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Area Development and Policy
ISSN: 2379-2949 (Print) 2379-2957 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rard20
Land-use conflict and socio-economic impacts of
infrastructure projects: the case of Diamer Bhasha
Dam in Pakistan
Muazzam Sabir, André Torre & Habibullah Magsi
To cite this article: Muazzam Sabir, André Torre & Habibullah Magsi (2017): Land-use conflict
and socio-economic impacts of infrastructure projects: the case of Diamer Bhasha Dam in
Pakistan, Area Development and Policy, DOI: 10.1080/23792949.2016.1271723
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23792949.2016.1271723
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Land-use conflict and socio-economic impacts of
infrastructure projects: the case of Diamer Bhasha
Dam in Pakistan
, André Torre
and Habibullah Magsi
This article examines the conflicts arising from the Diamer Bhasha Dam project in northern Pakistan. Conflicts
arising from the impacts of the dam on the local populationand territory and steps to resolve some of them
are identified. These impacts relate to unfair land acquisition, improper displacement, inadequate compen-
sation, resettlement and future livelihoods. The completion of the project depends on the arrangement of
project finance, resolutionof conflicts among different actors and the consent of all stakeholders. In the light
of this case, strategies for improved infrastructure project governance are identified.
Received 31 May 2016; Accepted 29 November 2016
Conflict, territorial disputes, dam construction impacts, compensation, public participation
ment and Policy.本文分析了巴基斯坦北部迪阿莫-巴沙大坝工程引发的冲突，指出了大坝对当地人口和土
Conflicto por el uso de la tierra y las consecuencias socioeconómicas de los proyectos de infraestructura: el
caso de la presa de Diamer-Bhasha en Pakistán. Area Development and Policy. En este artículo analizamos
los conflictos que se derivan del proyecto de la presa de Diamer-Bhasha al norte de Pakistán. Aquí se
identifican los conflictos que han surgido debido a las repercusiones de la presa en la población local y el
CONTACT Muazzam Sabir email@example.com
UMR SAD-APT, INRA &AgroParisTech, University Paris Saclay, Paris, France
Department of Agri. Economics, Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam, Sindh, Pakistan
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed here.
AREA DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY
2017, VOL. 00, NO. 00
© 2017 Regional Studies Association
territorio, así como las medidas para resolver algunas de ellas. Estas repercusiones están relacionados con
la injusta adquisición de la tierra, el desplazamiento inadecuado, la compensación insuficiente, el reasen-
tamiento y los futuros medios de vida. La realización del proyecto depende del acuerdo de la financiación
del proyecto, la resolución de los conflictos entre los diferentes protagonistas y el consentimiento de todos
los grupos de interés. A la vista de esto, se identifican estrategias de caso para mejorar la administración de
proyectos de infraestructura.
conflicto, disputas territoriales, impactos de construcción de presa, compensación, participación pública
Конфликты по поводу землепользования и социально-экономические последствия
инфраструктурных проектов.Пример плотины Diamer Bhasha в Пакистане.Area Development and
Policy.В статье рассматриваются конфликты,связанные с проектом строительства плотины Diamer
Bhasha вcеверном Пакистане.Описываются конфликты,возникающие из-за воздействия
плотины на местное население и прилегающую территорию,и шаги по устранению некоторых
из них.Это воздействие связано с несправедливым землеотводом и выселением,неадекватными
компенсациями и условиями переселения.Завершение проекта зависит от организации
проектного финансирования,разрешения конфликтов между различными субъектами и
согласия всех заинтересованных сторон.В свете этого случая предложена стратегия
совершенствования управления инфраструктурными проектами.
конфликт,территориальные споры,последствия строительства плотины,компенсация,участие
Dams have negative social impacts including population displacement and relocation (Williams &
Porter, 2006), a variety of other social, economic and environmental problems and land-use
conflicts (see Chakravorty, 2016; Magsi & Torre, 2015; Oppio, Corsi, Mattia, & Tosini, 2015;
and Sun, 2013, for the Three Gorges Dam in China; Moran, 2004, for hydroelectric dams in
Turkish Kurdistan; and Bui, Schreinemachers, & Berger, 2013, for hydropower development in
Vietnam). Worldwide up to 80 million people have been displaced by dam construction (Scudder,
2005;WCD,2000), sometimes leading to greater social conflict, disorder, unemployment and
landlessness (Brown, Tullos, Tilt, Magee, & Wolf, 2009).
