The Politics of Kalabagh Dam and Pakhtunkhwa

Posted on May 29, 2008
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Politics, Society
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Owais Mughal

Map Pakistan Dam Kalabagh Mangla Basha TarbelaKalabagh Dam, which has been a dead project for all practical purposes, got a stir yesterday when Federal Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf said that the project has now been shelved for ever.

On the same day, another interesting development happened about NWFP where it was decided to change the name of NWFP (North West Frontier Province) to ‘Pakhtunkhwa

1. Kalabagh Dam

For the past few decades, both of these issues have always created passions and exposed the fissures in Pakistani society. The politicians from three smaller provinces have been unanimous in hailing the decision on shelving Kalabagh dam for ever, whereas JI and PTI have been very vocal against the decision. Infact, the opposition from Punjab has been so great that later in the day, Minister had to change his words and he clarified that the project was ‘on hold’ and not totally discarded.

PML(Q)’s role on this issue, however, made me smile. Their whole politics nowadays revolves around saying and doing opposite to what PML(N) and PPP say and do. If PML(N) says ‘X’ on an issue then PML(Q) right away says ‘NOT X’ without going in the merits. So while PML(N) is too busy with the lawyers, PML(Q) got the chance to do politics on the issue and their statements are all pro Kalabagh Dam today. One should ask PML(Q) what did they do about the project in the past 6 years? PPP who has substantial vote base in Sindh and NWFP can take this stand against the dam construcition and has done so.

Many people are also saying that the whole purpose of stirring a dead issue like Kalabagh Dam by the Minister at this point in time is just to cause diversion from other issues like price hike, energy shortage, lawyers etc etc.

During my undergrad studies, I once took a course called ‘Engineering Economics’. I don’t remember much from that course now except for one line from my text book. It went like this:

“Mega Projects of a country should be started immediately after planning is done otherwise they’ll end up becoming political issues”

Over the years this line has proved itself true over and over again. I think this is exactly what has happened to Kalabagh Dam project too. It has now become such a big political issue that nobody can dare to challenge it in 3 smaller provinces. And just like my Engineering Economics book said, as soon as Governement mulled on the decision of building the Kalabagh dam, the opposition against it grew stronger and stronger in Sindh and NWFP.

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The idea of Kalabagh Dam was conceived in 1953 and until 1973 it was going to be a water storage place for irrigation purposes only. From 1973 to 1984, the design was changed to make it a multi-purpose mega dam. If completed it will be 260 feet high, will submerge 35000 acres of land, will generate 3600 MW of hydel power, store 6.7 MAF water for flood control and supply 12.8 MAF water to Mianwali, Khushab, D.I. Khan and Jhelum districts for irrigation.

In 70s and 80s my family used to subscribe to Urdu Digest. I very vividly remember that in summer of 1979, Urdu Digest had a special issue on Kalabagh Dam. The issue showed an artist’s imagination on title page and it was touted as the mluti purpose dam with multiple spillways for flood control, agriculture and Power Generation. 29 years have passed since that introductory report of the Kalabagh appeared in Urdu digest. What has happened since then? I believe nothing has happened on gorund as far as actual dam construcution goes. I do remember reading about some heavy machinery was once moved to the spot in one of the previous government (2005) and that is all.

I remember reading late Wali Khan (ANP)’s statement many years ago, that if Kalabagh Dam is built then nothing will be left of NWFP cities of Nowshera to Mardan. The water level of Kalabagh dam will be higher than these two cities and will cause severe water-logging problem in these two cities. So much so that they may turn into lakes. The claim of Wali Khan is however, refuted by the dam planners which point out dam’s altitude at 915 feet is lower than that of Nowshera at 938 feet and Mardan at 958 feet.

The Sindhi politicians are also against the dam becuase they think there will be not much water left in the system for Sindh’s needs. Already the water flow downstream of Kotri barrage is practically zero. The sea water has come inlands into River Indus delta and almost 2 million acres of arable land has been lost to Sea water there causing mass exodus of people to cities.

