Unfortunately, the Lahore High Court decision in favour of the implementation of the Council of Common Interests decision regarding Kalabagh Dam has sparked an uncalled for rhetorical outburst, mainly from its opponents, rather than a rational debate on the merits of the projects. Federal Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah seemed to be insinuating that the Sharif brothers from Punjab were behind the raising of the issue and asked them to forget about it since the PPP and the people of Sindh would never “at any cost” allow the dam to be built. The PML-N, however, while expressing the view that the construction of Kalabagh was in the interest of the country added that a consensus of the different federating units was necessary before the project was taken up. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira reacted quite soberly and called the project a political, and not judicial, issue, indicating that the courts had better not involve themselves in such affairs. Their interference, he believed, would incur criticism and the government, which considered independent judiciary as vital to democracy, did not want that to happen. He rightly felt that the best forum to handle it was the Council of Common Interests. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf viewed the judicial interference as having a negative impact. He did not elaborate the point. There has also been criticism from Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah who said that if “the nationalist parties opposed to the local bodies ordinance” were to protest against the Kalabagh project, his government would lend them full support. From the KPK province also came strong words against the LHC verdict. The government called it contrary to the unanimous resolutions of the provincial assembly, with Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain urging Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to declare the LHC decision null and void. He accused what he felt ‘a certain group in Punjab’ of supporting this “unfeasible and non-workable” project with the aim of destroying the federation, as three provinces were against its construction.

Putting aside the LHC’s orders, it is clear that in this unseemly, self-destructive controversy, Kalabagh’s technical viability and immense benefits are lost sight of. Also being relegated in the background is 1991 inter-provincial water accord in which all provinces had accepted the project’s vital need for uncultivated cultivable land located in different provinces, at the same time acknowledging its potential to obviate floods and save mangroves, not destroy them. And the power it would generate should make it all the more an imperative necessity when prolonged loadshedding, with little prospects of relief in the foreseeable future, has become the bane of life as factories close down, the tube well fail to operate, the entire business of life comes to a standstill. Minister Kaira should know that Kalabagh is not political issue but an issue of very survival of the country. If Kalabagh is a controversial memory, renaming it Zardari dam would be acceptable too, so long as the essential project is begun.