Kalabagh Dam: the Question of Alternatives

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Kalabagh Dam: the question of alternatives

THE rush to build the Kalabagh dam is taking General Musharraf and many of his supporters, including some born-again superpatriots, to heights of irrationality. As if the doctrine of necessity, which has provided the alibi for all military coups since the original one of Ayub Khan, was not enough, a new and much more sinister doctrine, that of indispensability, is being promoted. Its purpose is to justify the indefinite continuation of the present regime and to coerce into acceptance its pre-determined choices, often based on dubious and doctored data.

At a time when the entire nation is preoccupied with grieving for the victims of the earthquake and worrying whether the survivors will be lucky enough to avoid the “second wave” of deaths that stares them in the face during the long and severe winter, it is nothing less than diabolical for the regime to leave an unfinished human agenda and embark on a politically-charged mega project on which the nation is so divided.

Despite the regime’s stubbornness to be in denial about the realities of the earthquake, all reports, both by national and international observers, suggest that the relief effort is woefully inadequate and, barring a massive increase in the resources and in the efficiency in the delivery system, the nation should brace itself for a human tragedy even bigger than what befell it three months ago.

This was an ideal time for the government to unite and heal the nation across political, social, economic, gender and geographic divides which have stalked the country since its inception, particularly since the military action in East Pakistan, 35 years ago, for which the military remains unrepentant. But the regime has been more interested in keeping itself in power than in keeping the nation together.

The way it has tried to monopolize the relief effort by the military and marginalize civilian efforts, can hardly engender any credibility about the various assurances and guarantees it is promising the three minority provinces to win their support for the KBD.

The government’s case about the pressing need for launching the KBD, does not rest only on its intrinsic merits, which are highly contestable as has been elaborated by many learned researchers. Its quintessential argument currently is that, since other hydroelectric projects will take longer time to materialize, if it does not undertake the construction of the KBD now, a very important and basic need, water, for the Pakistani people will remain unfilled and that the economy, especially agriculture, will be in dire straits soon. This indeed is the most fallacious argument.

Firstly, there are countless examples of countries which have developed successfully without having adequate basic natural resources such as land, water and minerals. The East Asian and South-east Asian economies’ success is largely the result of their ability to restructure their economies away from natural resources and production of primary commodities. Pakistan has, never seriously explored this option because of the vested feudal and industrial interests. Cotton and sugarcane are the most water-intensive crops and serious efforts need to be made to introduce crops and technologies that would reduce water requirements substantially. Scarcity is often the mother of innovation.

Secondly, it seems the government’s economic managers have failed to learn an elementary principle of economics — that of opportunity cost. Simply put, this means that there is always a cost of doing something in terms of things that could have been done otherwise. In enumerating the benefits of constructing the KBD, numerous other things that may be equally or more beneficial to society should also be taken into account. Unfortunately, no such exercise is undertaken in Pakistan as planning has been forsaken for ad hoc decision-making, based on political, rather than economic considerations. Even if...
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