General Pervez Musharraf has restarted his efforts to force a consensus in favour of the Kalabagh Dam. He has reiterated that construction of big water reservoirs is the need of the hour, highlighting the need to augment water storage and power generation to meet the requirements of a rising population. He has asserted that in national interest, the decision had to be taken at all costs, while urging the ruling party to mobilize public opinion in favour of the dam. According to Pakistani government sources there are four dams - Kalabagh, Bhasha, Akhori and Katzara - which are under active consideration, that could generate 44,000 MW of hydel power. Kalabagh Dam will generate 3,600 MW of electricity and provide water storage capacity of 6.1 million acre feet, Bhasha Dam has the potential to generate 4,500 MW of electricity and store 7.2 MAF. Akhori Dam has a storage capacity of 6 MAF water and could generate 600 MW of electricity. The figures differ from those released earlier and indicate an attempt by the government to generate consensus in favour of Kalabagh and Bhasha dams. Musharraf has publicly advocated the construction of Kalabagh Dam, which, at $6 billion, is the most economical among the proposed dams.
Pakistan has not built any major dams since Tarbela, which was completed in 1977. Since then Pakistan has relied on thermal power plants to meet its requirements. Silting has reduced the capacities of the Tarbela and Mangla dams by 30 per cent and affected the energy production as well as the volume of irrigation water that is released. There is, therefore, an inevitability about constructing a mega dam; a national consensus eludes Pakistan on this issue, with the smaller provinces opposing construction of the Kalabagh Dam. The farmers in Sindh feel that construction of this mega dam will deprive them of their share of water and lead to widespread salinity. Though the government insists that 8.6 million-acre feet of water will be released below Kotri to check sea intrusion and environmental damage, it has failed to convince the Sindhis. Chief Minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim has publicly declared his willingness to sacrifice his post to defend the interests of Sindh. Even his alliance partner Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has threatened to withdraw from the ruling coalition if it is not taken into confidence regarding plans to construct the Kalabagh Dam. MQM chief Altaf Hussain has come out strongly against the dam and, if MQM's past track record is any indicator, it is willing to adopt an anti-government stance if that enhances its anti-Punjab image. MQM is on an upswing, having sent Muttahida Majlis e Amal (MMA) packing from Karachi in the local bodies' poll. Its relief operations in the Northern Areas and NWFP after the earthquake have also won it widespread acclaim. A major stakeholder in the Sindh government and an ally at the Centre, MQM's support in the National Assembly is the key to the survival of the government. Musharraf had probably not bargained for this sort of open defiance by members of ruling coalition.
Similarly, there is widespread opposition to the dam in NWFP, which feels that the Kalabagh Dam will inundate large tracts of fertile and populated lands. The affected population in this volatile and heavily armed province will not accept the Kalabagh Dam, especially when people displaced by Tarbela have not yet been rehabilitated. The MMA government in NWFP and the Awami National Party (ANP) are vehemently opposed to Kalabagh. Till recently, the ruling elite were veering around to the prospects of building the dams at Bhasha and Skardu, as it would avoid inundation of land in NWFP. However, the recent quake has placed a question mark over the desirability of constructing large dams in Northern Areas, a highly seismic and geologically unstable region.
The important point is that a national consensus does not exist in Pakistan at present, even though the party in power in the federal government is also ruling in three of the provinces. The situation may become worse after the general election in 2007. There is no doubt that a big dam should have been constructed in Pakistan long ago. However, due to its political mess, a national consensus has not been possible. Going ahead with the Kalabagh or Bhasha dams without the agreement of all the constituent units will be a disaster and will ensure that foreign donors do not commit aid to this politically controversial project.