Srinagar: Suspected militants allegedly acting on Pakistan's orders targeted labourers and engineers working on the Wullar project in Kashmir, bringing the lake conservation exercise to a standstill.
The Wullar, one of Asia's biggest freshwater lakes, at the heart of a long-standing Indo-Pak dispute, is in the news yet again. Earlier this week, suspected militants reportedly acted on direction from Pakistan and fired in the air and set off an explosion to scare away scores of labourers, contractors and engineers working on an ambitious lake conservation programme.
Worker Shafiq Ahmad said, "They took away cell phones of the people at the construction site, fired on vehicle tyres and beat up people. We have stopped work because we don't want a problem."
An embarrassed Jammu and Kashmir government downplayed the incident. It de-linked the Rs 390 crore project that aims to bolster the lake embankment from the controversial Wullar barrage project - that is central to Indo-Pak acrimony on the sharing of waters under the World Bank brokered 1960 Indus Water Treaty - that bars New Delhi to stop valley waters to Pakistan.
Pakistan has been accusing India of blocking their share of waters, but J&K Irrigation Minister denies the accusation.
Minister of Irrigation and Flood Control Taj Mohi-ud-deen said, "It is a repeat of 1990 when militants stopped work at the site and took away construction material. This time people are trying to stall the project by spreading panic. But I want to convey to the other country that we honour the Indus Water Treaty and will continue to do so, as far as this project goes, we will be resuming the work shortly."
Meanwhile the J&K government is talking to labourers and the construction company to restart work. But sources say fear remains.
In the past too, security forces have flagged off this issue of militants trying to sabotage hydro-power projects but this is perhaps for the first time when militant have been used to stall a water project that Islamabad is not willing to solve on table.