I’ve also seen photos of Lansdowne Bridge Sukkur from 1950s to present. In 1950s there used to be water under the bridge stretching from bank to bank. That water under the bridge has since flown away. Now all one can see is a big sandy desert under the bridge and then a narrow river slowly inching towards the delta (except for monsoon floods).

Over the years I’ve also traveled extensively in Sindh and wherever I’ve gone, I’ve seen slogans of

‘Kalabagh Dam naa-manzoor’ (Kalabagh Dam not acceptable)

written as wall chalking all the way from Kashmore to Karachi.

baat se baat nikalti hai” (one thing leads to another) In August 2004, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain was camaigning for Shaukat Aziz in Tharparkar, Sindh and there he gave this funny statement which has remained stuck in my memory. He said:

“agar aap ko Kalabagh Dam ka naam pasand nahi…naam mein kia rakha hai… meri taraf see aap is ka naam neela-bagh ye peela-bagh rakh deN..” (If you don’t like the name of Black Garden Dam… What is in a name? For what I care, you can rename the project as either Blue-Garden Dam or Yellow-Garden Dam)

So what do you guys think? I think the dam will never be constructed. It is a dead horse. The issue has been raised now to probably create diversion from other issues.

One point that does go in favor of building Kalabagh dam is the forecast that all future wars will be fought to control energy and food sources like fresh water resources, oil and gas reserves etc. If Kalabagh dam is built it may provide a water storage which may be needed soon as both Mangla and Tarbela are silting fast and may not live more than few years.

An informative editorial appeard in Dawn on May 28 on the subject. It is given in the reference section below. I suggest our readers to read it too.

2. Pakhunkhwa

When I first read this story, I told myself, “so what?”. Exactly. so what if NWFP is getting renamed Pakhtunkhwa? One of my favourite real life anecdotes goes like this. There was a Chemistry lecture going on in Karachi University. The teacher drew two molecules on the board and told the class to name them anything because it was not important. To this a guy from back benches shouted:

“Madam. in ka naam pappoo aur guddoo rakh deN”

Point is naam mein kia rakha hai? (What is so important about a name?). My personal read is this. After USSR’s demise ANP has lost its ‘kaaba’ and a source of ideology. They were looking for some issue on which to do politics. They got revived on new issues to do politics for two reasons. First was the renewed Pashtoon nationalism fueled by the on going war on both sides of the durand line, and second issue was created to rename the province as ‘Pakhtunkhwa’. This second issue is so big that ANP won the recent elections in NWFP, in part, on this slogan and in part because JI didn’t take part in the elections. Now that ANP is in power, they need action on this issue so that their constituencies can think that yes some real work is getting done, and hence raising of Pakhtunkhwa issue now.

I personally think there is no harm. If at all, it will strengthen the federation. If in Sindh, Punjab and Baluchistan multiple nationalities and ethnicities can live together without worrying too much about the province’s name then the name Pakhtunkhwa is a non-issue too. It will become an issue only if one wants it to be, and I hope it doesn’t happen. The name Pakhtunkhwa is also a ground reality. If you’ve ever been to Quetta, you’ll notice that 100% of the shops in Pashtoon area write their addresses on their shops ending in ‘junoobi Pashtunkhwa’ as the province’s name instead of Balochistan. So my point is that the name ‘Pashtunkhwa’ is already a ground reality. Lets not unnecessarily push back on it.

End Point:

The above are my opinions. I am however, not tied to them without reasoning. If somebody can educate me otherwise on why building Kalabagh Dam now is a good idea and why renaming NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa is not a good decsion, I will be open to change my views as a result of arguments and counter arguments.


1. Dawn editorial: Beyond Kalabagh
2. Kalabagh Dam Political, Environmental & Humanitarian Disaster in Pakistan by Ayaz Latif Palijo
3. Infeasibility of Kalabagh Dam at

51 responses to “The Politics of Kalabagh Dam and Pakhtunkhwa”


    “Dirty Thar Coal Versus Environment Friendly Kalabagh Dam in Pakistan
    & South Asia”.

