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The Kalabagh dam

The Kalabagh dam is a proposed hydroelectric dam on the Indus River at Kalabagh in Mianwali District of the Punjab province in Pakistan. The project has been highly debated and deemed a necessity since its inception. If constructed with 3,800 MW electricity generation capacity, it will become the largest source of electricity for Pakistan.
Confluence of Indus River. The Indus is the lo...
In December 2004, General Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan, announced that he would build the dam in the larger interest of Pakistan. On May 26, 2008, Federal Minister for Water and Power of Pakistan, Raja Pervez Ashraf, said that the "Kalabagh Dam would not be constructed" and the project has been cancelled.[citation needed] He said due to the "opposition from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and other stakeholders, the project was no longer feasible".[1] However, after the worst flood (2010) in Pakistan, the prime minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, stated that the devastation of floods would be less if Kalabagh dam were built.[2]

  Technical facts and differing opinions

Bashir A. Malik, former chief technical advisor of the United Nations and World Bank, has said "Sindh and Pakhtunkhwah would become drought areas in the years to come, if Kalabagh Dam was not built."[3] At the same time former KPK Chief Minister Shamsul Mulk has stated that the "Kalabagh Dam would be helpful in erasing poverty from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as it would irrigate 800,000 acres of cultivable land that is located 100-150 feet above the level of River Indus."[4] Kalabagh Dam would provide 6.5 million acre feet of water to cultivate seven million acres of currently barren land. This is in addition to the 3,800 MW of electricity it would provide.[5] In response to the push towards side-lining Kalabagh altogether in favor of the Basha Dam project, Engineer Anwer Khurshid stated that "Basha Dam is no substitute for Kalabagh dam not because of its altitude which is high enough, but because no irrigation canals can be taken out from it because of the hilly terrain".[6]
Other experts who have strongly supported the construction of the Kalabagh dam at the "Save Water Save Pakistan" Forum include: Dr Salman Shah, former finance minister, Abdul Majeed Khan, TECH Society president, Shafqat Masood, former IRSA chairman, Qayyum Nizami, former minister of state, Prof Abdul Qayyum Qureshi, former vice chancellor of Islamia University, Bahawalpur, Dr Muhammad Sadiq, agricultural scientist, M Saeed Khan, former GM of Kalabagh Dam Project, Mansoor Ahmed, former MD of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Foundation and Jameel Gishkori, among others.[7] The participants of Save Water Save Pakistan Forum session demanded in their recommendations implementation on building five dams, including Munda dam, Kurram Tangi dam, Akhori dam and Kalabagh dam, at least by 2025 to store water and generate electricity to meet the demand.
In contrast, Former Chief Engineer WAPDA, Engr. Shahr-i-Yar Khan has claimed that the construction of Kalabagh Dam is not suitable for NWFP which will cause unnecessary wastage of huge funds as compared to many other suitable sites of dams proposed on Indus river. Shahr-i-Yar Khan, who had served on various positions of WAPDA, besides getting training abroad, highlight various issues related to the Kalabagh Dam construction at length. He was of the view that the construction of Kalabagh Dam has a number of adverse effects on the generation of Barotha power complex.

  Political hurdles

Sindh is the lower riparian and strongest opponent of KBD and politicians presents many objections against the proposed dam:
  • That their share of the Indus water will be curtailed as water from the Kalabagh will go to irrigate farmlands in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, at their cost. Sindhis hold that their rights as the lower riparian have precedence according to international water distribution law.
  • The coastal regions of Sindh require a constant flow of water down the Indus into the Arabian Sea so that the flowing water can keep the seawater from intruding inland. Such seawater intrusion would literally turn vast areas of Sindh's coast into an arid saline desert, and destroy Sindh's coastal mangroves.
  • With the construction of dams, such as Mangla Dam and Tarbela Dam across the Indus, Sindhis have seen the once-mighty Indus turned into a shadow of its former glory downstream of the Kotri Barrage up to Hyderabad. They fear that there simply is not enough water for another large dam across the Indus, let alone three.
  • Claims that the current flow of Indus river downstream of Kotri Barrage is only because of rain. Hence in years of low rain, Sindh fears the Indus would stop flowing.
  • Damming the Indus has already caused a number of environmental problems that have not yet addressed. Silt deposited in the proposed Kalabagh dam would further curtail the water storage capacity of Manchar Lake and other lakes and of wetlands like Haleji Lake.
  • President Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and other leaders, have promised "iron-clad constitutional guarantees" to ensure that Sindh gets its fair share of water. However, these assurances mean little to most Sindhis, who claim that even the earlier 1991 Indus Water-Sharing Accord, which is a document already guaranteed by the constitutional body, the Council of Common Interests, has been violated, and that Punjab has "stolen" their water without any concrete evidence.[citation needed]
The objection to Kalabagh in Sindh is widespread. Even political parties of Sindh that are in the central cabinet and are supported by General Musharraf, such as the Muttahida Quami Movement, have strongly denounced the dam. Opposition towards Kalabagh Dam is such that PML N's Sindh Chapter also were in unison with the opponents of the Dam and as a result even PML N's leader Mr Nawaz Sharif, who as the Prime Minister of Pakistan had stated in 1998 that he proposes to build the dam, retracted from his stance and declared that Sindh's view point ought to be respected and no project, however essential, be carried out that weakened Pakistan's Federation. 

