Aspi­ra­tion and Re­al­ity

The Kal­abagh Dam has be­come a vic­tim of po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy and the project has lan­guished in the files of WAPDA for more than thirty years. The wa­ter cri­sis in Pak­istan con­tin­ues to in­crease but no so­lu­tions are in sight to in­crease the na­tion’s wa­ter

Southasia - - REGION - By Uzair Sat­tar

The lack of po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus in con­struct­ing the Kal­abagh Dam has made it Pak­istan’s most sig­nif­i­cant, long-run­ning wa­ter con­tro­versy. The project has been re­duced to an emo­tive ap­peal as part of a fig­ment of an imag­ined provin­cial­ism to ex­ploit peo­ple’s sen­ti­ments. De­spite the com­plete back­ing and sup­port of the govern­ment for over thirty years, the dam re­mains un­built. This begs the ques­tion: where are Pak­istan’s in­sti­tu­tions that are tasked with over­see­ing projects such as Kal­abagh dam?

To an­swer this ques­tion, one must be­gin at the very be­gin­ning. In Bri­tish In­dia, wa­ter man­age­ment was in the do­main of prov­inces, not the cen­tre. The prov­inces had au­ton­omy in how they were to use the canal ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem that the Bri­tish had built. How­ever, the colo­nial sys­tem changed im­me­di­ately af­ter in­de­pen­dence, as both Pak­istan and In­dia came into con­flict over their share of wa­ter in the In­dus sys­tem. This led to the for­ma­tion of the In­dus Wa­ters Treaty (IWT).

Dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions of the IWT, the govern­ment sub­stan­tially height­ened the cen­tral state’s claim to over­ar­ch­ing tech­ni­cal author­ity to han­dle what was pro­jected as

a na­tional cri­sis. The im­per­a­tive for re­mak­ing the In­dus basin an in­ter­con­nected sys­tem was done in the name of “na­tional” sur­vival. As the ne­go­ti­a­tions played out, it be­came in­creas­ingly clear that Pak­istan would need for­eign tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial aid un­der the frame­work of the treaty to carry out projects. Ac­cord­ingly, the govern­ment’s ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy shifted from the jus­tice of Pak­istan’s claims against In­dia’s to max­i­miz­ing Pak­istan’s com­pen­sa­tion for the wa­ters it would lose. The World Bank rec­og­nized that large-scale com­pen­sa­tion would be nec­es­sary to make good on Pak­istan’s wa­ter losses. In the last years be­fore the treaty, this had be­come the cen­tral ap­proach to Ayub’s han­dling of the ne­go­ti­a­tions. In 1960, the treaty was fi­nal­ized. The three western rivers — In­dus, Jhelum and Chenab — would be given to Pak­istan whereas the three east­ern rivers — Ravi, Sut­lej, and Beas — would go to In­dia. Fur­ther­more, the In­dus Basin Project (IBP) would in­volve the con­struc­tion of mul­ti­ple dams (in­clud­ing Mangla and Tar­bela) and bar­rages with for­eign fund­ing.

How­ever, it be­came clear that as a young coun­try, Pak­istan lacked the ad­e­quate in­sti­tu­tional in­fra­struc­ture that spanned pro­vin­cial bound­aries and would be able to man­age the in­flow of in­ter­na­tional funds, as­sis­tance and ex­per­tise. This was a sig­nif­i­cant shift from the pre-par­ti­tion era when pro­vin­cial ir­ri­ga­tion de­part­ments had con­trolled vir­tu­ally all ir­ri­ga­tion af­fairs. WAPDA was cre­ated to help the young coun­try build what would be the “largest sin­gle ir­ri­ga­tion project in his­tory.” In this re­gard, WAPDA was noth­ing short of a be­he­moth. Not only was it a na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion with the abil­ity to cut across pro­vin­cial bor­ders but, cru­cially, it was an en­tity with the abil­ity to fund its am­bi­tious plans. It was tasked with man­ag­ing and de­vel­op­ing both ir­ri­ga­tion and hy­dropower, mak­ing it a for­mi­da­ble in­sti­tu­tion in Pak­istan.

How­ever, ques­tions about in­ter­provin­cial wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion re­mained in the face of the transformation brought by the IBP and gained new promi­nence in the 1960s, con­tin­u­ing till the late 1980s. Ef­forts by a se­ries of com­mis­sions over the next two decades to de­velop a for­mula for in­ter­provin­cial wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion have been un­der­way. The West Pak­istan Wa­ter Al­lo­ca­tion and Rates Com­mit­tee (also known as the Akhtar Hus­sain Com­mit­tee) in the late 1960s, the Fazl-e-Ak­bar Com­mis­sion in 1983, the An­warul-Haq Com­mis­sion in 1981 and the Haleem Com­mis­sion in 1983 all sought to find tech­ni­cal and apo­lit­i­cal for­mu­las for in­ter­provin­cial wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion. No com­mis­sion or com­mit­tee was suc­cess­ful and there ex­isted a vac­uum of in­ter­provin­cial wa­ter man­age­ment un­til the hall­mark Wa­ter Ac­cord of 1991.

