Mohammad Jamil

The Lahore High Court (LHC) has ordered construction of Kalabagh Dam in the light of the decision of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) in 1991. The Lahore High Court chief justice in his remarks said that under Article 154 of the Constitution of Pakistan, the federal government was bound to implement the CCI proposals.

The question is when the PPP and the ANP leaders do not allow the construction of KBD who will implement the court verdict. They show utter disregard to the agreement reached in the CCI for construction of Kalabagh Dam through an agreement signed by the federal government and the provinces in 1991.

The text of the agreement titled ‘Apportionment of Water of Indus River System between the Provinces of Pakistan’ signed in 1991 by all the four chief ministers underlined the need for water storages on the Indus River. Differences or conflicts over distribution of the river water and construction of dams among the people of upper and lower riverine regions in various countries are quite common. In entrenched democracies, visionary leaderships try to resolve differences and accommodate opposition’s point of view; but they do not bow to the pressure of the minority of disgruntled elements. In Pakistan, almost all the governments in the past – democratic and military – have been talking about the consensus on construction of KBD. But how can a consensus be reached when nationalists of Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa together with their elected leaders raise slogans “Do you want Kalabagh Dam or Pakistan?” Sharjeel Memon of PPP and Zahid Khan of ANP, commenting on the Lahore High Court verdict, have already expressed their determination not to allow the construction of Kalabagh Dam, come what may.

They say the construction of KBD will weaken the federation, not realising that shortage of power and war on water in the coming years would be more detrimental to the federation as well as federating units. It has to be mentioned that Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP) assemblies had passed resolutions against the construction of the KBD. The Balochistan Assembly also passed a similar resolution just to express solidarity with the two provinces. Since Council of Common Interests had already agreed in 1991 on the construction of Kalabagh Dam, there should be no more hypocrisy about the so-called consensus and the issue of building water storages and hydel power generation resolved with sincerity. Let us not make any more delay because enough time has already been wasted.

The real problem is that India has been instrumental in stirring opposition to the Kalabagh Dam by spending billions of rupees on propaganda and investing on centrifugal forces and some unconscionable elements. Mala fide intentions of India are obvious from the report/book published in 2004 titled ‘Pakistan’s Provinces’ written by think-tank of India under the name and style of ‘Strategic Foresight Group’.

In the chapter ‘Sindh’, the authors stated: “If Sindh continues to suffer economic deterioration and water shortages, internal turmoil is inevitable. The influx of Sindh refugees can bring India into direct confrontation with Pakistan. Independent Sindh might be born, but not before the 1971 war is replayed.”

In August 2005, chairman of the committee, AGN Abbasi, briefed former President General Pervez Musharraf about the committee’s recommendations and opinions of the provinces, WAPDA, IRSA and Planning Commission. After the revision of the KBD plan, it was expected that the provinces would not object to the construction of KBD. Former CM Sindh Arbab Ghulam Rahim was reported to have assured former PM Shaukat Aziz of his support to the construction of KBD. Anyhow, Pakistan seems to be on the ‘horns of dilemma’ because in case dams are not constructed, the country would face acute food shortages, possibly famine and anarchy. And if KBD is constructed, the centrifugal forces may stir greater provincial disharmony. Anyhow, the problem of shortage of water is being compounded by India’s river-diversion plans and construction of dams on Pakistan’s rivers in violation of IWT. In other countries, leadership plans 50 to 100 years in advance to construct large reservoirs, but in Pakistan no government gave a serious thought to this important matter during the last three decades. It has to be mentioned that the preliminary feasibility report on Kalabagh Dam Project was prepared by Tiptan and Hill in 1953, but the government seriously considered the construction of Kalabagh Dam in 1970s only. But things moved at snail’s pace because Sindh and NWFP had expressed certain apprehensions.

Former NWFP’s apprehensions are: 1) Historic flooding of Peshawar Valley, including Nowshera town, would aggravate in the event of recurrence of 1929 record flood. 2) Drainage of surrounding areas of Mardan, Pabbi and Swabi plains would cause water-logging and salinity. 3) Fertile cultivable land would be submerged, and 4) a large number of people would be displaced. Sindh province’s concerns and its apprehensions are: 1) Sindh would be converted into a desert with the construction of Kalabagh Dam. 2) High-level outlets would be used to divert water from the reservoir. 3) Cultivation of riverine areas would be adversely affected. 4) Sea-water intrusion in the Indus estuary would accentuate, and 5) mangrove forests will be affected and Kotri Barrage’s lower areas will adversely affect fish farming.

There is no substance in these arguments. Nowshera was inundated in the previous flashfloods. Had the KBD been constructed, there would have been no flood in Nowshera. Having all said, if Kalabagh and Bhasha dams are not constructed within next five to seven years, Pakistan will not be able to produce enough food grains to meet the needs of the growing population. Not only Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa but rest of the country would also suffer.