What do the Pakistani flag, the Shalwar Kameez and the Diamer-Bhasha dam project have in common? All three of them have become conflated with patriotism. Those who oppose either one earn scorn for being against the interests of the country.

The Sindh Chief Minister, Murad Ali Shah, held a conference yesterday where he voiced some technical concerns he had over the Diamer-Bhasha dam project, stating that since the proposed site was in a seismic zone, the shrinking water availability in the Indus system would hardly allow the dam to be fully filled.

Shah’s concerns should have been a perfectly uncontroversial opinion, yet he made the statement with much hesitation and disclaimer, clarifying first that he was not against the building of the dam. Why should the building of a water project, for which thousands of complications and technicalities would have to be considered and debated, be conflated with partisan-ship? Activists and experts who have criticised the highly unfeasible methodology of constructing the dam through donations have been censured and labelled to be anti-judiciary and anti-PTI, even though the act of critiquing an infrastructure project, one which would cost one-tenth of our GDP, should not labelled as a political act.

All the politicisation of the dam, and shutting down of debate, will not silence the whispers of water experts and engineers. Even if we put aside the fact that it is highly difficult to build such an enormous infrastructure project without loans or a toll on the deficit, several experts have previously analysed the enormous risks and disadvantages of building Diamer-Bhasha, and these opinions should be discussed and debated in the mainstream. Shah is correct that the seismic zone of the dam makes it a highly unfeasible project. Engineers have stressed that the weight of water behind high dams can typically trigger massive earthquakes, and with the dam being made of concrete, it looks like a recipe for disaster.

Water conservation is a goal that every political party had stated with importance in its manifesto. The struggle to prevent Pakistan from becoming a water-scarce country should not be made into a political issue. The government’s efforts for tackling the water crisis is appreciable, yet the building of Diamer-Bhasha should not be handled with a “with us or against us” approach. The question of constructing the dam, and assessing its risks and benefits, is a technical one, and should be open to debate by experts and engineers- and shouldn’t be made into a patriotic statement.