The dam argument

  • Especially Kalabagh

Whatever ‘foreign involvement’ caretaker minister for water resources, Ali Zafar, might suspect in the opposition to Kalabagh Dam, he seems to forget that internal conflict more than anything else has kept Pakistan from erecting this vital lifeline. And it wasn’t really outside interference that pushed us from a water abundant country, largely, to a near water scarce one from top to bottom. While he’s right about India violating the Indus Water Treaty, he must also understand how big a role Pakistan’s own inability to present, much less defend, its case on international forums has allowed the other party such blatant leverage.

That fact, sadly, is that Pakistan’s democratic governments have never really placed projects like dams, or the country’s long term needs, in proper perspective. When they did spend on infrastructure, it was mostly on high-visibility, quick to set up, mega projects like power plants and highways; especially PML-N administrations. And however much democracy is central to national progress, it was sadly the dictators that ruled over us for so long that always looked out for dams and such, even though they did not really need to appeal to any electorate. Ayub Khan gave us the dams that we’ve worked with for so long and Gen Musharraf pushed the Kalabagh case more than any recent leader, though in the end he too lamented that the dam could be made, but the country would break.

The caretaker minister also noted how India constructed around 400 dams in all the years we have been fighting over Kalabagh. Perhaps he should question, as should we all, why no government could initiate smaller hydel projects even if Kalabagh was in deep freeze. We must realise that the responsibility for this almost criminal disregard and waste of precious water resources lies predominantly with successive Pakistani governments. Even now, as our prominent politicians are willing to form the most unnatural alliances, and all but bend over backwards, to become part of government, it seems issues central to the country’s long term survival are not very high on their agenda. And Kalabagh Dam would be the last thing to cross anybody’s mind these days.