The crucial importance of Kalabagh Dam (KBD) to the national economy was underlined in the Punjab Assembly on Monday when some members of the House debated the ruinous impact of periodic increases in the prices of petroleum products on the life of the people. The connection between the two, the dam and the price hike, is unmistakably clear. The thread of the debate with reference to Kalabagh was again picked up the next day and members urged the powers that be to construct it within the shortest possible time. There can be no two opinions about the immense advantages that could have accrued to the country as a whole over the years, had it been built at the time its feasibility was established by world renowned consultants. International banking institutions like the World Bank were ready to meet the expenses (and then the construction cost was quite low compared to these days of high inflation) and there was no dearth of known firms which could have taken up the job. And with its reservoir meeting the various kinds of water needs of the country and with its electricity generation in full swing to reduce the strain of prolonged loadshedding, the economy would have been looking up instead of going down as at present.

The tragedy is that Pakistan fell prey to a mindset of conspiracy and provincial disputes and doubts were sown in the minds of people of the smaller provinces that the dam would be of benefit only to Punjab and, besides, it would deprive them of their due share of water. The evidence of this plot is so overwhelming that it is difficult to dismiss it. For instance, a book compiled by a Pakistan writer contains reference to a statement issued on March 18, 2004, by the then Indian army chief talking about an “Indo-US nexus” aimed at depriving Pakistan of its nuclear arsenal through discouraging the construction of the KBD. The General argues that starved of water that this dam could make available to agriculture the country would look up to the West to come to its help in meeting its needs for food. That would ultimately harm Pakistan’s economy to an extent that it would become possible to persuade it to surrender the control of its nuclear assets to them. It has also been said that India spends $2 billion a year to keep the anti-Kalabagh lobby active in Pakistan.

In the light of these facts, one would hope the dam-dissidents would spare a moment for the good of the country. Putting aside emotions, built on false assumptions, they should try to see that the KBD would provide a regulated supply of water not only to Punjab, but also to lower riparian regions and its 3,600MW of power would go on the national grid to be used across the entire country. It is an issue on which narrow parochial prejudices should not be allowed to prevail; it is a question of national survival.