Drowned in Rivers with no Water – Part 1

Brig Samson Sharaf

Kalabagh Dam Location Map

Somehow, I always had a feeling that Pakistan’s bureaucracy, technocrats and the military have lived in exclusive bubbles in chagrin to long term strategic and economic interests of Pakistan. Bureaucracy and technocrats are eclipsed by the Harvard Models with their feet and heads in the air rather than sunk into the ground realities of Pakistan. The military’s focus has always been India centric from a military perspective. There never was awareness that what could not be lost on the battlefield could be easily conceded through bad planning? The basic imperatives of a broad policy spectrum with all encompassing instruments never formed the basis of any discussion forum. Inevitably, the bubbles burst.

Following the coup of 1999, one of my biggest concerns was Pakistan’s spiralling debt with a declared foreign component of 32 billion dollars. No one in the Ministry of Finance or State Bank could confidently tell the volume and breakdown of the total foreign debt to include country-country borrowing, multi lateral loans, bonds and other encashment to provinces and autonomous bodies.  After much insistence, a decision was taken to get reports from all ministries, provinces and autonomous bodies and analyse the cash flows.

As volumes of reports and files continued to pour in, the figures collected cross checked and verified were startling. Pakistan’s debt was over 38 Billion US Dollars and continued to grow through the IMF borrowing and the sinking Rupee. The single biggest recipient of loans was the water sector, accounting for approximately 70% of the loan component. The shocker was that 60% of it was already spent on feasibilities that included preliminary infrastructure for Kalabagh Dam. Nearly half of Pakistan’s foreign debt had been eaten away by drawing boards, visits, lodgings and proposals. If mega projects were to be executed, further external financial assistance was imperative.


It was a very useful study that left everyone in the Musharraf Cabinet stunned and aghast, but this is where this revealing study ended. Gradually, patriotic and concerned officials were shown the door. The study got lost in the sea of bureaucracy. The economic gurus trained by International Financial Institutions and Banks have since left and replaced by a new team that speaks the same language and expected to fare no better. I was convinced then and sure now that these economic managers and experts are all part of an international cartel that controls financial institutions and hence destinies of misgoverned countries like Pakistan. They come and go with regime changes and are never made accountable. These are non state corporatists whose loyalties lie with their masters rather than their moorings.

My mind goes back to two Pakistani delegations that went to India after 1997. At that time Baghliar Dam was well past its

Physical Model of Kalabagh Dam

planning stages and into execution, yet despite briefs, the Pakistan delegations failed to raise the issue with India. Belatedly in 2007, on grounds of gross neglect and technical deficiency, Pakistan lost the argument.

Having witnessed the apathy then, I am not sure if Pakistani experts were ever aware of the Indian plans to build scores of ‘run of the river’ projects over Jhelum, Chenab and Kishanganga? Now Pakistan’s farmers, people and energy sectors must face the music. Ironically, these water flows can also be manipulated for military purposes against the very military that allowed it to happen right under its nose.

  PAKISTAN: Is the System Doomed?

But the apathy does not end here. Despite such huge investments on non productive feasibilities, Pakistan remains short of water reservoirs. From 1999-2003, the Board of Investments and Finance Ministry consistently blocked attempts by private investors and consortiums to construct Neelam Hydel project. They chose to ignore the argument that while the Indian Kishanganga was still on the drawing boards it was urgent to begin the construction forthwith. This argument had a cogent legal angle, but the experts knew better.

Come 2009-10. The biggest component of Pakistan’s debt has not performed. Rather, it is guilty of criminal negligence in safe guarding Pakistan’s interests under the Indus Basin Water Treaty and wasted huge sums on non productive studies by consortiums, IFIs and consultants. Kishenganga has resigned River Neelam to a trickle and all but obscured Neelam Hydel Project. India has been left free to decide when it fills its reservoirs and releases water into the rivers allocated to Pakistan. Technically, they have demonstrated their ability to reduce flows during sowing seasons and increase during monsoons. Today, there is no water, no dams and no electricity.

Pathetically, Pakistan’s entire water and energy interests were left in the hands of one commissioner, while the financial and technical experts remained busy in churning out expensive feasibility studies. Legal experts crucial to win arguments in international law were conspicuously absent.

Even the water management schemes and drainage projects are a showcase of neglect. Had it not been for extra ordinary spells of droughts in areas from Sulemanki to Fort Abbas, much of the area would have become an impassable quicksand.

All along the International border, India dumps untreated waste and flood waters into Pakistan. Three conspicuous points are Hudiara, Sulemanki and Haroonabad. Hudiara drain runs through the entire length of Lahore and debouches into the Ravi near Mehmoodbooti causing irreparable environmental damage. Sub soil water quality samples all along this system are unfit for human consumption. The sewage, extremely high in chemical and biological oxygen demand and laden with toxins, micro organisms and health hazards has never attracted the ire of Pakistani officials nor have they ever raised the issue with India.

  Peace in South Asia: Talking to Pakistan, A Must

During the monsoons, India regularly floods the area between Head Signai (near Haroonabad), across Fort Abbas to Mianwala Toba, destroying standing crops. By the time the water recedes, one crop is destroyed and the other cannot be sowed. Consequently, farmers have abandoned agriculture in the area.

The saddest part of this tragedy is that despite being confronted by a hyper active neighbour, Pakistan has shown fragility to set its own house in order. It is like a rat stunned by a cobra.

Kalabagh, that hold the key to Pakistan’s future especially with the limited residual life of Tarbela has become too politicised to construct. Rather, preparations are in full swing to construct Basha on a fault line that rubbled the entire landscape from Balakot to Kashmir in 2005. In addition Korakoram Highway will have to be realigned and the entire bed of the lake treated with concrete. The wall on this fault line will overhang like a predator that in case of a massive earthquake, could wipe out infrastructures as far away as Kotri and Sukkur.

The world’s largest irrigation structure is under threat of extinction.

Brig Samson Sharaf

Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist. He is a regular contributor to www.Opinion-Maker.org