One of the major reasons for conflicts related to infrastructural projects like dams is
differences in the attitudes, expectations and participation of different stakeholders (Awakul
& Ogunlana, 2002; Mahato & Ogunlana, 2011; Swain & Chee, 2004; Tilt, Braun, & He,
2009). Demands for compensation and the compensation governments offer always differ.
Sometimes compensation is low compared with resource losses or paid late (Awasthi, 2014;
Li, Huang, Kwan, Bao, & Jefferson, 2015). Sometimes housing or compensation is not
provided in accordance with relocation plans, on occasions due to corruption, mismanagement
and cronyism (Awasthi, 2014; Swain & Chee, 2004). Different studies emphasize different
forms of compensation such as monetary compensation, alternative short-term employment
and social security assistance, as affected people may still suffer from uncertainties about
competing in the labour market and adapting to a new life even with improvement in land
compensation (Hui, Bao, & Zhang, 2013; Qian, 2015). Sometimes informality gives rise to
social and legal problems (Lombard, 2016), and compensation issues ignite when affected
communities hold no legal land titles, especially in tribal areas (Flood, 1997; Moran, 2004).
2M. SABIR ET AL.
AREA DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY
Some studies of conflicts caused by hydroelectric and other projects identify meaningful
public participation/consultation in decision-making as an effective conflict-resolution
mechanism (Lombard & Rakodi, 2016), and its absence as a source of opposition to the
project, lost economic and social opportunities, mistrust in the government, tensions and
conflicts (Diduck, Pratap, Sinclair, & Deane, 2013; Li, 2015; Magsi & Torre, 2012; Mann &
Jeaneaux, 2009; Slee et al., 2014). Public participation that accommodates interests, resolves
conflicts, includes veto players and establishes fairness of process positively influences the
quality of implementation (see Drazkiewicz, Challies, & Newig, 2015, for German case
In Pakistan, dam construction was not always favoured by all political parties, especially
in relation to water issues. Regular debates have become social taboos, and facts about
water are invariably contentious. Pakistan is a water-stressed agricultural and developing
country lacking the water for irrigation and energy generation which dams provide (GOP,
2013). As a result, dam construction has become a major focus of government policy.
Although their importance for the national economy cannot be ignored, the Tarbela and
Mangla dams as well as the Chotiari water reservoir displaced large number of families
(Iqbal,2004). Although the government claimed that they provided benefits and raised the
living standards of the affected population, most of these projects led to poverty, low living
standards (Magsi & Torre, 2014) and social instability. In fact, less than half of the
displaced population was able to retain their original profession, and government land
compensation was inadequate.
In an examination of dam projects, the World Commission on Dams (WCD) was critical
of lack of government accountability, corruption, embezzlement and inequality of benefits
(WCD, 2000), and set out two principles for the resettlement of displaced persons. First, all
stakeholders should be consulted from the outset. Second, the displaced population should be
better off after the project than they were beforehand.
This article examines the land-use and political conflicts arising from the Diamer Bhasha
Dam project in Pakistan. The next section introduces the project and the methodology. In the
third section attention focuses on displacement, compensation, resettlement and livelihoods of
the affected population and also on a number of associated territorial conflicts, compensations
and other socio-economic values. The fourth section concludes and advances some policy
2. CASE STUDY PRESENTATION AND METHODOLOGY
2.1. Case study description: the Diamer Bhasha Dam project, Pakistan
The Diamer Bhasha Dam is a megaproject designed to address water and electricity shortages
in Pakistan. The project is named after Diamer, a district in northern Pakistan in the province
of Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and Bhasha, a village in Kohistan in the province of Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). In KPK in 2009 the literacy rate was 47%, 38.1% of the population
was below the poverty line and the growth rate was 4.6% (Comprehensive Development
Strategy, KPK, 2010). The province has strong agricultural skills, a diverse climate and
landscape, and a variety of tourist resources. According to the 1998 Census, Kohistan district
had a population of approximately 472,570 people and a literacy rate of 11.08%. Bhasha is a
village of Kohistan and part of this project. The government has acquired some land in the
village, but no households are affected as the major portion of the dam is located in Diamer
district of GB province.