  NWFP's viewpoint

The NWFP has two main objections to the dam:
  • NWFP claims that the running of Cheshma-Jhelum link canal and over drawing of water from Tarbela is a common feature. 
  • The entire system and canal of Ghazi- Barotha hydro electric project runs in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, however the electricity generating turbines were installed just 500 meters inside Punjab so that the royalty is denied to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 
  • While the reservoir will be in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the dam's electricity-generating turbines will be just across the provincial border in Punjab. Therefore, Punjab would get royalties from the central government in Islamabad for generating electricity . Although, Punjab has also agreed not to claim any royalty on generation of resources from Kalabagh dam.
  • Concerns that large areas of Nowshera District would be submerged by the dam and even wider areas would suffer from water-logging and salinity as has occurred with the Tarbela Dam. As the water will be stored in Kalabagh dam as proposed, that will give water level rise to the city that is about 200 km away from the proposed location.  However, engineers having expertise on dam construction repeatedly deny the opinion that Nowshera city could be submerged by the dam lake.
  • Punjab follows a paradox policy when it comes to canals to be taken out from Kalabagh Dam. It talks of right bank canal which will supply water to D I Khan, but when talking to Sindh, it denies construction of right bank canal being infeasible. 

  Balochistan's viewpoint

Balochistan is not directly affected by the dam as such. Rather, most nationalist Baloch claim the dam is an instance of grievances of smaller provinces not being taken into account. They have however, not included the dam in any of their statements after its cancellation. 

  Indian involvement

Experts claim India was sponsoring opposition to Kalabagh Dam project through various pressure groups. He observed that Pakistani politicians could not implement major national projects like Kalabagh Dam due to political compromises and lack of national consensus, terming it an unfortunate development.[8]


All Pakistanis agree that Pakistan faces a severe water shortage, and that some form of water management must be implemented soon. Many[who?] point out that if work on Kalabagh were to start tomorrow, it would still take at least three years to complete and commission such a large dam. In the meantime, the water situation would continue to worsen. Smaller dams, barrages, and canals must be built before that, and water conservation techniques introduced. 
The WAPDA for years repeatedly changed its statistics on the dam, to the point where no-one in Pakistan now believes any of its figures.  Government of Pakistan formed a technical committee, headed by A. N. G. Abbasi, to study the technical merits of the Kalabagh dam vis-a-vis the other two. The four-volume technical report concluded that Bhasha or Katzarah dam should be built before Kalabagh, further complicating matters. The report also stated that Kalabagh and Bhasha Dams could be considered feasible. 
The abrupt way in which President Pervez Musharraf announced the decision to build the dam, overruling the objections of Small parties , had polarised public opinion. On 26 May 2008, Federal Minister for Water and Power of Pakistan Raja Pervez Ashraf abruptly cancelled the project and that Kalabagh Dam will not be constructed. He said due to opposition from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and other stakeholders, the project is no longer feasible.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, announced that the fate of the project would be decided by a plebiscite. The decision came after Pakistan faced extreme power crisis and acute water shortages. The government is currently finding alternative locations for the dam.[1]

  Timeline of Events on Kalabagh Dam Controversy

  • December 2004: General Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan, announced that he would build the dam in the larger interest of Pakistan.
  • 29, November 2012: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday ordered the federal government to construct the Kalabagh dam. [9]
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