It really seems as if the federal government has decided to cut off its nose to spite its face. The Punjab government’s letter to the Chairman of the Indus River System Authority asking for a review of the decision shows that the water for the province has been cut by the federal government from 32,000 cusecs to 22,000 cusecs. Coming at a time when the land is being cultivated for rice, and about to prepare for cotton, and in a year when the monsoon has failed, the decision has already provoked a strong reaction from farmers’ organizations, and might well mean that both of Pakistan’s major exports, raw cotton and rice, will be harmed. According to the letter, South Punjab will be affected, particularly Rahim Yar Khan District, which is not just very large and primarily agricultural, but is also the province’s southern-most. This step alone should serve to show that the PPP’s sudden backing of the South Punjab province idea is not based on any belief in the rightness of the cause, but on political opportunism. It is this same opportunism that is at work in the decision to starve Punjab of water, thus sacrificing the exports that will go to meet the target set by the federal government. Exports have gained in importance after the price hikes in oil, because the exports pay for the oil needed to generate electricity, and thus keep the country away from darkness.
The PPP might consider two aspects. First, it has virtually no chance of shifting the blame of the water shortage to the provincial government. Even if the PML-N was to remain silent during the coming election campaign, which it won’t, the farmer is aware enough to realise that the federal government is behind the shortage. Second, the PPP will not gain, in provinces other than Punjab with the move either. This is a very risky step to take so soon before the general election it must face.
The Punjab government has suggested a review of the IRSA decision, which would be the best solution to the problem. The federal government must restore the province’s water so that it can produce the crops that are to be exported. This is not the time to let petty political considerations come in the way. The federal government must not delay its decision for so long that it becomes irrelevant.