GB, which was formerly known as the northern area of Pakistan, borders KPK to the west,
Afghanistan to the north, China to the east and Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir to
the south-west. In 2010 the literacy rate was 38% (GOGB, 2010), while in Diamer it was
Land-use conflict : the case of Diamer Bhasha Dam 3
AREA DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY
about 10%. Diamer is the district where the Karakoram Highway enters GB from KPK.
district capital is Chilas (Figure 1). The project is mainly located in Diamer district. Most of
the land is being acquired in this district, and almost all its inhabitants will be affected socially
and economically. In all there are 12,039 households, of which about 4228 will be directly
affected. The initial occupational status of the affected households is set out in Table 1.
The Diamer Bhasha Dam project was included in the Water and Power Development
Authority’s (WAPDA) Water Vision 2025 in Pakistan. Considered a priority, project feasi-
bility studies started in 2001 (Dawn, 27 April 2006) when the Kala Bagh Dam project was
tied up in interprovincial politics. In June 2008 a detailed engineering design was completed,
and the cost of the project was estimated as US$13.684 billion. In July 2012 the project was
approved. To fund the project the government has approached the Asian Development Bank
(ADB), the World Bank and USAID. Funding has, however, not yet been agreed. The project
is at the land-acquisition stage, and construction of the dam has not started.
Figure 1. The study area.
Table 1. Economic activities of the local actors.
Occupational status of the
affected population (%)
Unskilled workers (construction, mostly) 10.5
Skilled workers 16.6
Government service 19.0
Private employment (in, for example, agricultural enterprises) 4.7
Security forces 0.6
Source: WAPDA Survey, 2006–07.
4M. SABIR ET AL.
AREA DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY
The dam is located on the River Indus,
about 315 km upstream of Tarbela Dam and
40 km downstream of Chilas city in GB (Figure 1). It is designed so that the right abutment
and right power house are in GB and the left bank and left power house are in KPK. The
Diamer Bhasha Dam is a roller compacted concrete (RCC) dam with a maximum height of
272 m. The project will cover an area of 110 km
, and the reservoir will extend 100 km
upstream (GOP, 2013).
2.2. Arguments for and against the project
From the outset debate about the pros and cons of the dam have raged. For the public
authorities this project is expected to contribute 4500 MW of electricity per year, generate an
annual revenue of US$2.216 billion and significantly reduce electricity shortages. The dam can
impound a reservoir of 8.1 million acre feet (MAF) with a live annual storage of 6.4 MAF of
surface water, and will also extend the life of Tarbela Dam by 35 years, increasing its annual
electricity-generation capacity. The dam project is expected to generate employment during
construction and subsequently in agriculture, industry and commerce (GOP, 2013). The
project also includes an upgrading of hospitals in Gilgit and construction of schools in other
districts (The Express Tribune, 26 December 2010).
In spite of the national economic benefits, the project involves costs of population
displacement, resettlement, livelihood renewal and conflict between different actors. The
dam will, for example, inundate about 32 villages, affecting 4228 households (30,350 people)
and will submerge 2660 acres of agricultural land, affecting the major occupation of the area as
well as the living standards of its inhabitants (GOP, 2014).
The construction of the dam has faced strong local resistance. Anti-government protests
and demonstrations took place, and roads and especially the Karakoram Highway were
blocked due to arguments over, for example, the level of compensation, the non-payment of
compensation, the selectivity of compensation payments and corruption. In the case of
selective compensation to certain groups, contractors working on the construction of model
villages for the resettlement of affected people and project colonies were threatened, with
construction stopping for almost one year. Threats were made to bulldoze structures in the
project area. In relation to other issues to do, for example, with the measurement of land
affected, people took legal action. These court cases are still pending, causing distrust of the
government (Pamir Times, 22 October 2015; Mir, 14 June 2012).
The most serious incident involved the death of three people and injuries to others when
police opened fire on protesters complaining about land compensation (Gilgit Baltistan
Tribune, 19 February 2010; Mir, 14 June 2012). After several meetings this matter was
resolved by increasing the compensation paid. In another incident about four people died
and several others were injured. In this case the dispute was between people from the provinces
of KPK and GB which both lay claim to an 8 km-long stretch of territory along the boundary
between the two provinces. Security forces were deployed to separate the two sides. At the
moment the matter is with the courts. If it is not resolved it may delay the project and lead to
another bloody clash (Dawn, 6 May 2016; Muhammad, 28 December 2013).
