‘Kalabagh dam’, scapegoat for political mileage

The opponents of Kalabagh dam have never corroborated their anti-dam contention with empirical and authentic technical data. Hostility towards the construction of this dam has been used by the leaderships of Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) as a ploy of deriving political mileage. After the completion of Tarbella dam in 1975, construction of another big dam downstream the River Indus has not the top most priority of civilian governments.

The government of President Ziaul Haq decided to address the issues of water conservation and inexpensive electricity generation by prioritizing the construction of Kalabagh dam in the decade of 1980s. The ANP leadership went into action to use it for accumulating political capital. Addressing a function Asfandiyar Wali said on Thursday that Bacha Khan had buried Kalbagh dam for ever but certain political personalities is using it for point scoring. To put the record straight, this multidimensional project had been conceived in 1960 but not a single word against it had been said by the leadership of the then National Awami Party (NAP), the predecessor of ANP. It is pertinent to mention that a former Chief Minister of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa Mehtab Ahmad Khan Abbassi, while coalition partner with ANP, said at public meeting at Charsadda in May 1998 that there is no danger of drowning of certain districts from Kalabagh dam rather it is the politics of ANP which will certainly drown if the dam is built. After the completion of Mohamand dam project on the river Swat, the downstream water flow from it into the River Kabul will be substantially reduced. The political parties with their majority vote bank in the province of Sindh had not openly opposed its construction when a Sindhi Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo had been building consensus in 1985. It was Benizir Bhutto who ignited anti-Kalabagh dam feelings in Sindh, made it a major political slogan in her first election campaign in 1988 and hence PPP leadership jumped on the ant-Kalabagh dam bandwagon to the detriment of national interest.

The myth of anti-Kalabagh dam stance had been shattered by the former Caretaker Federal Minister for Water and Power, Barrister Ali Zafar in a press conference in August last year. He hinted at foreign involvement in the opposition to the construction of this dam and had asked the incoming ruling leadership to vigorously work on building consensus for its early construction. He very aptly pointed that India has been watching Pakistan’s inaction over the construction of this dam and is violating our rights on the three westerly rivers. The then caretaker minister disclosed that anti-Kalabagh dam conferences held abroad were better orgainised and better funded.

Because of the deliberate neglect of building big storage dams over the past five decades, Pakistan has become a water stressed country, having a water storage capacity hardly sufficient for 36 days. Other countries of the world have 130 days storage capacity. Silting has reduced the storage capacity of Tarbella dam reservoir from 13.681 to 9.360 Million Acre Feet (MAF). The water storage capacity of Mangla dam reservoir has also declined. The combined storage capacity of both reservoirs is less than 15 MAF.

Former Chairman WAPDA engineer Shamsul Mulk who had remained Director Kalbagh Dam project cautioned that Khyber Pukhtunkhwa will not get its due share of water from the river Indus if the construction of this dam is abandoned. Dr. Salman Shah, the then economic advisor of President Musharraf had said in private TV current affairs programme that construction of Kalabagh dam will ensure provision of sufficient irrigation water for 1000000 acre agriculture land in Sothern districts of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, making the province self sufficient in the production of cereal crops, sugarcane, vegetable and fruits. Pakistan has been declared as water scarce country because its per capita water availability has dropped to 1000 cubic meters. It is time that PTI government should launch a well coordinated mass awareness campaign about the looming threat of water scarcity and build consensus for the construction of Kalabagh dam to deprive the self-serving ant-dam political leaders from the easily available tool of deriving political mileage.