ISLAMABAD/ PESHAWAR: Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid has disclosed that a 15-member team of Chinese investigators has joined the ongoing investigations into the Dasu bus explosion.
The investigations were at an advanced stage and the culprits would be taken to task soon, the minister told a presser in Islamabad on Saturday.
He said the Chinese team of investigators arrived on Friday and visited the incident site with security officials.
Hinting that the incident was an attempt to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, the minister said it happened just two days before the scheduled CPEC Joint Coordination Committee’s meeting, which was postponed following the incident.
Mr. Ahmed said a similar attempt to damage Pakistan-China ties had been foiled in April, referring to the blast at Quetta’s Serena Hotel where the Chinese ambassador had arrived. “They were successful in their scheme in Dasu, but this success is temporary, because our relations with China are higher than the Himalayas,” he remarked.
He said the Chinese interior ministry and other relevant authorities were taken on board and being updated on the progress on a regular basis. “We completely reassure the Chinese government that these culprits, hidden hands and enemies of CPEC and China-Pakistan friendship will never be forgiven at any cost.”
Mr. Ahmed said the prime minister had instructed Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to visit China while the interior ministry had directed security agencies to make foolproof arrangements for the protection of Chinese nationals in Pakistan.
About the Chinese investigators, a senior official told Dawn that a high-powered security delegation from the Chinese government inspected the incident site on Saturday to review the standard operating procedures and plan new security measures.
Headed by Wu Wei, deputy director general for the department of external security affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the delegation comprised external security affairs department deputy director Pan Yan, Asian affairs department second secretary Zhang Lei, information department first secretary Han Xu and criminal investigation technical experts Zhou Zhenjian, Zhang Jifeng, He Guanglong, Liu Zhifang, Jiang Xuemei and Wang Chao. Besides, Chinese ambassador Nong Rong and other high officials including Li Qingchun, Sun Mingji, Zhang Bing, Di Weichao accompanied the delegation that arrived in Dasu, the district headquarters of the Upper Kohistan, on Friday and moved to the Barseen area on Saturday.
Sources said the Chinese investigators also questioned both Pakistani and its own nationals during their visit to the Barseen camp. However, the local police seemed unaware of the findings of the Chinese investigation team. “Our own investigation being carried jointly by army, police, bomb disposal squad and counter terrorism department is well under way. But we don’t have any information about the Chinese investigation,” said a police official on the condition of anonymity.
The source privy to the investigation said the explosive that was used in the bus explosion was a ‘homemade device’ without ball bearings and sharpened material resulting in it caused the only blast due to which the direction of the bus got changed and fell into the ravine.
Earlier on July 14, nine Chinese nationals and four locals were killed and 28 others sustained injuries when a coach carrying them to an under-construction tunnel site of the 4,300-megawatt Dasu hydropower project fell into a ravine in the Upper Kohistan area after an explosion.
While the Chinese construction giant, which is executing the Dasu project, suspended work on the dam project site for the time being as investigation gets under way, the company issued a notice on Saturday stating the July 16 decision to lay off the workers had not been approved by the competent authority.
The notice ended the speculation that had gone viral on the social media after the issuance of a previous notification about the fate of 1,800 Pakistani workers associated with the project.
As the fresh notification of the China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) Dasu HPP management declared the previous one null and void.
A senior Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) official confirmed the suspension of construction work but said the move was temporary. He said the step was natural given the magnitude of tragic incident.
About the suspension of work, the official explained that Eid holidays were near. Besides, work could not be resumed until a thorough review of the security protocols was complete, he added.
However, the official said the Chinese high-ups who visited the site after the July 14 incident assured the people concerned that the project would be completed at all cost.
The 233-metre-high dam, which is being built on the Indus River some seven kilometers upstream of Dasu town, will have installed generation capacity of 4,320 megawatts of electricity and cost US$ 4.2 billion.
When KP government spokesperson Kamran Khan Bangash was approached for comments, he said that in line with the Prime Minister’s direction only federal government could comment on affairs involving international affairs. Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudary, however, said he had no idea of work suspension and layoffs of workers.
Official sources said resumption of work by Chinese engineers could take some time till the finalization and implementation of the new security-related SOPs.
“We cannot confirm that when they (Chinese) resume construction work since the incident is so big that left nine Chinese engineers and others dead besides injuring many. One of the injured Chinese engineers is still in critical condition and he is being treated at Gilgit hospital,” a senior official disclosed to Dawn.
The official said it was very clear that after such a tragic incident, construction work could be resumed only after having foolproof security arrangements in place.
Official sources said the company was also mulling over options to outsource hiring of employees to a third party for better management.
While addressing a presser, the Kohistan elders have expressed optimism that the Chinese government would ensure resumption of work on the mega energy project soon, claiming that locals had always extended maximum support to the Chinese in the project’s execution.