2.3. Data and methodology
The aim of this study is to identify and examine the conflicts between different actors, their
causes and resolution. Following the recommendations of Rucht and Neidhardt (1999) and
Torre et al. (2014), that analysis must draw on different sources of information. Primary and
secondary data were collected on the socio-economic characteristics of the affected people, the
conflicts that occurred and the underlying issues relating to compensation, displacement,
resettlement, the awareness of the population of ways of investing compensation payments,
education and livelihoods, as well as various conflicts generated by this project. To examine
Land-use conflict : the case of Diamer Bhasha Dam 5
AREA DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY
conflicts and the socio-economic profile of the affected population, interviews were conducted.
It should be noted that the area comprises a number of valleys in a mountainous and not easily
accessible area. Not without difficulty, another 61 interviews were conducted with experts and
local stakeholders during a three-month stay in the project area (Chilas and other valleys),
Islamabad (the capital of Pakistan) and Lahore (Table 2).
Among the secondary sources, data from the national and regional daily regional press
(DRP) for the period from 2006 until 2016 was used (see in the supplemental data online) to
identify conflicts and related issues, as in other studies (Ali & Nasir, 2010; Awakul &
Ogunlana, 2002; Mahato & Ogunlana, 2011; Mann & Jeaneaux, 2009; Torre et al., 2014).
Reference to a variety of sources permitted cross-checking (Deininger & Castagnini, 2006;
McCarthy, McPhail, & Smith, 1996). In addition, material from the government and public
and private organizations was used. This included information released online by WAPDA to
disseminate information about the project, its characteristics, land acquisition, resettlement
plans, development plans and financial information. Survey data prepared by WAPDA and
financial information from the Planning Commission of Pakistan provided information about
economic activities and population characteristics. In addition, material prepared by private
and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was consulted.
An important distinction exists in the project area between population groups on the basis
of their ancestry, cultural heritage and common history. This distinction separates as ‘original
settlers’(locally called ‘owners’) who first settled in this area and ‘latecomers’(locally called
‘non-owners’) who have different rights to land and natural resources. These two groups are
further categorized as upper and lower caste (see Table 3). This distinction rooted in
Table 2. Interviewees.
Background of the interviewee(s)
Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) (the main government
agency carrying out this project)
Planning Commission (a government organization) 7
Private consultants for Bhasha Dam and other related projects 9
District administration and police 6
Diamer Poverty Alleviation Program (an NGO) 5
Local leaders/representatives 10
Legal advisors 5
Journalists and social workers 9
Table 3. Social status of respondents in the study area.
Groups Social status Caste Number (%)
Shin Original settlers (called owners) Upper 39.5
Yashkun As above Upper 24.0
Kamin As above Lower 11.0
Dom Latecomers (called non-owners) Lower 1.4
Gujar As above Lower 6.5
Mruts As above Lower 7.4
Others As above Lower 10.2
Source: WAPDA (2015) Report on Diamer Bhasha Dam, Accessed in 2015 (Unpublished Report).
6M. SABIR ET AL.
AREA DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY
customary law and traditions is accepted by all social and cultural groups and by government.
Almost all land (except for land purchased by any group) and natural resources are entitle-
ments of the ‘original settler’. These assets include forests, water, pastures, barren land and
non-timbered forest (termed as ‘common land’). The government has no rights over common
land in GB, and can only acquire it by paying compensation. When the government decided
to pay compensation for common land, ‘latecomers’demanded a share. According to custom-
ary law, latecomers are ‘non-owners’, have no common land rights and cannot claim compen-
sation, except for land they have purchased.
In this paper, another clear distinction is made between tensions and conflicts. Following a
well-known proposition in game theory (Rapoport, 1960; Schelling, 1960), a tension between
various parties designates an opposition without the engagement of the protagonists, whereas a
conflict emerges with the engagement of one of the parties. An engagement is defined as the
implementation of a credible threat (Schelling, 1960), which may take many different forms:
bringing a matter to the attention of the public authorities, civil servants or political repre-
sentatives; bringing the matter to the attention of the media, press, radio or television; assault
or verbal confrontation; or putting up signs forbidding access, fences and gates. Indeed, we
assume that the emergence of a conflict follows an explicit engagement of the actors. A
conflict, in other words, arises when a tension turns into a declared confrontation through the
engagement of one or several parties (Torre et al., 2014).
3. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
3.1. Socio-economic impacts
Despite the economic importance of, and need for, the Diamer Bhasha Dam, the project has
had major socio-economic impacts and generated important conflicts relating to land acquisi-
tion, land measurement, land rights, resettlement and employment.
According to WAPDA, the total land to be acquired by the government for the Diamer
Bhasha Dam project is 37,419 acres, of which 18,357 acres are private land and 19,062 acres
are government land. The government has already acquired 8098 acres of private land, of
which 7936 acres are in GB and 162 acres in KPK (GOP, 2014). After severe conflict over
land compensation, a committee was formed to enhance land compensation and settle the
matter. This committee mainly included local representatives, religious leaders, district man-
agers, federal ministerial representatives and WAPDA. After a series of meetings the com-
mittee decided on land compensation rates for cultivated, cultivable and barren land for
different areas. After these negotiations, there have been no protests over land compensation
since 2010. At the time most of the experts and stakeholders settled on land compensation
rates that accorded with market rates, although some of them were of the view that these rates
were not sufficient to resettle the affected population and maintain their living standards.
Many studies identify land compensation as a significant source of conflict in dam
construction projects. The problems include the payment of little or no compensation for
land and other resources (Flood, 1997), compensation for politically favoured people (Magsi &
Torre, 2012), discursive threats through anti-protest narratives, material threats involving
withholding social benefits (Huber & Joshi, 2015), and police action to take out protesters
(Swain & Chee, 2004). In an atmosphere of intimidation and violence, moreover, people
hesitate to take legal action (McMichael, 2016).
The land to be acquired for the Diamer Bhasha Dam project consists of different valleys.
At present there is a huge gap between land compensation rate decisions and actual land
acquisition: the acquisition of land has not been completed, and compensation has not yet
been paid in all cases. However, the government has adjusted the interest rate for persons who
Land-use conflict : the case of Diamer Bhasha Dam 7
AREA DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY
will be compensated later. Some people enjoy considerably higher land compensation rates as
they own land near the project site (Hommes, Boelens, & Maat, 2016). Land rents near the
project site have started increasing in some areas, mainly in Chilas (which is the major urban
area with commercial activities) because of the project, but the amount of compensation had
already been fixed by the government. Another significant reason for the increase in land rates
is that most of the people who have been compensated so far started moving towards these
Monetary compensation and increases in compensation may not be sufficient to improve or
even maintain the living standards of the local population. The outcome is highly dependent
on future security programmes including social security, workforce training, the availability of
permanent job opportunities and an ability to invest compensation payments. The majority of
the experts and stakeholders consider that the affected people lack the information and
education required to invest compensation payments well. Instead of making long-term
investments or setting up a private businesses, the money is ‘wasted’on daily household
expenses, so that the affected population will end up in a similarly miserable condition as
people affected by other projects in the past (Qian, 2015).
According to the government’s resettlement plan for 4228 households, three model
villages, Thak Das, Harpan Das and Kino Das, are to be established with all facilities (schools,
hospitals etc.). Each household is to receive a residential plot of 1 kanal
free of cost. The
government assured local people that genuine demands regarding alternative residence and
rehabilitation arrangements will be fulfilled (The Nation, 2 April 2014). The construction of
Harpan Das was supposed to have already been completed with the first batch of affected
people resettled. But, according to WAPDA
construction work is still in progress, raising
questions about the government’s resettlement plan.
Several reasons explain the ineffectiveness of the government’s resettlement plan. A lack of
funding and disputes over the land for the model villages is the main reason for delay in the
preparation and allocation of residential plots to affected people. The government is paying
cash compensation early. Because of the delay, people tried to buy land in other areas. But,
because of lack of awareness, they lost money to fraudulent property dealers. This problem is
particularly severe for latecomers as they do not have common land rights. Original settlers,
conversely, can avail themselves of common lands for their livelihood. As in other cases, the
most common consequence of resettlement is poverty and social instability (Sun, 2013).
The future security, well-being and employment of the affected people is also a sensitive
issue, as large projects require a large number of temporary, unskilled workers who lose their
jobs at the end of the project (Moran, 2004). Furthermore, many affected people cannot keep
their original profession (Sun, 2013; Swain & Chee, 2004), and the scope for long-term
employment and skill development is limited as economic opportunities increase at first but
cannot be sustained after construction (Huber & Joshi, 2015). For the purpose of employment
of Bhasha Dam affectees, the government started several capacity-building programmes, so
that the affected people could be employed as skilled labourers on the project site, and that
these skills could also be useful even after the completion of the project.
