17 Mar 2010, 0207 hrs IST, Bharti Jain, ET Bureau
NEW DELHI: As Pakistan raises the water-sharing bogey against India, its own inter-provincial battles over distribution of the natural resource —
rendered short this year due to the failure of rains during the winter rabi season and drawing of more than its share by Punjab — are threatening to snowball into a full-blown civil war.
Punjab, which has been getting the lion’s share of Indus waters all this while, is pitted against Sindh and Balochistan for denying the latter “their rightful share” of Indus waters and for going ahead with Chashma-Jhelum and Taunsa-Pinjad link canals projects at a time when Sindh, Balochistan and even southern Punjab are battling serious water shortages due to failed rains.
Sindh, which puts its annual losses at 1 million acre feet, is opposing the Chashma-Jhelum project and has sought closing of the Taunsa-Pinjad canal alleging that these are just enabling devices to irrigate south Punjab when required. On the other hand, Punjab has sought Islamabad’s intervention to be able to draw more water from the Indus and meet its target of producing 20 million tonnes of wheat.
According to sources in the security establishment, Pakistan government, by using its political leaders, Army and even jihadi groups to carry out propaganda blaming the 50-60 dams built by India for the scarce water flow, may actually be trying to divert attention from Punjab’s sinister moves to divert Sindh and Balochistan’s share of Indus waters.
That India is not to blame for falling water levels in Pakistan is borne out by recent statements made by the country’s Indus water commissioner and federal minister for water and electricity. While Indus water commissioner Sayyed Jamaat Ali Shah, in an on-line talk show in November, 2009, denied that India was building 50-60 dams and blamed the weather conditions for the decrease in water levels, federal water minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told the National Assembly last month that India was within its rights to build dams on Jhelum and Chenab rivers.
Mr Ashraf also informed that following the Mangla and Tarbela dams, study for 31 small dams in provinces was complete and tender process nearly over for 12 dams. Also, three dams were coming up in Sindh. And as Pakistani columnist Ahmad Rafay Alam put it in an opinion piece in The News dated March 12, Pakistan’s per capita resources had dwindled from 5,000 cubic meters at Partition to 1,200 cubic metres now not because of India “stealing” its waters but due to internal factors such as accelerated population growth, inefficient irrigation and farming techniques and fluctuating glacial melt on account of rising global temperatures.
The last few meetings of Indus River System Authority (IRSA), the mechanism for regulating Indus waters within Pakistan, have seen stormy arguments among Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan. An internal meeting of IRSA on February 6 remained inconclusive owing to Sindh’s opposition to hydel and canal link projects planned by Punjab on the Indus.
During the February 11 IRSA meeting, the authority suggested 1.48 MAF of additional water share for Punjab from the Indus zone. This was immediately objected to by Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP who claimed that Punjab had already consumed more than its share and should now compensate Sindh and Balochistan for 400,000 acre-feet of water it was allowed to draw under a December 15 ruling of IRSA.
Incidentally, Sindh-based water experts, nationalist leaders and others have passed a resolution demanding that Punjab province give up its Chashma-Jhelum project and any other future projects on Indus river. They have also especially called for Pakistan prime minister Gilani to intervene and resolve issues such as hydro-projects through an executive order.
According to water expert A N Abbasi, “if the process of stealing Sindh’s water did not stop, then there would be no option but to wage a war.” Another water expert Nazir Memon pointed out that Punjab had constructed 16 barrages, 2 dams and 2 canals forcibly and that the province was taking Sindh’s water. Even the political leaders from Sindh, including Sindh National Party’s Amir Bhambroo, have warned that federal structure could break if the provinces’ water issues were not addressed, says a report in Awami Awaz dated February 10, 2010.
To step up the pressure through religious forums, 170 Alims from across Sindh have issued a fatwa against the proposed hydro-power project along the Chashma-Jhelum link, calling it anti-Sharia. While clarifying that it was against Sharia to take water without the consent of those who needed it the most, the Alims threatened that the
country would “shake at its roots if the provinces were denied their rights.”
Punjab, on its part, has rejected Sindh’s claims. It has asserted its rights over the Chashma-Jhelum canal and sought reopening of the link canal projects for agricultural purposes.Balochistan, through its provincial minister Ain Allah Shams, has sided with Sindh on the water issue vis-à-vis Punjab. At the same time, it has also accused Singh of stealing Balochistan’s share.