Volume 22 Issue 11, November 2018


Kalabagh, meaning ‘black garden,’ is a small town located 20 miles away from Mianwali, a border district between Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Before the creation of Pakistan, the town was known as the ‘Black Garden,’ because it had many banana orchards which, from a distance, looked like black clouds hovering over the area.

The Kalabagh town has a strategic significance, because this is the point where the Indus River becomes a natural dam. Therefore, in 1953, global experts designated the area as an ideal site for building a dam. It is for this reason that at one point, the Kalabagh Dam was considered even more crucial for Pakistan than the nuclear bomb.

During the rule of Ayub Khan, Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty with India. Allowing Pakistan to build the Kalabagh Dam, the treaty literally sold the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers to India for a mere 80 million rupees. Pakistan achieved phenomenal progress during Ayub Khan’s time. To maintain its pace of growth, it needed another large dam ready by 1992. Ayub Khan’s lost his government before Kalabagh construction even started. Pakistan broke into two halves during Yahya Khan’s rule. When Bhutto came into the saddle, he became engrossed in power politics. General Zia-ul-Haq took power in 1977 and the Afghan War began in 1979. All this combined to halt any progress on the Kalabagh Dam.

To further its agenda of turning Pakistan into a barren land, its neighbouring enemy has tactically nurtured some Pakistani politicians to speak its language. These elements start raising a hue and cry as soon as there is talk about building dams to cater to Pakistan’s water woes. However, these anti-Kalabagh propagandists hold their tongues when India builds dams.
Pakistan now has water reserves that can just hold for five more years according to water experts. There is need for immediate measures. Small and large dams must be built across the country, otherwise Pakistan will become another drought-ridden tract like Africa. Not building the Kalabagh Dam can be described as the most grievous betrayal of the people of Pakistan.

It is painful to see that this vital project of national importance has been used by some leaders and political forces as an instrument of mud-slinging. Through insidious slogans it has been driven into the domain of fruitless and counter-productive debates instead of a sane and rational approach at future development. The Kalabagh Dam is a goldmine for Pakistan. The natural flow of the mighty Indus will never stop and the multifarious benefits of water and power from the Kalabagh Dam will be perpetual.

The Indus River passes through the Kalabagh mountain range and plains start right after Kalabagh. This makes it a natural site for a dam. Just by erecting a wall-like structure across the river can turn it into a water reservoir. The estimated construction cost of the Kalabagh Dam would be around USD 8 billion; once the dam is constructed it will save up to USD 3 billion a year, while 3,600 megawatt electricity will be added to the national grid.

Besides resolving nearly 85% load-shedding issues, the dam will generate low-cost energy which will be available at Rs. 2.5 per unit only. This will also irrigate the land in the south of KPK, Punjab, lower Sindh and eastern parts of Balochistan. The area is currently uncultivable owing to acute water scarcity. The Kalabagh Dam will irrigate about 40 lakh acres in Sindh, 22 lakh acres in Punjab, 20 lakh acres in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and about 16 lakh acres in Balochistan and help Balochistan get rid of its flooding issues for good.

Experts believe the Kalabagh Dam will bring cotton cultivation on an additional 10 million acres, rice on 0.4 million acres while sugarcane and canola crops could also be harvested on 0.2 million acres. The additional yields would contribute Rs. 250 billion to the national GDP.

In Pakistan, canal water irrigation currently produces yields worth Rs. 0.3 million per acre. The Kalabagh Dam will add yields worth another USD 15 billion. This will make Pakistan food sufficient and even increase its food exports; there would be no need for import of different food grains. Also, contrary to the widespread notion that the Kalabagh Dam will flood Nowshera and Mardan cities and a lot of fertile areas will be waterlogged in Sindh, the truth is quite the opposite. Water experts categorically reject any possibility of flooding because of the Kalabagh Dam.

India has already built some 14 dams on Pakistan’s rivers and is also planning to build more dams, while Pakistan has not been able to build a single dam. To make things worse, the self-seeking politicians and so-called intellectuals must realise that time is running out and we need to start building the Kalabagh Dam on a war footing before the country becomes dry.
In both Sindh and KPK, the rampant belief that some politicians have spread is that once the Kalabagh Dam is built, both these provinces will become barren tracts and that the Kalabagh Dam is a big saazish (conspiracy) by the Punjab to use the dam for the irrigation of its own lands. The Punjab will only let the water flow to the other provinces to blackmail them. In fact, a leading politician of the KPK, when asked why he was so was vehemently opposed to the Kalabagh Dam, was heard retorting, ‘Siyasat bhi tau karni hai.’ (it is a good political issue).

Pakistan is supposed to be a champion of democracy and every politician cries hoarse for a political system built on the pillars of democracy. In fact, for quite some time, both Asif Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto used to harp on the concept of ‘democracy is the best revenge’ - a line which was originally enunciated by the late Benazir Bhutto as her response to dictatorship.

When it comes to building the Kalabagh Dam, all the defenders of democracy throw their beliefs on the side and do not realize that democracy needs a country to exist and if there is no country left, where will democracy go?

There is a dire need to redefine Pakistan’s national priorities. Buildings dams is in the interest of the country’s future existence and should be the foremost national priority. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, at the cost of stepping beyond his jurisdiction, has come forward to initiate a national movement for the building of dams in the interest of Pakistan’s future existence. He has done so because no government over the last four decades had realised that Pakistan is fast becoming water-stressed and would soon become barren. It is worth noting here that so far, all the major dams in Pakistan, have been built in Ayub Khan’s time. In fact, all dam projects were either undertaken or pushed in the times of military rule and never by a civilian ruler.

The CJP is pursuing the building of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams while there is no talk of the Kalabagh Dam. President Musharraf, when he was in power, had started a debate on the Kalabagh Dam. But in the face of political expediency due to the opposition from Sindh and KPK and the fact that he became embroiled in a battle for his own survival, the Kalabagh Dam was forgotten. Had Gen. Musharraf really used his powers as a dictator and had not tried to become a democrat, perhaps the Kalabagh Dam would have been a reality.

Experts say the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand Dams would carry a very high price tag and despite the current national movement to collect funds initiated by the CJP, it will not be possible for the country to collect the requisite funds from its own resources. The Kalabagh Dam already has a natural dam location and would be less expensive to build if the project is pursued in right earnest.

Building major dams is crucial for the existence of Pakistan. The situation calls for the holding of a national referendum on the question of whether to build the Kalabagh Dam or not. There are so many experts in all provinces who fully appreciate the natural location of Kalabagh as a dam site that Pakistan has been blessed with. A referendum would serve to remove the dust from the project and expose all the non-truths that have dogged it for so long. Imran Khan is one leader who can do this. After all, if there is a contentious issue and there is no national agreement on it, the test of a real leader or statesman is to show leadership and lead the nation to a solution rather than being ‘led’ himself.

The writer is the President and Editor in Chief of SouthAsia. He can be reached at jawaid@southasia.com.pk

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