KALA BAGH DAM

Pervez Musharraf seams to be determined to build the major dam of vital importance

From SHAMIM AHMED RIZIV,
Islamabad

Sep 01 - 07 , 2003 

The proposed Kala Bagh Dam has not been abandoned. It remains on the priority list of the present government and President General Pervaiz Musharraf seams to be determined to build the major dam which is certainly of vital importance for the future economy of Pakistan.President gave an indication of his mind in his speech on the inauguration of Ghazi Barotha Dam last week in which he said that Kala Bagh and Bhasha dams will have to be built in order to provide electricity to the masses at an affordable price. "They (the Dams) have to be constructed at every cost", he declared.

President General Pervez Musharraf is determined to build the mega dam due to its colossal advantages for agriculture and power generation purposes. He plans to embark on a tour of Sindh during which he will underline the importance of the project and expose the hollowness of its opposition. He will be meeting the opponents of the dam.

"We will prevail upon elements, who are politicising the construction of the Kala Bagh Dam and accomplish our mission", Musharraf said. Indeed, it will be an uphill task. It is in Sindh where certain political elements had been exploiting the proposed project and successfully scuttling it for decade even former prime ministers Mohammad Khan Junejo and Benazir Bhutto had not approved the dam for fear of political backlash in their home province.

Undoubtedly, former premier Nawaz Sharif had made genuine efforts to build the dam but his bid was always shot down by the politics of its opponents. In fact, he had tried to start physical work on the project when he was at the peak of his popularity, but failed to go ahead. Unluckily, the project became a favourite subject of political controversy during General Zia-ul-Haq's. That was the time when the real damage to the execution of the project was done. At the time, Khan Abdul Wali Khan had declared that the Kala Bagh Dam, if built, would be bombed. During different periods, deliberate controversies were generated on the project to divert people's attention from the issues that were most disturbing for the rulers of the day.

Musharraf rightly says that both the Kala Bagh and Bhasha dams had to be built to push the country out of the difficult period and provide relief to the common man, who is pressed hard by high power tariff. If there is small opposition to the grand project in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), a powerful political lobby in Frontier also supports it and wants early initiation of work on it. Unfortunately, the Kala Bagh Dam has fallen victim to sleazy politics. But ironically those who have been hammering the project to take political mileage out of it have continuously failed to get any dividends at the husting.

Over one and a half decades, millions of dollars have been spent on preparing different technical reports for the dam. International financial institutions had agreed to fund the multi-billion dollar project. But physical work on it has not started due to opposition of Sindh and NWFP politicians. During different periods, the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) had held meetings with Kala Bagh Dam's opponents to satisfy them. But at the end of the day, these efforts had turned out to be futile. Every successive government has been postponing the construction of the Kala Bagh Dam in the name of evolving a national consensus on it first. But whenever such an effort was made, it had met with failure. WAPDA has made relentless attempts to allay the misgiving and misperceptions of Sindhi politicians, but to no avail.

One may recall General Musharraf's all-out efforts toward resolving the controversy around it in the midst of his brave exercise in revival of the country's battered economy after assuming power in 1999. His massive campaign, particularly, in Sindh and NWFP, to end opposition to Kala Bagh Dam from all sorts of assurances, having proved of little avail, it was deferred for three years, evidently leaving the decision on the issue to the next elected government. It was definitely a wise step although it must have caused heart burning to the pro-Kala Bagh enthusiasts. However, he seems to have noted that the controversy which had deepened over long years had acquired dangerous political dimensions with no small a threat to interpovincial harmony. It was basically because of his emphasis on national unity and harmony among the provinces that he had earlier embarked on a spirited consensus building mission that took him to every nook and corner of Sindh and NWFP to convince people from various platforms about the urgency of building the Kala Bagh Dam.

It will, however, be recalled that while deferring construction of the controversial dam, WAPDA was instructed to devise small reservoir projects in all the provinces. Moreover, responding to the instruction, WAPDA soon came out with an array of small projects, though spread over a number of years. Viewed in this perspective, the President's emphasis that construction of all water reservoirs, including Bhasha and Kala Bagh, is imperative for economic development and sustained progress, seems unlikely to go undisputed by the provinces that have remained basically opposed to it. Some idea of their likely reaction may be had from the ongoing agitation in Sindh against the Thal Canal project.