Located in the far north of Sindh, Qamber Shahdadkot is interesting with multiple extremes. On the one hand, it is the hotbed of tribal disputes on the other it has high democratic credentials, being the constituency of the assassinated politician — the iconic Benazir Bhutto.
While frequent cases of honour killings have stigmatised the area it counts among first few districts where a textile mill established ain 1970s by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Tribal feuds between the Chandio and Magsis make headlines but they also make name in sports and politics. Chiefs of both tribes are voted for a seat in Sindh assembly. Magsis have panache for desert jeep rallies, winning the titles. They also love hunting migratory birds.
The political representation has done little to change the fate of the area where the physical infrastructure has yet to develop.
‘Why doesn’t the Sindh government equally share shortage among all 14 main canals of three barrages to meet Balochistan’s demand for water’
It produces a large quantum of rice crop’s coarse varieties of Irri-6 and Irri-9. The district is also known for irrigation water mismanagement. It supplies water to Balochistan under the Water Apportionment Accord, 1991. Balochistan often accuses Sindh of water theft.
Carved out in Dec 2004 from Larkana as a separate district, it is one of the largest districts in Sindh with seven talukas. It shares borders with Khuzdar in the west, Jhal Magsi, Jaffarabad and Jacobabad in the northwest, Larkana in the northeast and Dadu in its south.
Besides the famous and long flood-protection (FP) bund, the mountain range of Khirthar, rich in mineral and tourist potential, is part of its identity.
For the last few years, hills involve an inter-provincial dispute over a tourist spot, called Kutte ji Qabar (the dog’s grave) in Sindhi and Kuchak na Qabar in the Brahui language. It involves 25000 acres of land. A Brahui clansman, as the legend goes, carried his loyal dog to the highest peak in the area and buried it there to be celebrated forever. Balochistan stakes its claim over the spot through a resolution a few years back — something renounced by Sindh on the basis of an 1876 Gazette. The Sindh Assembly also retorted with a resolution — tabled by Sardar Khan Chandio in April 2018.
“We will not allow Balochistan to occupy it, come what may,” MPA Chandio had declared. “The Sindh government is sleeping while the Balochistan government is issuing national identity cards to villagers there,” he told Dawn recently.
Shahdadkot’s biodiversity is unique. It has wetlands like the famous Hamal, Kachhri, Badam, Drigh and Langh. The last two being wildlife sanctuaries. Shahdadkot also receives houbara bustard, the endangered bird popular for hunting with Arabs.
Hamal lake has been the disposal point of effluent from Balochistan’s Hairdin drain. Rice factories are located here that also produces natural gas. The soil suffers salinity. The Water and Power Development Authority officials claim that completion of saline water drains like Right Bank Outfall Drain-I (RBOD) and RBOD-III would reclaim 1.35 million acres of land that also include lands this district.
Besides Chandios and Magsis, Brohis, Brahis, Khoso, Jamalis, Essran, Gopangs and Hakros have large landholdings. The economy revolves around agriculture as 95pc of the population depends on the farm sector. Farmers are content with two main crops: rice in summer and wheat in winter. Amidst strong tribal culture, the powerful get a hefty share of water by hook or crook as small- and medium-sized growers are left to fend for themselves.
Farmers grow water-guzzling rice crop. “I did try cotton in early 2000 but didn’t get the desired result. While the cotton plant grew considerably, the bolls were unimpressive. No one guided me back then,” said Khalid Omer.
The same goes for sunflower cultivation. It was almost a success story after the 2010 floods but this short duration crop vanished soon after.
Every season rice growers — especially in the tail end reaches — speak of water shortages. One of three right bank canals of Sukkur barrage, the North-Western Canal (NWC), feeds this district. With a designed discharge of 9,600 cusecs, 31.4 miles long the NWC passes through Shikarpur and Jacobabad districts to irrigate 305,579 acres area in Qambar.
“Powerful ones get water but we have to spend on irrigation officials to restore the water flow” contends Ishaq Mugheiri, a farmers’ leader in Shahdadkot.
Sindh Abadgar Board president Khalid Khoso concurs. “We suffer as water is cut from the Saifullah Magsi branch to provide Balochistan with its share of water from Khirthar branch at Garang regulator. Why does the water share have to be cut from Saifullah Magsi canal alone?” asks Mr Khoso. “Why doesn’t the Sindh government equally share shortage among all 14 main canals of three barrages to meet Balochistan’s demand for water,” he laments. After all, he said, it was an inter-provincial issue and not a district-level dispute. Why do we suffer alone all time?”
Mr Mugheri added another point. “Begari Sindh feeder of Guddu barrage has to irrigate land on both sides of the NWC. Growers having land in Shikarpur on NWC’s right bank lift water illegally. Even Saifullah Magsi branch’s water is stolen by farmers of Balochistan with the connivance of Sindh irrigation staff”, he deplores.
The share of Qamber-Shahddakot in Sindh’s rice acreage is 11.41pc and 11.96pc production-wise. It is almost close to the rice acreage and production of Larkana. Qamber also grows watermelons, pulse masoor, rapeseed, mustard, gram and barley.
As per the 2019-20 estimated livestock population, Qamber has 1.571m milk-producing animals — 3.10pc — out of Sindh’s 50.21m. It gives 1.573 billion litres of milk. The livestock department doesn’t have data of milk and meat production. A livestock official calculated based on Pakistan Economic Survey 2019-20 data of livestock projected population of 201.3m and Sindh’s 25pc or 50.21m cattle heads.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 3rd, 2021