Pakistan News

Lest our farms turn into deserts

Lest our farms turn into deserts

That Pakistan is an agricultural economy we have all known since our school days when we were taught basic facts about our country. However, except for those who went on to become irrigation or mechanical engineers most of us may have found it of little interest to seek information about our rivers and dams and their capacity to provide sustainable irrigation vital for ensuring food security.

The fact of the matter is that we need to be seriously concerned about the state of our rivers which are losing their capacity to fulfil the country’s water demand, which is constantly on the rise due to the country’s ever-increasing population. We should also be equally worried about the diminishing storage capacity of our dams and the state of aquifers given our future water requirement for agriculture and human consumption. One way to deal with the impending scenario would have been stopping the construction of Baglihar dam by India.

Through the publication of his book Undeclared Water War on Pakistan Professor Dr Iqbal Ali has done a national service by exposing the incompetence and cowardice of our governments in this regard and the shrewdness and unfairness of their Indian counterparts.

The author presents a sequence of developments with convincing evidence suggesting that Pakistan has indeed been subjected to ‘water aggression’. He begins by questioning the way demarcation of borders between the new states of India and Pakistan was carried out by Sir Cyril Radcliffe in August 1947. Just to quote one example, the British had built Ferozepur, Sulemanki and Islam Barrages to supply water to the Sutlej canals. Dipalpur canal originated from Ferozepur Barrage (India) but water coming from it irrigated Kasur and Sahiwal districts in Pakistan. Radcliffe drew the border just 100 feet downstream from the Ferozepur Barrage, thus giving the control of Dipalpur canal, which was very much a Pakistani canal, to India. India waited barely six months to take advantage of this anomaly and stopped the water flow to Dipalpur canal and Upper Bari Doab Canal (UBDC).

The author describes this act of the Indian government as the first attack in its water war on Pakistan. Three chapters have been devoted to such ‘attacks’ by India — first attack, 1948; middle stage attack, 1952-60; last stage 1990 onwards.

In a grim reminder, the author tells us how India prolonged the finalisation of Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) until 1960, the negotiations for which started in 1948, and during those years built Bhakra Dam on the Sutlej. Under the IWT signed by Gen Ayub Khan, Pakistan surrendered the waters of the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi to India. The treaty provided legal cover to Bhakra Dam.

According to the author, there was anger against this one-sided agreement among the engineering community which caught Gen Ayub’s attention and he felt it necessary to have a meeting with them. After explaining IWT’s salient features during a meeting at the Governor House, Lahore, Gen Ayub issued the engineers a warning: they would not talk against the treaty even if they were convinced that injustice had been done to Pakistan.

The book offers several suggestions about how Pakistan can best handle its water supply in the present circumstances. These ideas range between revisiting the IWT to building five new dams. The author believes that Kalabagh is the best location for a dam that can be built in the shortest period of time, and offers strong arguments to support this view.

The reviewer is a Dawn staff member

Undeclared Water War on Pakistan: Tactical and Strategic Defence Measures
By Professor Dr Iqbal Ali
Allied Book Company, Lahore
ISBN 978-9698486174

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