River Waters and Pakistan Kashmir Policy ?

Mangla Dam was built between 1961 and 1967 primarily to increase the amount of water that could be used for irrigation from the flow of the Jhelum and its tributaries. It was constructed pursuant to the Indus Water Treaty and with funding from the World Bank.

The core trench of Mangla Dam is 10,300 feet long and 454 feet high with a reservoir of 253 square kilometres. On its impounding in 1967, the Mangla Dam had an original gross storage capacity of 5.88 million acre feet (MAF).

The secondary function of Mangla Dam was to generate electricity from the irrigation releases through the head of the reservoir. Mangla Dam has the potential to produce 1,000MW of electricity. (What is actually produces is another matter.)

For the newly conceived state of Pakistan, the construction of Mangla Dam was in step with its ambitions to harness the country’s enormous agricultural potential and to supply the increasing demand of electricity in accordance with the country’s growing industry. For the people of Pakistan Mangla Dam was one of the icons, along with Tarbela on the Indus and the Kaptai of the Chittagong Hills Tracts, of the time euphemistically referred to as the “Decade of Development.”

The Decade of Development (1958-68) did not come without its sacrifices.

The construction of Mangla and Kaptai each displaced over 100,000 people. The wretched fate of the people of the Chakma and Hajong tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is not the topic of this column. This column is about the sacrifices made by the people of the Mirpur district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir who were forced to move from Mangla Dam’s storage area. Though the government of Pakistan agreed to pay compensation to those displaced and royalties to the government of Azad Kashmir for the use of the water and electricity generated by the dam, the fact is that that people of 280 villages and the town of Dadyal gave up their homes so that Pakistan could have its “development.” Such was their devotion to their fellow Muslims in Pakistan.

Because of sedimentation, Mangla Dam has lost 1.13 MAF of storage capacity and its current live capacity of 4.58 MAF implies a reduction of nearly 20 percent in the capacity of the dam. Because of this, the government of Pakistan launched the Mangla Dam Raising Project, which is a plan to raise the dam by 40 feet. This will increase the reservoir capacity by 18 percent and provide an additional 644Mwh of electricity. It also involves the displacement of over 40,000 people.

Sacrifices such as these give meaning to Pakistan’s hard stance on the Kashmir issue. Sacrifices such as these give us pause for thought when our rhetoric on Kashmir begins to ring a bit hollow. Our stated position on and dedication to the Kashmir cause failed to pass muster recently when Pakistan refused the request made by the government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir for the allocation of some 614 cusecs of water for irrigation purposes.

The water situation in the country is fast forming into a proper political debate. Many have been foretelling water as the pre-eminent political issue of the future. Their auguries are coming to pass. The “El Nino” weather effect is causing water shortages and draught in the entire region. The issue of water, despite the reluctance of India, is on the agenda in the upcoming foreign secretaries-level talks. Punjab and Sindh have been at each other’s throats over water supply in the Chashma-Jhelum Link Canal. (Either way, thousands will be affected and there will be corresponding crop failures.)

The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has been unable to resolve the inter-provincial bickering and, only last week, the prime minister summoned the chief ministers of all the provinces along with leading officials of the Water and Power Development Authority and the Pakistan Indus Water Commissioner to Islamabad to find out what was going on. And, to top it all, there are almost daily items in our press where experts are lashing out at India for “stealing” our water. In some instances, senior journalists have been reported to have suggested that Pakistan take out India’s dams with its nuclear arsenal.

The growing political consciousness on the water issue notwithstanding, IRSA declined the request made by the government of Azad Kashmir. The refusal was based on the grounds that, since Azad Jammu and Kashmir was not part of Pakistan, IRSA could not determine its water rights. This decision has turned relations between the governments of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir cold. Recently, before Kashmir Day (celebrated as an official holiday in our Islamic Republic) on account of the IRSA refusal, the prime minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir informed the protocol office of the president of Pakistan that, should the president come visiting Mirpur, he would not be greeted in person.

IRSA’s refusal will also have impacts on how the government of Azad Kashmir will respond to the ongoing Mangla Dam Raising Project, especially the thorny issues of displacement and compensation. The IRSA refusal also reveals the extent to which Pakistan’s rhetoric towards its Kashmiri brothers and the Kashmir issue is hollow.

It is Pakistan that runs on electricity produced by Mangla. It is Pakistan’s irrigation that has benefited from the storage capacity of Mangla. It is the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir who have borne the brunt of the construction and operation of Mangla. Yet, when they ask for 614 cusecs, they are told that they are not part of Pakistan.

It would seem appropriate if the government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan made the odd sacrifice for their Kashmiri brothers as well. We could start by better irrigation techniques that do not waste water. Efficient water use would mean we could spare the water that the government of Azad Kashmir says it needs. Alternatively, we could start by eliminating water theft. (Though, how can it be theft if the water is, at all times, passing through government-controlled canals?)

We could start by forcing our electricity consumption to be made efficient.

At present, nearly 20 percent of all electricity produced in Pakistan is wasted on account of “line losses.” We could start by eliminating these wastages. If our energy usage could be made more efficient, we wouldn’t need to have Mangla Dam Raising Projects and the displacement of tens of thousands.

We can start by showing our Kashmiri brothers what their sacrifices have meant for us, and what we are willing to do for them. Either that, or give up the Kashmir issue altogether. It’s the very least we could do in order to be spared being called hypocrites.

By Ahmad Rafay Alam (The News)

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