There are several controversies concerning impacts on the livelihood of the affected
population. In particular, government training programmes appear to be devoted to lower-
category jobs. Affected people with compensation do not want lower-category jobs, as a
sudden and easy fortune from monetary compensation makes them reluctant to seek employ-
ment (Qian, 2015). Although educational attainment in this area is very low, the development
of schools in the model villages and project-related economic development will probably raise
educational standards. In fact, all the experts and stakeholders consider the impact on educa-
tion to be positive.
8M. SABIR ET AL.
AREA DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY
A project NGO is engaged for effective implementation of plans by mobilizing local
communities, monitoring resettlement, and devising community food security and livelihood
schemes. Most of the experts consider that this project will have positive impacts by overseeing
and dealing with employment and resettlement programme deficiencies. According to
WAPDA, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) unanimously approved this project on
18 July 2010 for reasons of national consensus (The Nation, 19 July 2010). The consensus
meeting was attended by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, chief ministers of four provinces and
representatives from GB. The scope of the discussion was limited as this body had either to
vote in favour of or against the dam. The Minister of Planning and Development claimed that
there was national consensus in favour of the Diamer Bhasha Dam project. All political parties
back the government’s decision (Iqbal, 6 November 2013).
Information dissemination and consultation with the public are considered as important
steps in projects of this kind (Diduck et al., 2013; Li, 2015; Mann & Jeaneaux, 2009;
McMichael, 2016; Patel, 2016; Slee et al., 2014). Some studies highlight participation in
decision-making about the redistribution of resources and water-based territorial rights
(Hoogester, Boelens, & Baud, 2016). Some of the experts considered that workshops with
stakeholders, interviews, tribal meetings, seminars and cadastral surveys provided sufficient
information dissemination in relation to land compensations and employment opportunities.
The local population was encouraged to participate in a 27-member committee comprising
mainly local leaders and religious leaders. Equal participation of all groups (original settlers
and latecomers) was, however, ignored, and in some areas such as land measurement, land
category decisions and compensation for common land there was no proper information
dissemination and public participation.
Although most of the experts and stakeholders pointed to a lack of information dissemina-
tion and public participation, after the resolution of the matter of compensation, the affected
people including original settlers and latecomers are in favour of the project. Getting the
consent of the local population during the initiation of any new infrastructure project can
minimize the intensity and scale of land-use conflict (Huber & Joshi, 2015; Magsi & Torre,
3.2. Main conflicts: land-use issues
Flaws in handling the issues considered above led to three types of major observed conflicts:
first, between the government and affected people over acquired land measurement and land
categorization; second, among affected people over land ownership; and third, related to
boundary conflicts between GB and KPK. Only the first two are considered in this section.
In Pakistan land is managed by local land administrators called patwari, charged by the
government to maintain land ownership records. As this is a tribal area, and there were no
previous land ownership records and no land registration, all market transactions were verbal.
The interviews revealed that most of the conflicts were due to incorrect measurement. Any
land transaction conflict used to be dealt with by local leaders. Corruption, mismanagement
and cronyism could lead to incorrect measurement. The limited accessibility and reliability of
patwaris’records also leaves space for corruption and unofficial changes in land records.
Current official land administration system procedures are also very complicated, leading to
delays in court decisions which have affected land markets at national and international levels
(Ali & Nasir, 2010). Aspects of land rights change have been addressed (Anaafo, 2015),
especially related to informal land rights (Zhu & Simarmata, 2015). Admasu (2015) showed
that informal land markets and unfair allocation of formal land are major sources of land-use
change, causing conflicts due to political favouritism and mismanagement by local land
managers. In general, political alliances among land managers to gain control of critical
Land-use conflict : the case of Diamer Bhasha Dam 9
AREA DEVELOPMENT AND POLICY
water and land resources influence resource conflicts and demand attention (Campbell,
Gichohi, Mwangi, & Chege, 2000).
Another prominent conflict between the government and affected people in the case of
Diamer Bhasha Dam project was related to the categorization of acquired land in some places.
As already mentioned, three land categories (cultivated, cultivable and barren land) were
established as the basis for compensation. Reports suggest that fertile land was said to be
barren to reduce the amount of compensation (Singh, 2012), leading to land category
manipulation conflicts between the government and the affected population, mainly in Kino
Das, which was selected as site for a model village with the same name. People claimed that
the government classed cultivable land as barren to reduce the compensation rate.