    • It is very strange to note that present Government of Pakistan is advocating for Air Polluting Thar Coal Project Versus Environmental Friendly Kalabagh Dam.

    • Kalabagh dam which will increase the water resources of the country is being opposed while Thar coal project, which will consume huge amount of water and will contaminate all water, air and land resources of Pakistan is being advocated by the government.

    • Clean electricity produced by Kalabagh dam will be available to every citizen of the country while Thar coal project will pollute all water, air and land resources of not only of Pakistan but also of neighbouring countries like India and China.

    • Thar coal will effect each and every living organism while environment friendly Kalabagh will not only store water for the cultivation of land , but also will produce clean energy without carbon emmision, by that electricity it will be possible to pump out under ground water which will also increase water resources and will store water for cultivation of land, Kalabagh Dam will increase wet land for fisheries, will increase green land which will be helpful in decreasing environmental carbon dioxide produce by coal and other fuels and will control flooding and erosion of land and will save lives and lands of people.

    • Coal is one of the most polluting sources of energy available, jeopardizing our health and our environment. While Kalabagh Dam will have multiple advantages and will act as clean electricity power house, Sweet water reservoir and floods controller all these things will improve fertility of lands, will reduce poverty and will increase food production.

    The Effects of Coal on the Environment.
    Coal as a source of energy is probably the most environmentally damaging of
    all the traditional sources of energy.
    • One must keep in mind that a typical power coal plant generates 3 million tons of CO2 or 17 tons of carbon per megawatt and draws about 2.3 billion gallons of water per annum from nearby source while on land coal produces mercury which not only renders water useless for human consumption but also for irrigation purpose as well.

    • “Coal Power in a Warming World” by Barbara Freese et al, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists in October 2008 states that “The underground mining of coal is a dangerous profession, and underground and surface mining are both highly damaging to landscapes, water supplies, and ecosystems”.

    • The Natural Resources Defense Council paper entitled “Coal in a Changing Climate”, issued in February 2007 claims that “Coal mining—and particularly surface or strip mining—poses one of the most significant threats to terrestrial habitats in the United States.”

    • Figures from “Key World Energy Statistics: 2008″ show that coal is responsible for 42% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

    • “Coal in a Changing Climate” shows that coal produces large amounts of airborne toxic chemicals, including sulfur dioxide, mercury, nitrous oxides, arsenic and lead.

    • Coal is a highly polluting energy source. It emits much more carbon per unit of energy than oil, and natural gas. CO2 represents the major portion of greenhouse gases. It is, therefore, one of the leading contributors to climate change.

    • From mine to sky, from extraction to combustion — coal pollutes every step of the way. The huge environmental and social costs associated with coal usage make it an expensive option for developing countries.

    • Coal mining is responsible for acid drainage from coal mines, polluting rivers and streams, to the release of mercury and other toxins when it is burned, as well as climate-destroying gases and fine particulates that wreak havoc on human health, COAL is unquestionably, a DIRTY BUSINESS.

    South Asia.

    On one side China and India are planning to curb the Carbon emission by curbing the use of oil, coal and other fossil fuels, and Bangladesh and Maldives are crying for taking measures against rise of seas due to global warming and melting of glaciers and on other side Government of Pakistan is planning to use Thar coal which will not only cause global warming but also pollute the whole environment of South Asia but in fact will endanger the life of 3 Billion peoples living in China, India, Kashmir, Northern areas, NWFP, PUNJAB and Sindh, as the direction of smoke and dangerous gases will be from east to north west of Pakistan. And people of these areas will suffer from respiratory diseases such as Asthma, Bronchitis, Cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and people of these areas will suffer from dangers and adverse effects of smoking without smoking the cigarettes.

