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Kalabagh Dam; A Project Drowned in Political Controversies

Kalabagh Dam has remained the center of discussions for years

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Kalabagh Dam; A Project Drowned in Political Controversies. Six decades later the controversies around Kalabagh Dam project remains intact, and it has once more become the center of all political discussions – shortly before the upcoming elections. This happened as a result of Supreme Court taking up a petition filed by Barrister Zafarullah Khan asking for commencing a referendum on the issue of Kalabagh Dam construction. Regardless of the fact, that Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar clarified while hearing the petition, “at the moment, we are not arguing over the construction of Kalabagh Dam but we are looking at how the issue of water scarcity in the country can be resolved.” It has, nonetheless, ignited the old political debate of controversies and political leaders have not wasted any time in taking a swing at it already.

For some politicians Kalabagh Dam had always been and always will be an issue connected to identity and ethnicity, for instance that of Awami National Party (ANP)’s Asfandiyar Wali. For him the issue is more than finding ways to dealing with the country’s increasingly water scarcity. “No one should misunderstand the position of ANP regarding the building of Kalabagh Dam – we will resist it and subsequently defend the rights and interests of Pukhtuns,” he had clearly stated in 2015. With this petition he has once more reinstated his old stance – if anything, with more vigor and conviction.

For decades now this project has proved to provide an outlet to the fumes of hostility

Qaumi Watan Party (QWP)’s chairman Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao also raised his concerns on the issue once more coming into the limelight. He too does not seem happy about the issue being taken up by the court on the basis that smaller federating units had already rejected the controversial project and, thus, it should have remained unaddressed. He termed Kalabagh Dam as the detrimental of the stability of the federation and smaller provinces would oppose it at any cost. The leader also pointed out that the timing of putting this issue in the limelight so close to elections will tend to put more vital issues on the backburner.

Former Opposition leader of National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah also voiced his concerns on the issue and suggested that it should be left to the politicians to find solution to. According to him, “Kalabagh dam is purely a political issue and as such its solution can come only through a democratic process. No institution or court can impose their decision on the nation about the dam.”

Kalabagh Dam; A Project Drowned in Political Controversies

For decades now this project has proved to provide an outlet to the fumes of hostility that has always, somehow, been engraved in the seams of the federation. Thereby, converting a water preserving project into a dispute between peoples; flaring ethnic fissures between different factions of the federation. There have been many occasion on which different governments and leaders have tried to appeal to the larger nationalism, beyond and above ethnicity, but they have all gone in vein. These unheard appeals can mean two things;  indicating that somehow these engraved hostility run deeper, or that this is a scenario utilized well by politicians for their vested interests cashing in on the fears and distrust of their people. Whichever of the two, one can not ignore the underlying worries of all sides in order to understand the root of this issue.

The mains oppositions to this project are mostly voiced from Kyber Pakhtoon Khwa (KPK) and Sindhi. Then there is Balochistan’s objection which is standing in solidarity with the other two seemingly victimized aggrieved parties. Sindh’s objections are solely based on the fear that if another Dam is built on the Indus River their share of water will be curtailed further. With their share of  Indus water stored in Kalabagh will then be used to irrigate the farmlands of Punjab and KPK. Thus, instilling a fear in Sindh about their right as a lower riparian, according to International water distribution law, being violated as a result of this project.

This fear has its roots harbored in earlier project of the construction of Tarbela Dam across Indus that has affected the water content of the once mighty Kotri Barrage. Therefore, this fear of losing even more water with the construction of yet another dam on the Indus drives all objections for the Sindhis.

KPK’s concerns, however, are two fold; one more monetary, while the other related to the believed harmful consequences of the project on certain areas of the province. For the first is related to the design of the project, which is such that results in allocating the power generating turbines just across the Stateline into Punjab. This, thereby, means KPK will be denied the subsequent royalties that KPK is not willing to pass on to Punjab – then be it at the cost of giving up on the project altogether. The second concern stems from the belief that the construction of the dam will have an adverse effect on the adjacent agricultural lands of Mardan and will submerged areas in Nowshera District.

Kalabagh Dam; A Project Drowned in Political Controversies
Source: Google

Amidst all this hum drum of political vibration the main issue, of finding a solution to the rapidly deteriorating state of the country’s water availability, remains unaddressed. Therefore, when the Supreme Court, with its balanced approach, is trying to find a solution to the overarching problem and is somehow addressing the real issue at the core should not be not shunned so brutally.

Amidst all this hum drum of political vibration the main issue, of finding a solution to the rapidly deteriorating state of the country’s water availability, remains unaddressed

As Justice Nisar claims that, “Supreme Court is the court of the center and we seek to bring everyone together not create differences”, and not to be insecure about their decision when concerning the grievances of different provinces, one should not be so hasty as to reject it from the onset. The court’s initiative of assembling a team of experts to provide some informed and balanced recommendations, which will then be forwarded to the parliament is reasonable enough for all parties to work with – if they are actually interested in finding solutions for the country’s most immanent issue of  water scarcity.

It is high time that this issue is untangled from all that is political and set to find solutions welcoming the Supreme Court’s initiative to find those solutions

As one can not rule out all the grievances of Sindh and KPK as baseless one should neither be too blind to the more damming issue of water shortage of the country. Therefore, it is high time that this issue is untangled from all that is political and set to find solutions welcoming the Supreme Court’s initiative to find those solutions.

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