- How big a burden?
The unprecedented drive launched by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar, which was subsequently joined by Prime Minister Imran Khan after elections, to build dams through public funding has received mixed responses from political and social circles of the country. To add into it, CJP’s comment about invoking Article 6 of the constitution against those contesting this very idea of creation of dams through public funding has lately generated even more controversy.
Both the major opposition parties including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and their senior leadership have vehemently critsiced the move of the government in words such as “Chanday Se Mulk Nahi Chaltay” (countries are not run on charity). This indicates a serious lack of understanding on part of two major political forces which continue to play politics around the issue and shape the opinion of the people in a significant way, without providing any real alternative of their own.
Some consider it nothing more than an ultra-nationalist, and perhaps political, mode of the institutions including judiciary that threatens people with high treason charges, outrightly dismissing the obvious and urgent need to take unusual measures to increase our storage capacity amid water paucity.
Further, the conspiracy theories revolving around the possibility of another full fledged war between Pakistan and its eastern neighbour India over the issue of water are considered to be a hoax, a myth created by the Pakistani establishment to remain the centre of attention in power tussle, with no truth value in it whatsoever.
The recent developments across the region concerning water, however, suggest that it was neither a myth, nor a hoax, but a real threat that Pakistan was always rightly concerned about.
Owing to the climate change, the World Resources Institute’s recent report predicts that Pakistan would become the most water-stressed country in the region by 2040, and 23rd in the world. This means that from the deserts to the glaciers, almost each and every part of the country is going to get affected by this.
The natural factors now seem to be further exploited by external factors, which are actively pursuing an agenda to bring about the worst water depravity in Pakistan earlier than expected, and as the events are unfolding, it seems that there is plenty of evidence to support this claim.
The extra ordinary efforts to focus on water storage facilities seem to be a balancing act against a nefarious and systematic plan to deprive Pakistan of its due share of water resources by India, now in connivance with our western neighbour, Afghanistan.
For the sake of reference, most of us have varying degrees of knowledge about how India is rapidly building illegal dams over River Chenab in the Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK) that have the potential to create up to 20,000 Mega Watts of electricity, which ostensibly not only violate the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960, but also puts Pakistan’s agriculture economy under a serious threat.
The actual construction of the dams under the pipeline may seem a far-fetched reality to many, but making it a national issue certainly has a huge symbolic importance
The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 2011 report titled “Avoiding Water Wars” long ago predicted, “…on the cumulative, effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season…”
Frequent floods in Pakistan are also usually attributed as India’s choice to open the floodgate of surplus water of Rivers Ravi, Sutlej and Beas into Pakistan. This not only erodes cultivable land, but also causes huge loss in shape of human lives, property and internal displacement of millions of people.
However, what is less known in Pakistan is the nexus between the abovementioned measures by our eastern neighbour with congruent steps being taken on the western side. Afghanistan is working to build a total of 12 dams and water reservoirs on River Kabul and its three tributaries that flow in Pakistan. This water is used for drinking as well as irrigation purposes specially in different areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa including Noshehra (where almost 47pc cultivable area is irrigated by River Kabul), Charsadda (84pc) and Peshawar (80pc). It is highly likely that the new constructions on the other side of the border are going to diminish the power capacity of Warsak Dam, but also going to affect the KP’s agriculture economy.
The absence of any IWT-like treaty with Afghanistan on River Kabul is being fully exploited by India as the latter has invested about $2 billion in Afghanistan since 2001 on several infrastructure projects. It has also provided a feasibility report to Afghan government to build 12 new dams on the River Kabul with capacity to general over 1500 MW of hydroelectricity.
Here, it can be argued that real-politiks only demands Afghanistan to employ all efforts to utilise its resources according to their own interests, specially when the Afghan population is growing and there has been decline of rainfall by almost 60 per cent. And the logic looks sound. But the problem is the inequitable water infrastructure development which is being backed by external forces, at detriment of our national interests.
On the construction of a specific dam, Shahtoot Dam, on River Kabul, the US Senate 2011 report said, “Providing the right support can have a tremendous stabilising influence, but providing the wrong support can spell disaster by agitating neighboring countries.” The committee warned that tension between two countries over the issue of water may have serious impacts which “will be felt all over the world.”
The multibillion dollars investment in Afghanistan and India’s continous violations of IWT do not happen to be a merely coincidental in nature.
And for those in want of real example from the history through which a greater hope to build Diamer Bhasha and Mohmand Dams through public funding can be drawn are, perhaps, too captured by Cold War gifts in form of Tarbela and Mangla Dams, for which we had to make little to no efforts. But we should soon set aside the wrong reference points that our present in our minds, since the odds are too many and too great this time.
The actual construction of the dams under the pipeline may seem a far-fetched reality to many, but making it a national issue certainly has a huge symbolic importance. It is a way to communicate with adversaries, sending them strong signals about the will of the people to do everything possible to fight and resist the designs to starve Pakistan of water.
Where it certainly carries the risk of curbing freedom of expression when the critics are warned of Article 6 being put in force against them, it is also unfair not to at least consider the construction of dams a national security issue in wake of the recent developments mentioned earlier, among many others.