By Dr Shireen M Mazari
The political mistrust dominating
and distorting the issue of water distribution and
dams in Pakistan have become so pronounced that
unless these are overcome, there can be no rational
debate on the issue. Undoubtedly the country needs
three major dams but the where and how surrounding
one of them has become a political minefield. This
has been the result of years of a politically exclusivist
approach that has been adopted by the ruling elite.
No matter which province we look at, politics from
the local level up have been and are dominated by
political mafias involving families, biradaris,
tribes, and so on. Instead of sharing the expanding
network of power, they continue to sustain an exclusivity
that marginalizes anyone wanting to break the mode.
We witnessed this in the last stages of the local
body elections in Rajanpur district, but the example
is not unique. After successfully challenging the
political mafia at the union council level, we were
bulldozed into supporting one of the two political
mafias that prevail in the district. The Dreeshak
mafia, presently in power with the support of the
deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly -- who left
the PPP after decades of a politically useless existence
-- sought total control. Mr Dreeshak is an MNA and
of his two sons, one is the Punjab finance minister
and the other has now become the district nazim.
So the mafia looked within its circle to the deputy
speaker's nephew -- whose name had only just been
struck from a kidnapping FIR in Rahimyar Khan, thanks
to the political power bosses in the Punjab. While
no one doubted the hold of the Dreeshak mafia, as
with all folk heady with power, they could not accept
even a small challenge in the shape of a woman contender
for the District's naib nazim post.
It was fascinating to see how the local power plays
work because it helped in understanding why the
area has remained underdeveloped! No one outside
the mafias ever gets to see any of the development
funds. As for women, they were barely to be seen
in the area in terms of the political landscape
until Mehrine Mazari successfully challenged the
mafia in the union council nazim elections.
This challenged the mafia structure of the district,
so when the district council elections came up,
the heat was on. We were offered all manner of political
lures if only we complied in the district elections.
With the districts now controlling local affairs
and the kitty, the national political scene has
become far less attractive for those with no national
commitment. Becoming fed up with an unresponsive
and corrupt system of the local political bosses,
we chose to persist with our challenge.
Clearly, President Musharraf's enlightened moderation
and support for political space for women in the
country has not filtered down to the politicians.
Because we had dared to challenge, unsuccessfully,
we are now under constant threat in our village
from one or the other henchmen of Dreeshak and his
sidekick, the deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly.
Where earlier we received calls offering all manner
of lucrative political rewards for not challenging
the Dreeshak mafia, now we are getting threats of
But we feel the challenge was necessary and worthwhile.
After all, for decades the political mafias have
controlled the fate of the local people with no
attention to health, education and the welfare of
women and children. There has never been any accountability
of local funds. That is why there is a need to challenge
and expose these decadent structures.
President Musharraf must break up these mafias to
successfully move this country into enlightened
moderation and modernity -- despite pulls by forces
of exclusivity. The decadent political mafia is
as much of a threat to this society as religious
extremism. The mafia mindset does not seek inclusivity,
which implies widening the consensual base. Instead
it thrives on exclusivity and an 'us vs them' mindset.
The dams' issue has also been distorted by this
mindset, creating divisions amongst the provinces
and sustaining unresponsive political elites in
power. For instance, in Sindh, the waderas are allowed
first right to water when the canals open. With
no regard for efficiency and conservation, they
leave little for the small peasants -- simply telling
them that Punjab is stealing their water. The real
problem in Sindh is one of maldistribution of water
within the province -- which has led to waterlogging.
Of the three barrages -- Guddu, Kotri and Sukkur
-- the first two serve northern and southern Sindh
abundantly, but central Sindh gets very limited
water from Sukkur barrage. So what is required is
a more equitable distribution of water within Sindh.
As for fears relating to Kalabagh Dam (KBD), they
center on the issue of undermining of flood irrigation
in the katcha areas, increase in sea intrusion and
destruction of the mangrove forests and fish culture
as a result of lack of fresh water supply. However,
presently on an average basis 35 MAF of Indus and
its tributaries' water is thrown into the sea below
Kotri and the KBD capacity is only to be 6.1 MAF
--which would leave enough fresh water to flow into
the sea. Also, with the amount of water allocated
to Sindh from new storage sites on the Indus, there
could be all year round water and farming for the
katcha areas. How this would impact on the hold
of the waderas is another issue!
As for the NWFP, there are serious issues of water-logging
and massive displacement of people, especially in
the Mardan area where the drains empty into the
Kabul river and it is feared that the raising of
the water level as a result of KBD would make these
non-functional and result in Swabi getting waterlogged.
Yet these fears have been dealt with in the WAPDA
studies and the KBD design modified accordingly.
However, the issue of displacement of people requires
There is also the issue of monetary royalties for
power stations built alongside the large dams and
has aggravated inter-provincial suspicions. The
NWFP gets royalty for the Tarbela Dam powerhouse
located within the province. The KBD would have
its powerhouse located in the Punjab. Perhaps it
is time to examine alternatives to the royalty system.
Undoubtedly the KBD issue needs to be dealt with
sensitivity and it does no one any good when the
political elite of Punjab chooses to adopt a blustering
approach. That the dams are vital is clear. But
it may be better to begin by building the non-controversial
dams and build the consensus on the KBD through
a policy of inclusivity. The politics of exclusivity
have been the bane of this country's existence for
decades. It is time to affect a paradigm shift in
our political culture. A framework of inclusivity
requires tolerance and patience and a radical move
away from elitism. Power may make exclusivity more
tempting in the short run, but no good has ever
come from this approach.
(The writer is director general of the Institute
of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The