Corruption and bias in the distribution of compensation were also seen in some cases.
According to some local experts and stakeholders, some of the developmental facilities
(schools and hospitals) for Diamer district are going to be built in other districts. Moreover,
the Home Secretary of GB is subject to a corruption investigation regarding the distribution of
land compensation that puts the Diamer Bhasha Dam project on weaker ground (Dawn,31
Among other land disputes, one of the most important was between the original
settlers and latecomers over compensation for common land. This serious socio-economic
dispute focuses on several areas, mainly in Thak Das (another the model village site) and
Chilas. Original settlers take the view that under customary laws latecomers have no right
to compensation for common land taken for the project. However, latecomers comprise
the majority of the population, creating a serious land acquisition problem for the
government. Legal rights to land are not only a source of conflict between different actors
but also affect livelihoods, especially where most of the affected people or communities
have no legal land rights (Flood, 1997;Moran,2004), where tenure reforms involve bias
and favouritism and fail to protect informal land rights (Rigon, 2016). Historical inequal-
ities which disadvantage specific groups of people are considered prominent sources of
conflict (Marx, 2016).
The common land compensation conflict is, however, not over amounts of compensation
but over its distribution between original settlers (who arrived first in this area and claim the
ownership of the entire land in the light of local tradition and the history of early settlement)
and latecomers. Conflict over compensation in Thak Das and Kino Das is the major reason
why the government could not acquire land and start model village construction. Corruption
involving resourceful persons who tried to register common land to secure compensation was
also noticed. Moreover, the boundary dispute between GB and KPK that resulted in four
deaths and several injuries was also mainly over compensation for common land (Dawn,6
3.3. Geopolitical conflicts, international concerns and finance
The project also involves several territorial disputes between GB and KPK and also between
Pakistan and India, as GB is a disputed territorial entity. The territorial conflict between GB
and KPK is over an approximately 7 km stretch of territory on the left bank of the Indus,
connecting Bhasha Village (KPK) to Chilas (GB). According to some local leaders of Diamer
district (GB) who are dealing with this issue in court, this area historically belongs to GB
according to the map of Kashmir. Before the announcement of the Diamer Bhasha Dam
project this area comprised common pastures under control of GB. After decision about the
dam project the territory was claimed by KPK on the grounds that the official map of the
region identifies it as part of KPK. The rival claims relate to the problem of compensation,
although if this territory comes under KPK, it will obtain a share of the royalties from
electricity generation. Moreover, India claims that GB is a part of India. According to
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Indian sources, Pakistan’s control over the territory does not justify any infrastructural project
without the consent of local people and, in a larger context, of India (Singh, 2012).
Time and limited physical resources have added another complex dimension to the project.
The dam itself depends on finance from various donor agencies. Initially, in 2008, China was
going to provide major funding along with 17,000 workers who had worked on the Three
Gorges Dam. The ADB initially offered to provide US$2.5 billion of the US$5 billion
requested by Pakistan, but it had some reservations relating to the passing of a consensus
resolution by the National Assembly and the territorial dispute between KPK and GB.
The National Savings Directorate suggested that the government of Pakistan issue some
Rs. 200 billions of security bonds to help finance the project (Kundi, 2012), but no concrete
steps have been taken. Initially, the World Bank also promised to lend money, but on 2 July
2011 it refused due to the territorial dispute and because of Indian concerns. The Pakistan
government subsequently sought to convince the World Bank to provide finance. For example,
in August 2013 the Finance Minister claimed that a No Objection Certificate from India was
not necessary (Kiani, 2013); the World Bank has, however, made no commitment.
The World Bank’s refusal to provide finance drove Pakistan to seek to convince the United
States to provide financial support for the project. The United States was reluctant and suggested
that Pakistan focus on smaller projects to meet its energy needs. Moreover, US officials stated that
they needed congressional approval (Singh, 2012). Although USAID and Middle East donors
have shown some interest in the project, no breakthrough has yet been made. Although construc-
tion activities were scheduled to begin in 2012–13, with completion anticipated in 2022–23, the
project has not started for want of funds from donor agencies (GOP, 2013).TheMinisterof
Planning, Development and Reform asked WAPDA to prepare for ground breaking by
December 2016, but WAPDA replied that it was impossible before mid-2017 (Yousafzai, 2016).
4. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Infrastructural conflicts arise when a tension or opposition turns into a declared confrontation
via the engagement of one or several parties (Torre et al., 2014). In the case of the Diamer
Bhasha Dam project, conflicts arose between various actors (local and non local) over territory
and resources. These conflicts had several dimensions. First, this infrastructural project
provokes severe socio-economic impacts, relating to the resettlement and livelihoods of local
populations, and, more specifically, primarily to inadequate or inequitable compensation, the
period for payment of compensation and awareness of the proper long-term use of compensa-
tion and, secondarily, to proper capacity-building programmes. Second, these conflicts relate
to proper information dissemination and participation of affected people through their
representatives/leaders. Although the government managed to deal with opposition relating
to compensation in 2010 after violent conflicts, a number of still remaining tensions need
attention. These tensions relate to the measurement of land, land category definition and
internal disputes between original settlers and latecomers, which all highlighted local mis-
management, corruption and favouritism. Other significant conflicts relate to compensation
and royalty payments between KPK and GB, rival territorial claims of Pakistan and India.
Because of these local and international conflicts, the ADB and World Bank have reservations
about the provision of finance. This study suggests that land measurement data should be
made public, at least to all local leaders and representative committees, and that their proper
participation is vital. A governance mechanism and strategy is required to facilitate and
enhance negotiations among stakeholders, clarify and reduce conflicts related to land measure-
ment, land category manipulation, and especially conflicts between original settlers and
latecomers. Political efforts and transparency are required to satisfy all stakeholders and secure
social acceptance avoiding cronyism, bias, corruption and mismanagement.
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There are certain gaps in the assessment of the negative socio-economic impacts of the
Diamer Bhasha Dam project. Some people have started suffering from these impacts, and
experts and stakeholders are anticipating further problems. For resettlement purposes, the
government must acquire land for the model villages and complete construction as soon as
possible, as some people lost compensation payments when purchasing land from fraudulent
property dealers. The government’s current capacity building programmes and employment
provision are positive steps, but there are some deficiencies. These programmes need to do
more for indirectly affected people, while people in receipt of cash compensation need
improved awareness of investment opportunities in, for example, the transport of project
construction materials and of land transactions. The stipends and time periods for these
training programmes should also be increased.
In this regard, the involvement of NGOs, media and other representatives would improve local
governance by helping people express opinions and defend their rights, but most of all improve
their knowledge, understanding of the main principles and consequences of project, their capacity
to participate in public debate, and their ability possibly to shape the direction of development.
In this case and in others, governments must prevent corruption, mismanagement and
cronyism in order to end conflicts through complete information dissemination and public
participation in the form of involvement of local leaders, religious leaders, NGOs and other
representatives at each step of the project. Strong political efforts are required to bring
together all stakeholders to find the optimum resolution of land ownership and territorial
conflicts, enhancing or sharing compensation payments and obtaining social acceptance. The
right attitude of a decision-maker could also help find compromises for resolving conflicts
(Kamruzzaman & Baker, 2013), especially as these conflicts are also one of the reasons why
the government could not complete land acquisition and start the project.
Government’s capacity-building programmes should be modified and improved further by
improving awareness, skills and common negotiation capacities among the affected popula-
tion. Indeed, local people/stakeholders always need to negotiate not only over their rights to
land and developmental compensation but also over employment/business opportunities to
ensure their future economic security and to resolve conflicts among themselves and with
government and public bodies. The enhancement of the negotiating capacity and empower-
ment of local people/stakeholders, capacity in order to protect their rights and render possible
new infrastructure construction. These steps imply increases in the individual capabilities of
local actors and also their ability to decide, act and launch joint/common actions.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
1. The Karakoram Highway is the world’s highest paved international road connecting Xin
Jiang in China with GB in Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range.
2. The Indus River is one of the longest rivers in Asia, flowing through Indian-controlled
Jammu and Kashmir, GB in Pakistan, and discharging into the Arabian Sea after flowing
through the whole of Pakistan.
3. Akanal is a land measurement unit in Pakistan and most parts of India. It is equivalent to
approximately 5400 square feet; 1 acre = 8 kanals.
4. See http://www.wapda.gov.pk/index.php/projects/hydro-power/on-going/diamer-basha-
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