de-silting or construction of smaller dams in different areas,” he said.

Mr Mahmood reiterated his suggestion that the project should not even be discussed till the end of the phased elections in occupied Kashmir.

“At a time when India is trying its best to establish normalcy in occupied Kashmir, creating unrest in Azad Kashmir is beyond comprehension. Why don’t they understand that it will deal a blow to our cause,” he said.

PROTEST RALLY: In the meanwhile, a nationalist party and its student wing took to the streets here on Saturday to denounce Wapda’s proposed plan to raise the height of Mangla dam.

Hundreds of activists of the Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party (JKNAP) and National Students Federation (NSF), which advocate Kashmir’s complete independence from India and Pakistan, took out a protest rally from Upper Adda which later culminated in at the Central Press Club after marching through different roads of the city.

Led by JKNAP President Sardar Anwar Khan and NSF President Shujaat Kazmi, the demonstrators were carrying banners and placards inscribed with anti-extension slogans.

Speaking to the protesters after the rally, Mr Anwar said Pakistan had not right to construct a dam in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The JKNAP chief made it clear that the nationalist parties would “go to any extent to obstruct the proposed project.”

He claimed that the construction of Mangla Dam had not benefited the people of Azad Kashmir either. “Instead, Wapda is sucking our blood by arbitrarily enhancing the power tariff for us”, he said.

Mr Anwar announced that similar rallies would be held in Rawalakot, Kotli, Bagh and Mirpur on Sept 10, 14, 26 and Oct 4 respectively.