The dispute between the Punjab and Sindh governments over water allocation for this Kharif crop seem both inevitable, yet entirely avoidable. The inevitability comes from the fact that the two provinces are ruled by two different parties, the PTI and the PPP, while the PTI rules at the Centre. The PTI’s confrontational attitude has probably been further sharpened by the federal ministry involved, the Water Resources Ministry, was headed by Senator Faisal Vawda, whose previous outbursts have marked him out as an extremist even in a pretty extreme crowd. It should be remembered that when the PPP was in office at the Centre in 2008-2013, the PML(N) held office in Punjab, but while the dispute existed, the Centre did not allow it to be raised.
The immediate dispute is over the Sindh government’s refusal to nominate any member to the Tripartite Discharge Monitoring Team, federal inspectors’ attempt to inspect Guddu Barrage discharges. The Sindh Irrigation Secretary has taken the position that the Water Resources Ministry has no standing in the matter, and that disputes between the provinces were to be resolved by the Indus River System Authority. Be that as it may, it must not be forgotten that the 1991 Water Accord, on which both provinces are relying, was reached and signed by the PM and CMs, with no formal role for IRSA, even though it existed back then in 1991.
In short, this is a political problem, and must be solved politically, through dialogue. However, two of the three parties, the centre and Punjab, are ruled by a party which aspires to carry out political activity without dialogue. In the process, it has alienated other parties, such as the PPP, by persistently calling it and its leaders thieves and corrupt. Though there is the example of the Karachi Transformation Package, it does not really hold out much hope. If instead of playing politics by incendiary statements, as Information Fawad Chaudhry indulged in, accusing Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah of stealing water, and diverting it to ex-President Asif Zardari’s land. Keeping the doors of dialogue open is done exactly for times like this. The matter of irrigation water is sensitive, especially when all the three governments are backed by majorities comprising large landowners. There is no way out except dialogue, and the government’s take-no-prisoners attitude means no solution will be possible.