Brigadier (R) Samson Simon Sharaf
Somehow, I always had a feeling that Pakistan’s bureaucracy, technocrats and the military have lived in exclusive bubbles in chagrin to long term strategic and economic interests of Pakistan. Bureaucracy and technocrats are eclipsed by the Harvard Models with their feet and heads in the air rather than sunk into the ground realities of Pakistan. The military’s focus has always been India centric from a military perspective. There never was awareness that what could not be lost on the battlefield could be easily conceded through bad planning? The imperatives of a broad policy spectrum with all encompassing instruments never formed the basis of any discussion forum. Inevitably, the bubbles burst.
After the coup of 1999, one of my biggest concerns was Pakistan’s spiraling debt with a declared foreign component of 32 billion dollars. No one in the Ministry of Finance or State Bank could confidently tell the volume and breakdown of this debt to include country-country borrowing, multi lateral loans, bonds and other encashment to provinces and autonomous bodies. After encountering many blank faces, I decided to get reports from all ministries, provinces and autonomous bodies to analyse the size and cash flows.
As volumes of reports and files continued to pour in, the figures collected cross checked and verified were startling. Pakistan’s debt was over 38 Billion US Dollars and continued to grow through the IMF borrowing and the sinking Rupee. The single biggest recipient of loans was the water sector, accounting for approximately 70% of the loan component. The shocker was that 60% of it was already spent on feasibilities that included preliminary infrastructure for Kalabagh Dam. The shocker was that nearly half of Pakistan’s foreign debt had been eaten away by drawing boards, visits, lodgings and proposals. The study also vindicated international political economists who viewed IMF and World Bank as exploitative instruments of neo-imperialism. If mega projects were to be executed, further external financial assistance was imperative.
It was a very useful study that left everyone in the Musharraf Cabinet stunned and aghast, but this is where this revealing study ended. There was no follow up. Gradually, patriotic and concerned officials were shown the door. The study got lost in the sea of bureaucracy. The economic gurus trained by International Financial Institutions and Banks have since left and replaced by a new team that speaks the same language and expected to fare no better. I was convinced then and sure now that these economic managers and experts are all part of an international cartel that controls financial institutions and hence destinies of misgoverned countries like Pakistan. They come and go with regime changes and are never made accountable. These are non state corporatists who transcend international borders and whose loyalties lie with their pay masters rather than their moorings. More than India or militants, they are the ones who have caused Pakistan major damage.
My mind goes back to two Pakistani delegations that went to India after 1997. At that time Baghliar Dam was well past its planning stages and into execution, yet despite briefs, the Pakistan delegations failed to raise the issue with India or World Bank. Belatedly in 2007, on grounds of gross neglect and technical deficiency, Pakistan lost the argument in international arbitration.
Having witnessed the apathy then, I am not sure if Pakistani experts were ever aware of the Indian plans to build scores of ‘run of the river’ projects over Jhelum, Chenab and Kishanganga? Now Pakistan’s farmers, people and energy sectors must face the music. Ironically, these water flows can also be manipulated for military purposes against the very military that allowed this to happen right under its nose.
But the apathy does not end here. Despite such huge investments on non productive feasibilities, Pakistan remains short of water reservoirs. From 1999-2003, the Board of Investments and Finance Ministry consistently blocked attempts by private investors and consortiums to construct Neelam Hydel on build operate, own and transfer basis. Rather the subject was inevitably diverted to export of surplus electricity to India and the inefficiency of the IPPs. They chose to ignore the cogent legal angle that while the Indian Kishanganga was still on the drawing boards it was urgent to begin the construction forthwith.
Come 2009-10. The biggest component of Pakistan’s debt has not performed. Rather, it is guilty of criminal negligence in safe guarding Pakistan’s interests under the Indus Basin Water Treaty and rather squandered huge sums on non productive studies by consortiums, IFIs and consultants. Kishenganga has resigned River Neelam to a trickle and all but obscured Neelam Hydel Project. India has been left free to decide when it fills its reservoirs and releases water into the rivers allocated to Pakistan. Technically, they have demonstrated its ability to reduce flows during sowing seasons and increase during monsoons. Today, there is no water, no dams and no electricity.
Pathetically, Pakistan’s entire water and energy interests were left in the hands of one commissioner, while the financial and technical experts remained busy in churning out expensive feasibility studies. Legal experts crucial to win arguments in international law were conspicuously absent.
Even the water management schemes and drainage projects are a showcase of neglect and institutional decay. Had it not been for extra ordinary spells of droughts in areas from Sulemanki to Fort Abbas, much of the land would have become an impassable quicksand.
All along the International border, India dumps untreated waste and flood waters into Pakistan. Three conspicuous points are Hudiara, Sulemanki and Haroonabad. Hudiara drain runs through the entire length of Lahore and debouches into the Ravi near Mehmoodbooti causing irreparable environmental damage. Sub soil water quality samples all along this system are unfit for human consumption. The sewage, extremely high in chemical and biological oxygen demand and laden with toxins, micro organisms and health hazards has never attracted the ire of Pakistani officials nor have they ever raised the issue with India. Water aquifers of Central Punjab are dying being recharged with contaminated waste water.
During the monsoons, India regularly floods the area between Head Signai (near Haroonabad), across Fort Abbas to Mianwala Toba, destroying standing crops. By the time the water recedes, one crop is destroyed and the other cannot be sowed. Consequently, farmers have abandoned agriculture in the area.
The saddest part of this tragedy is that despite being confronted by a hyper active neighbour, Pakistan has shown fragility to set its own house in order. It is like a rat stunned by a cobra.
Kalabagh, that hold the key to Pakistan’s future especially with the limited residual life of Tarbela has become too politicised to construct. Rather, preparations are in full swing to construct Basha on a fault line that pulverised the entire landscape from Balakot to Kashmir in 2005. In addition Korakoram Highway will have to be realigned and the entire bed of the lake treated with concrete. The wall on this fault line will overhang like a predator. In case of a massive earthquake, it could wipe out infrastructures as far away as Kotri and Sukkur.
The world’s largest irrigation network and natural river system is under threat of extinction.