– Even as U.S.-Pakistani cooperation on anti-terrorism programs is withering, the United States is considering backing the construction of a giant, $12 billion dam in Pakistan that would be the largest civilian aid project the United States has undertaken here in decades.
Supporters of a U.S. role in the project say American participation would mend the United States' tattered image, going a long way toward quieting anti-Americanism amid criticism that the United States lavishes money on Pakistan's military while doing little for the civilian population.
Approval of the project still faces many hurdles. objects to the dam because it would be in , an area that India also claims. The project also is likely to face opposition from Pakistan's critics in the U.S. Congress, who've called for all aid to be cut off after Osama bin Laden was found hiding in northern Pakistan earlier this year.
Recent Pakistani actions, including allegations this week that Pakistan allowed Chinese military experts to inspect the wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed at the bin Laden compound, are likely to inflame such criticism.
Still, proponents of U.S. aid for the project recall that the United States was popular in Pakistan in the 1960s and '70s, when backed the construction of two enormous dams, Tarbela and Mangla.
"This would be a huge demonstration of our commitment to Pakistan and our faith in the country's future," said a senior U.S. official who asked not to be identified because no final decision on the project has been made.
The Diamer Basha dam would provide enough power to overcome Pakistan's crippling electricity shortage. Proponents also claim that its water storage capacity, in a 50-mile-long lake that would be created behind the dam, would be so great that it would have averted last's years floods, which deluged a fifth of the country, pushed 20 million people out of their homes and did an estimated $10 billion in damage.
Shakil Durrani, the chairman of Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority, said the dam had received Pakistani government approval and that he was confident of American support.
The United States would provide only a fraction of the $12 billion needed to complete the project. However, the American money would be crucial in enabling other international finance sources to support the dam. The U.S. official indicated that some $200 million would be provided initially, with the possibility of hundreds of millions more as the project develops.