Home News Analysis India opens flood gates, Pakistan pays price for not making dams?

India opens flood gates, Pakistan pays price for not making dams?

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The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), in the Pakistani province of Punjab, has issued a flood alert for parts of the province in anticipation of outflows from Indian reservoirs and heavy showers. India, faced with heavy rainfall in catchment areas, is opening its floodgates. More than 50,000 cusecs feet of water was released from Bhakra Dam, alone, on Monday. The PDMA, in a statement, warned that medium to very high flood situation is expected in River Chenab from Sept 23 till Sept 28; owing to the increased downpour in catchment areas and release of water from India.

According to Indian media, heavy rains have played havoc in parts of North India, including Indian Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh & Indian Occupied Kashmir, for three consecutive days.

At least 22 people have been killed in India as Water levels in rivers rose across Himachal Pradesh, with the level in Pong Dam nearing danger mark. Bhakra Beas Management Board announced the release of 50,000 cusecs of water from Pong dam at 3 pm on Tuesday into the Beas river. Around 1 lakh cusecs were released late night from Ropar barrage into the Sutlej river. Sources said that India opened the gates of Ferozepur Headworks, which resulted in the rise of water by two feet in Ganda Singhwala area near Kasur.

The proposed Diamir Basha Dam is estimated to cost about 14 bn $ which is extremely difficult for the government to generate on its own in its current condition.

They further informed that India released water in River Ravi from Madhupur Headworks, which entered Pakistan in Jassar area. While some Pakistani TV channels blamed India for waging a “Water terrorism” or “Water warfare”, against Pakistan, this was denied by the Federal Flood Commission (FFC) and the Pakistan Meteorological Department – both clarified that there is no Indian design behind the current crisis.

Read more: Bodies found as floods recede in India’s Kerala

The Federal Flood Commission (FFC) on Monday said that flooding of villages in Pakistan was caused by heavy showers that occurred in catchment areas of the major rivers of Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej while Chief Meteorologist at Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) Muhammad Riaz explained that heavy rainfall had occurred in the Pakistan-India border region, which was the reason behind increased flow of water in the rivers.

This position was corroborated by analysts.

Ironically, on the same day, the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has informed a parliamentary panel that the water supply will dip to less than 50% for crop cultivation. The increasing water scarcity highlights the stark need for large and small dams for Pakistan. Despite facing both severe water shortages and flood management challenges each year, Pakistan has been unable to build a major dam since the 1980s. Principal factor has been lack of political consensus between the federating units on the issue of dams.

The PTI has not only welcomed the CJ Dam Fund but is wholeheartedly participating in it. With the near extinction of the ANP in KPK, the remaining steadfast opponents are the Sindhi nationalists.

After Pakistan and India signed Indus Water Treaty, in 1963, Pakistan quickly built large reservoirs at Mangla and Tarbela with the help of World Bank. Country was all set to initiate third large dam at Kalabagh, in Mianwali district of Punjab, for which it procured $ 25 million in 1979 and financial investment from international institutions was not an issue. However, the project of Kalabagh Dam began to face opposition from the Pakhtun nationalist party, ANP, as well as some Sindhi nationalists largely owing to a political tussle with the then President Zia ul Haq’s government. Benazir Bhutto led PPP government was not opposed to Kalabagh Dam but failed to take a position due to fear of losing support in interior Sindh. In 1990’s Nawaz government tried but shelved the idea when it faced resistance from ANP and Sindhi nationalists.

Was India behind Resistance to Kalabagh Dam?

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, during the period 2003-4, tried taking a firm stand on the issue and was braving the resistance of both ANP and Sindhi nationalists when Altaf Hussain of MQM suddenly took a strong position against the Kalabagh Dam forcing Musharraf to back down. Pakistani intelligence sources believe that Indian government agencies were quietly funding and encouraging all opposition to Kalabagh Dam from 1980’s onwards. In recent years Indian government has justified its rapid build up of dams, in occupied Kashmir, in tacit violations of Indus Water Treaty (IWT) on the grounds that since lower riparian – Pakistan – has not built dams the river waters are being lost to the oceans. Pakistan’s failure to build large dams is an abysmal failure of its political parties.

India, the upper riparian on Indus river system, has 5100 dams while its northeastern neighbor China has more than 80,000 dams out of which 2200 are considered large dams. The US has over 9200 major dams in its territory. Pakistan has 164 dams of which only 3 could be considered as major dams such as Tarbela, Mangla and Warsak. In recent years, faced with water scarcity and floods, the awareness about dams is increasing. Chief Justice, Saqib Nisar’s initiative of raising funds for Diamer Bhasha Dam has appeared in this growing context. Imran Khan, after becoming Prime Minister, has thrown his full weight behind the initiative. Supreme Court and Prime Minister funds have now merged together. However the challenge, now facing Pakistan, is both huge and complex.

Read more: Chief Justice says stakeholders of Kala Bagh Dam will stay unaffected…

The main stumbling block now, behind Pakistani inability to construct larges dams, is the lack of financial capital. While international finance, from World Bank or Asian Development Bank (ADB) is available for projects like Kalabagh Dam, no such funds are now available for undertaking such projects in former state of Jammu & Kashmir because of Indian objections. The proposed Diamir Basha Dam, alone, is estimated to cost about $ 14 -15 billon which is extremely difficult for the government to generate on its own in its current financial condition. While China was approached for the construction of the dam under the aegis of CPEC, the plan could not come to fruition owing to dispute on interest rates.

As Diamir Basha Dam lies in the territory of Gilgit Baltistan which is considered disputed territory (being part of the old princely state of Jammu & Kashmir) India has been able to block off international financing for construction of Diamir Basha dam. It has achieved this purpose by raising objections in the World Bank and ADB. Interestingly, India had not raised such objections on the construction of Mangla dam, lying in the territory of AJK, in 1960s. Both Mangla and Tarbela were financed by World Bank -and their expansions in recent years were also with the support of World Bank and USAID. Political Analysts point out that India’s objections on Pakistani dams are now part of the overall Indian strategy to keep Pakistan under pressure and destabilized. However, Kalabagh Dam still represents an easy project for which Pakistan can get funding from international donors.

Read more: What is the biggest threat to Pakistan?

It was in this context that Chief Justice, recently while talking to media, had remarked that, “we have not given up hope for Kalabagh Dam, and if there is unity and consensus then it can still be made”. Nasir Shah, Sindh’s Information Minister, reacted sharply to this assertion when he said, in a TV program, that anyone who talks of making Kalabagh Dam should be tried for treason under Art. 6. Later participating in Dunya News program, with Dr. Moeed Pirzada, Sindh minister clarified that PPP is not against dams; it is whole heartedly supporting the dam initiative by Chief Justice, but that Kalabagh Dam is unacceptable to people of Sindh.

But now there is a silver lining on the horizon. ANP is politically decimated in KP, replaced by a very nationalistic and pro-center PTI. Baluchistan’s politics has also changed. PTI has also emerged as the largest political force in the metropolis of Karachi and Altaf Hussain with all his Indian support has joined dustbin of history. The PTI has not only welcomed the CJ Dam Fund but is wholeheartedly participating in it. With the rise of the PTI in Sindh through Karachi, its hold on KP and Punjab and its support in Baluchistan it can engage and create trust in Sindhi nationalists for the Kalabagh Dam. Center and Punjab will need to address the fears and concerns of Sindhi nationalists. Can PM Imran Khan undertake this challenge remains to be seen. But the stuff of history is made of leaders who create consensus around bigger issues and Kalabagh Dam still represents the quickest solution to Pakistan’s growing water scarcity and flood management.


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