* ‘Chronic mistrust’ among provinces, central government
The summer’s floods in Pakistan have reopened a quarter-century-old debate on whether to build a large hydroelectric dam on the Indus River or not, a dispute that has split the nation along regional lines.
Supporters say the water reservoir could have prevented much of the floods’ devastation and boosted agricultural production along the river. Opponents say just the opposite.
The debate over the Kalabagh Dam shows how the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history, affecting some 20 million people, has unearthed deep fissures in its society. There is a chronic mistrust among the provinces and the central government, and critics accuse wealthy landowners of naked self-interest in wanting to ensure the Indus keeps irrigating their crops.
In the northwest, politicians and farmers fear the dam could mean more flooding and not less. They say if the dam’s reservoir was full, surplus water would be diverted into some districts in the region.
South of Punjab, they fear the dam would mean drought and poor crops. Both regions ultimately think that it would give Punjab even more economic and political clout.
Nonsense: The governor of Punjab dismisses the arguments as “nonsense”. “It is an emotional issue that they play up and say the ‘Punjabis are stealing your water’,” said Salmaan Taseer, a vocal proponent of the dam.
Shamsul Mulk, former chairman of Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority and a strong supporter of the dam, said even a “common man” could see that having the dam in place would have mitigated the floods.
No one disputes the electricity that would be supplied from the dam would benefit the whole country.
Studies show the dam would generate some 3,400 megawatts of electricity and could be built in under five years. Still, few outside Punjab support it.
Leaders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa say the dam will destroy farmlands in the Peshawar valley.
“We will never let it happen,” said Bashir Bilour, a senior minister in the province.
In Sindh, there are fears Punjab will use the Kalabagh Dam to hog water, meaning even less will reach their farmlands. That could also lead to greater salination.
“The dam means our lands will turn into deserts,” said Khaliq Junejo, vice chairman of a Sindhi nationalist party. ap