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Kalabagh issue

November 30, 2012

KALABAGH dam enjoys support in the capital of Punjab which is the only unit in the federation backing its construction. For some, the proposal has been a dream for many decades now. For just as long, the ‘smaller provinces’ have opposed the construction of the dam, their opposition intensifying even at the mere hint of attempts to force the project through. But on Thursday, there was more of a thrust — from the blue. The Lahore High Court’s order has been met with the standard objections outside Punjab. In fact, so sensitive is the subject that even those who support Kalabagh’s construction have been guarded in their response to the LHC decision that the federal government is constitutionally bound to start the project in the light of the decisions of the Council of Common Interests. The decisions referred to in the LHC short order were made in the 1990s and called for technical and political issues associated with the dam to be addressed to make the latter acceptable to all.

The court says the project’s fate should not be sealed on the basis of presumptions and surmises, perhaps seeking to put the focus back on the CCI’s calls for evaluation of contentious aspects of Kalabagh. Maybe there is a hope that this would help iron out the differences between the provinces manifested in the anti-Kalabagh resolutions passed by the assemblies of Balochistan, Sindh and the erstwhile NWFP some years ago.

In any event, the matter will ultimately come to the people’s representatives which is only fair. Regardless of whether or not they agree with the court, the politicians have, without exception, spoken of the lack of consensus on Kalabagh in response to Thursday’s ruling. The question is: if it is to be ultimately referred to the politicians why did the LHC have to intervene in the first place? The temptation is there to find an answer in the judiciary’s relationship with a government whose decision to shelve the Kalabagh project “forever” was among its first resolutions. In more recent times the superior judiciary has ruled that a provincial government (in Balochistan) has lost its mandate to govern. It has also sought to fix CNG prices. This approach to addressing problems can be termed risky since it can increase the gap between two pillars of the state which cannot do without each other and must complement one another. The Kalabagh ruling by the LHC has already been dubbed ‘anti-federation’. It could cause — perhaps it already has caused — greater polarisation in a country confronting major provincial and ethnic divisions.