The Kalabagh Dam project is beginning to look all the more necessary because of the shortages Pakistan is facing, not just of power, which citizens know about only too well, but also of water. This water, used for irrigation, is used by Pakistan to feed its population, and to pay its way in the world, particularly for the food and fuel it needs to keep going. It is too often forgotten that the Kalabagh Dam project was meant as a water-replacement project, and the 6.5 million acre feet of water would allow seven million acres now barren to come under cultivation, with the 3,800 MW of hydel electricity it would generate, helping in a great degree to meet the power shortfall that is faced. Though it has a very good feasibility, the project has been made a political football by elements which are pursuing the Indian agenda, which wants to buttress India’s use of the waters of the Chenab and Indus, where it used the war on terror to win American backing for its speeding up work on 3,220 MW in 19 hydel projects. One of the arguments that Indians use is that Pakistan does not use the water it has, either for hydel or for irrigation, and thus India should not be stopped from doing so. This has helped it win World Bank funding for the projects, even though they are being built on disputed territory. What it does not mention is that the water resources it wants to exploit are in Occupied Kashmir. These resources it could only have if it prevented the international community from determining the will of the Kashmiri people.
The federal government has been dragging its feet even though the project is not just beneficial for all provinces, especially in terms of barren land which will be rendered cultivable, but also in the particular case of Sindh, where there will be fish farmed again in Manchar Lake. However, political vested interests have prevented the dam from going forward, and the government contains some of its traditional opponents. This opposition, which in the Musharraf years reached the point of a criminal silence by the federal government, only benefits India, while inflicting an annual loss of Rs 560 billion on the country. Even a rich country (and Pakistan is a poor one) would not be able to stand such a loss for long. It is a loss, which if allowed to continue, would bring down the whole economy.
The government must realize that the Kalabagh Dam is essential to the solution of Pakistan’s water and energy shortages. It must look to the national interest rather than that of any narrow section, and must proceed with this project.