Pak­istan’s 1991 Wa­ter Ac­cord is the chief in­stru­ment gov­ern­ing pro­vin­cial wa­ter shares in the coun­try’s por­tion of the In­dus Basin. It ap­por­tions these shares as amounts of wa­ter in mil­lion acre-feet (MAF). It also es­tab­lished the In­dus River Sys­tem Author­ity (IRSA) to reg­u­late and mon­i­tor the dis­tri­bu­tion of wa­ter un­der the Ac­cord.

How­ever, con­tro­versy re­mains over the method in which IRSA has im­ple­mented the Wa­ter Ac­cord in let­ter and spirit. They have de­vised al­lo­ca­tion meth­ods that keep the Ac­cord op­er­a­tional at face value but con­tra­dict its text, mech­a­nism and in­tent. These mea­sures in­clude (1) a three-tier al­lo­ca­tion for­mula that pro­tects his­tor­i­cal uses of wa­ter (read: Pun­jab) and (2) an ex­emp­tion from shortage-shar­ing for smaller prov­inces.

Dr. Erum Sat­tar, an SJD can­di­date at the Har­vard Law School, ex­plains one ex­am­ple of the Ac­cord’s unstable op­er­a­tion: “WAPDA is sup­posed to op­er­ate un­der the IRSA’s author­ity when it comes to the Ac­cord’s im­ple­men­ta­tion — i.e., IRSA tells WAPDA to re­lease wa­ter from reser­voirs as part of IRSA’s author­ity to ap­por­tion wa­ter among the prov­inces. The Ac­cord pri­or­i­tizes ir­ri­ga­tion over all other uses such as hy­dropower pro­duc­tion. Although the lat­ter is non-con­sump­tive, it has po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts on flow tim­ing, which is a crit­i­cal is­sue in ir­ri­ga­tion that may af­fect the Ac­cord’s op­er­a­tion dur­ing any ten-day pe­riod of waran­dandi (time al­lo­ca­tion for farmers). Il­lus­trat­ing the ten­sion be­tween hy­dropower and ir­ri­ga­tion vis-à-vis the Ac­cord, in the con­text of power short­ages/black­outs (col­lo­qui­ally, “load-shed­ding”) that may run eigh­teen hours a day at sum­mer’s peak, IRSA comes un­der im­mense po­lit­i­cal pres­sure from the fed­eral Min­istry of Wa­ter and Power to ’au­tho­rize‘ WAPDA to re­lease more wa­ter for hy­dropower pro­duc­tion de­spite the Ac­cord’s ir­ri­ga­tion pri­or­ity.”

In light of this ex­am­ple and oth­ers, there are calls to up­date the Ac­cord, in­clud­ing to al­low wa­ter-shar­ing be­tween pro­vin­cial bound­aries, which the govern­ment has not heeded. With cli­mate change stir­ring un­cer­tainty on wa­ter flow tim­ings in the rivers due to un­re­li­able glacier melt, it is clear that the govern­ment must move away from fixed al­lo­ca­tions of wa­ter to prov­inces as per the Ac­cord to a more flex­i­ble sys­tem across in­ter­provin­cial bound­aries.

With this back­drop, it is not sur­pris­ing that there has been lit­tle or no head­way in the Kal­abagh project for over thirty years. With such fragility, it seems im­prob­a­ble that Pak­istan’s in­sti­tu­tions are ro­bust enough to over­see the eq­ui­table wa­ter shar­ing ar­range­ments should the Kal­abagh Dam be com­pleted. This is un­der the as­sump­tion that a po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus can be reached, which, given over thirty years of fric­tion and drag, make that prospect dif­fi­cult to en­ter­tain.

In this way, the Kal­abagh project is not the cause of pro­vin­cial and fed­eral wa­ter dis­putes, but merely the ef­fect of it. This project, and many oth­ers like it, will be noth­ing more than a dream if the Ac­cord is not up­dated and the in­sti­tu­tions that over­see it strength­ened and given clar­ity over their role and ju­ris­dic­tion.

This rings the words of the Ac­cord it­self: “21st March 1991, will go down in the his­tory of Pak­istan as a piv­otal break­through in its leap to­wards the 21st cen­tury and turn­ing point in its march to­wards na­tional con­sol­i­da­tion. On that day was un­rav­eled a dis­pute that had been fes­ter­ing in this part of the sub­con­ti­nent for the past sev­enty years.”

More than a quar­ter-cen­tury later, this aspi­ra­tion re­mains just that— as­pi­ra­tional.

De­spite the com­plete back­ing and sup­port of the govern­ment for over thirty years, the Kal­abagh dam re­mains un­built.

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