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A new round of controversy over Kalabagh

May 28, 2008

KARACHI/LAHORE, May 27: While politicians in Sindh and leaders of parties based in the NWFP welcomed the announcement made by Minister of Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf that the Kalabagh dam project had been shelved for good, the PPP-led federal government’s decision has stirred a hornet’s nest in Punjab.

The reaction from some quarters in Punjab was so intense that Raja Pervez himself somewhat backtracked on Tuesday and said the project had not been shelved, but rather “put on hold.”

Awami National Party’s president Asfandyar Wali Khan, Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain and Sindh Information Minister Shazia Marri were among those who hailed the announcement as a step to strengthen the federation, but farmers’ bodies in Punjab and several political parties described it as an ‘anti-federation move’.

The Jamaat-i-Islami and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf took out separate processions in Lahore and some other cities and towns of Punjab in protest against the minister’s statement.

A government spokesman in Lahore said that it had not been consulted on the matter. And Punjab’s Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the provincial government would take the matter to the Council of Common Interests.

The Punjab Water Council and the Kissan Board Pakistan termed it an act which could hold the country’s future hostage and something which flew in the face of the government’s own claims to use agriculture as an engine of growth.

“Dropping a project of such an immense importance without even starting a consultation process on it bespeaks of the government’s way of decision making,” they said.

PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi said the government’s decision had no public mandate.

He said the move was against the national interest and that “it wipes off all the previous government’s efforts to develop countrywide consensus on the most controversial dam”.

Former Punjab governor Malik Mustafa Khar lashed out at Raja Pervez Ashraf’s statement and said the Kalabagh project was more important than Kashmir and the nuclear issue.

But, the MQM chief, in a statement issued from London, said the Kalabagh dam was a controversial project which had created differences among the federating units. “Such decisions prove that the government is not wasting time and money on non-issues and concentrating on developmental projects keeping in view the aspirations of the people of Pakistan.”

He also welcomed the decision to rename the NWFP as Pakhtoonkhwa and said it was a part of his party’s manifesto. He said the MQM would continue to support all government actions to be taken for the progress of the country.