    Government of Pakistan is leaving no stone unturned for sinking delta dwellers people of Bangladesh and Island dweller people of Maldives under sea by wasting about 10 Million Acres feet water of River Indus from the catchments area of whole of Pakistan in the sea and is not preserving and storing that water in dams like Kalabagh and Basha, on one side people of Pakistan are suffering from acute wastage of water and electricity and on other side Government is wasting sweet water in the sea which is not only causing sea rise and erosion of coastal land for whole of subcontinent, including Bangladesh and Maldives but is also harmful for saline habitat fishes and saline and sea plants like Mangroves

    Countering Rise in Sea level and Global Warming.

    Global Warming:
    For countering global warming there is need to completely restrict use of coal for any purpose and to minimize other fossils fuels such as oil and gas and use of alternatives resources such as wind, solar and water power by means of dams like Kalabagh and Basha Dams in Pakistan should be encouraged and preferred.

    Rise in Sea Level.
    For countering rise in sea level following measures should be taken to save and to protect from submerging the people of Bangladesh, Maldives and other Island dwellers under sea.

    • All the rain and glaciers water on land should be preserved and stored in reservoirs and dams like Kalabagh and other dams for use on land( For Agriculture, Electricity generation and human consumption) and other purposes so that no water should waste in sea which will ultimately cause the rise in sea level.
    • In Coastal areas use of sea water should be increased as much as possible for Industrial and agricultural purposes.

    • After desalination and Purification Sea water should be use for human consumption as much as possible.

    • Wastage of sweet water and fertile silt in sea should be prevented and should be used for fertilization and irrigation of land and other useful purposes.

    • There should be maximum utilization of sea resources such as exploration of silt and stones from sea towards land and coastal areas.

    • There should be maximum utilization of sea resources such as exploration of sea salts for use as chemicals and other purposes.

    • There should be maximum utilization of sea resources such as sea plants such as algae and fishes to decrease the volume of sea so that rise in sea could be countered by each and every mean available.

    Already Polluted Atmosphere of South Asia.

    South Asia is already suffering from the adverse effects of Brown cloud(Accumulation of Dirty gases in upper atmosphere of Subcontinent and is having negative effects on the health of population of India and Pakistan , Moreover there is already shortage of Ozone gas in the upper atmosphere of South Asia, due to which people of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka ) are not having perfect healthy bodies as compared to other races of the world, .In view of such a bad condition of atmosphere burning the coal is just like to throw the people of Pakistan into valley of death, where as there already so many poor workers are daily dying in the coal mines of Balouchistan, but no one is having any care about those poor workers.

    There are a number of adverse environmental effects of coal mining and burning, especially the glaciers of the Himalayas, Karakoram, Hindukush and Pamir ranges in Gilgit-Baltistan contribute significantly to the stream flow of the Indus Basin. More significantly, during the dry season these glaciers become the system’s only source. Impacts due to climate change on these glaciers have been studied in recent decades and vivid fluctuation of water flow in the Indus River Basin System has been reported.
    Due to flow of toxic gases and smoke from Thar Coal towards North and Western Pakistan, It is the responsibility of Jammu and Kashmir, Northern Areas, NWFP, Punjab and Sindh Governments to review the adverse effects of Thar coal as it is the matter of life and death of the people of these areas. As unhealthy environment due to smoke and toxic gases will destroy the beauty of land of Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan and will cause health problems such as cancer, asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory and genetic diseases due to environmental pollution in the people of Punjab, NWFP, Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan. Thar coal will destroy the fertility of land and will pollute the water resources of the country.

    It is the responsibility of Governments of China ,India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Kashmir and Provinces of Pakistan to persuade Federal government of Pakistan not to use Dirty coal while many dams may be constructed for generation of clean energy in Pakistan like Kalabagh and Basha Dam, it is necessary as government of Pakistan is wasting its only Indus River sweet water( 10 Million Acres Feet Water )in the sea while on the other side common people of Pakistan are suffering from the thirst and hunger due to shortage of water and electricity.
    Written By:M.AKRAM KHAN NIAZI.
    Karachi, Pakistan.

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