All major political parties in Punjab, except the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), have called for a mandatory consensus among the federating units before going ahead with plans to construct Kalabagh Dam, while the PML-Q believes the dissenting parties must be “made to understand” the importance of the project.
The demands came following a Lahore High Court (LHC) order on Thursday that directed the federal government to construct the Kalabagh Dam per the Council of Common Interest’s (CCI) guidelines. The order given by LHC Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked the Centre to proceed with the dam in light of CCI decisions and fulfil its responsibilities under Article 154.
The petitioners in the case had cited a Council of Common Interests (CCI) meeting held in 1991 that decided that the Kalabagh Dam was a “suitable” project. Reacting to the verdict, the Punjab chapters of the PML-N, PTI and the PPP voiced their concern, citing apprehension of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa about the dam. They believed that going ahead with the project would create more complexities and destabilise the country.
The PML-N said it stance was the same as before: no project should be initiated as long as federating units had objections to it. “A lack of trust among the federating units already exists and constructing Kalabagh Dam without developing a consensus will widen this chasm and could destabilise the country,” PML-N Pervez Rashid said. “We want to unite Pakistan and don’t want to destabilise it. If the people of Sindh or KP are not ready for any project, the PML-N will not support it. The provinces are already facing severe problems, with ongoing killings in Sindh, and if the PML-N supports the Kalabagh Dam, the problem is going to increase, not lessen,” he added. “We want politics of reconciliation and don’t want any conflict over the issue or any other with any other province at this critical juncture.”
PTI’s Shafqat Mahmood said the party had the highest respect for the LHC and believed that new reservoirs were necessary and indeed urgently needed to conserve water.
“But the PTI also believes that given the shortage of electricity, hydroelectric power is the most cost-effective means of generating electricity. However, it believes that the construction of Kalabagh Dam should only be undertaken after a broad national consensus.”
“The PTI believes that we are in a unique political situation today where most of the political parties are in power either at the Centre or in the provinces. It is, therefore, incumbent upon their leaderships to evolve a national consensus on the need for new reservoirs, particularly Kalabagh Dam,” Mahmood added.
He said the leadership of the PPP, PML N and other parties working together in the government had failed to do so.
“This is criminal neglect. While each one of them is enjoying the perks of office, they are shirking their responsibility to create a consensus on issues such as Kalabagh Dam.”
PPP’s Deputy Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Shaukat Basra said Kalabagh Dam was important, but “not as important as the country itself”. “The country is already passing through a critical juncture and we cannot afford more controversies that fan distrust among the provinces and hurt the sentiments of smaller units.”
“Besides, it is not the job of the judiciary to take upon itself tasks meant for other institutions. If the judiciary has to do the work of chief secretaries, the intelligence agencies, the army, these institutions should be shut,” Basra added.
However, PML-Q’s Kamil Ali Agha, said the parties, especially nationalist voices in Sindh and KP, should be made to understand that there was no alternative to Kalabagh Dam and it was essential for the country’s future.
“We have always been in favour of Kalabagh Dam because there is no alternative to it. All four provinces should reach a consensus on the issue.
The LHC has taken a great initiative, something which should be reinforced by the Supreme Court as well,” he said.
Country’s sovereignity at stake: ANP
The buried issue of Kalabagh Dam was brought into the limelight again following a decision of the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday. A number of top political figures from various political parties have expressed their concerns on the issue, most prominent out of which was ANP’s stance which questioned the the court’s authority and claimed that the country’s sovereignity had been put at stake following the controversial decision.
Chief Justice Lahore High Court Umar Ata Bandial on Thursday, announced a decision under Article-154 of the constitution terming that the federal government was bound to construct the Kalabagh Dam following the recommendations by Council of Common Interests Central spokesperson Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Zahid Khan while talking to Pakistan Today criticised the decision of LHC terming it an example of chauvinism of some elements in Punjab that have been backed by the establishment.
He said that by debating over the controversial issue, LHC had put the sovereignty of the country at stake, adding that “All the institutions of the state should stay within their limits”.
Requesting the Supreme Court to intervene into the matter, Khan said the apex court should take a suo-motu action on the issue otherwise it would result in a great loss which the country was not in a position to sustain.
Giving his party policy over the issue, the senior politician said ANP considers the construction of the Kalabagh Dam as a complete destruction and devastation of the Pushtun nation.
“Pushtuns would never compromise on this issue,” he said, reiterating his party’s stance on the issue.
The small provinces, he stated, had already passed resolutions in their provincial assemblies against the construction of the dam and now the LHC had introduced a controversial verdict.
The ANP Senator maintained that those who struggled for judicial freedom and independence would be disappointed over this controversial decision. “Devolution and introduction of the 18th Amendment reflected that the smaller provinces would get their rights, however, this decision has reverted the achievements of the 18th Amendment,” Khan stated in a flared up tone. He question how a provincial court could introduce a decision against the federation. Khan termed the decision as contempt of the parliament and provincial assemblies and called it an attempt to disgrace the mandate of three provincial assemblies as well as privileges of the members of these legislatures who are public representatives. The decision, he said, rejected the resolutions passed by the representatives of the people in three provinces.
“Punjab’s establishment was behind this decision and they used the courts for brining an anti-public decision which would trigger hatred among Pakistanis residing in various parts of the country,” he stated. Talking exclusively to Pakistan Today, Senator Pervaiz Rasheed from Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) said such projects should not be executed without the consensus of all stakeholders. Rasheed stated, “No such project should be executed unless it meets consensus from all units of the federation”. Advisor to the prime minister on Human Rights Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said two provinces had concerns on the Kalabagh Dam, following which it was a difficult task for the federation to implement the decision of the LHC.