From Kalabagh Dam to 18th Amendment —A saga of provincialism that harms the Federation

DND Thought CenterFrom Kalabagh Dam to 18th Amendment ---A saga of provincialism that harms...

By Agha Iqrar Haroon

A number of national and international reports published in the last two decades fear that Pakistan which has a current 30-day water storage capacity, will surely face extreme water scarcity by the year 2025 with less than 500 cubic meters of water available per person annually and over 200 million people will face water shortage annually.

Having one of the greatest river systems in the world and the third biggest water towers (glaciers and mountain peaks) in the world, this country has a grim future reference to water security because provincialism for the last 50 years did not allow Pakistan to store sweet water coming from over 5000 glaciers and lack of dam networking results that only 15 percent water is store while rest drains to Arabian sea. Two provinces—former N.W.F.P (now called KPK) and Sindh had stiff political positions over the construction of water storage projects like Kalabagh Dam. Such politics barred Pakistan from utilizing sweet water for power generation and agriculture. The lack of water storage systems (dams) ultimately increased Pakistan’s dependence on expensive thermal electricity generation, causing a huge impact on its economy. Today we are facing the results and will remain in face the situation for decades to come. In Pakistan, nearly 97% of water is used for agriculture, and the remaining 3% is used for domestic, industrial, and other purposes, according to a report titled “Pakistan’s Looming Water Crisis” published in 2021.

As per IMF, Pakistan’s per capita annual water availability has reduced from 1500 cubic meters in 2009 to 1017 cubic meters in 2021. It is estimated that by 2025 it will fall to 274 million acre-feet (MAF) while the resources remain the same at 191 MAF, a demand-supply gap of approximately 83 MAF. According to the experts, 7-million-acre feet of water is lost to the sea every year due to the incompetence of government, and lack of strategy and infrastructure. In the government’s case, there is never a long-term policy to deal with the crisis. Instead of engaging in debate lack of dams ultimately played havoc with urban flooding in KPK and rural flooding ruined Sindh in the last two decades, one can say that provinces had not learned much and still politics does not come out of petty political gains while forgetting national interests. One can question what are “national interests” therefore I wish to conclude that national interests are a futuristic approach to how can we survive in the future by designing together the future of the country together with the inputs of all provinces.

Over six decades, smaller provinces kept doing politics over their shares from the Federation and the 18th Amendment passed in 2010 for transferring extra resources to provinces but with certain responsibilities. There is no doubt that 102 reforms undertaken through the 18th Amendment are not altogether useless but one cannot say that Amendment is flawless and there is no need for review and fixing the issues.

Although the Amendment promised devolution of power at the grassroots level, however,  practically it empowered only provincial governments and hindered the transfer of power to the grassroots level. The parliamentarians worked under a Commission for 13 months, had 68 deliberative meetings, and made a number of important decisions that assisted in establishing the new framework of inter-governmental relations. The Commission looking after writing this Amendment had the powers to “make or pass such directions, orders, undertake proceedings or require the making of amendments to regulations, enactments, notifications, rules or orders as may have been necessary to further the objectives of Clause 8 of Article 270AA of the Constitution” (Declaration and Continuance of Laws). Strangely, the Amendment promised the transfer of certain federating powers to provinces like Health, Energy, Water, Transport, Agriculture, and Education but the Centre kept federal ministries of the same sectors, making things more complex than ever. Even after 13 years, provinces have failed to do their capacity building for transport, agriculture, developing water resources, and power generation. The Ministry of Water and Power is still a decision-making body at the Federation level while important decisions for agriculture development still lie with the Federal government through the Ministry of National Food Security & Research. Higher Education Commission (HEC) is still the prime body in the Education sector and the Ministry of National Health Services enjoys all powers for all practical purposes. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources Division still holds exploration of oil and gas although provinces are empowered for energy resources (including oil and gas). Mineral and mine exploration is also under the same ministry. The 18th Amendment also empowers the provinces to go directly for foreign funding projects, collect and enhance tax bases, and arrange foreign loans for projects.

Unfortunately to say that the only perceivable interest of provinces remains their share of the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. The Constitution made it clear that the NFC Award must go through a review every five years but the exercise hadn’t been repeated for long.

Practically, provinces have failed to transfer economic resources and administrative powers to local governments (that was the foremost idea of the 18th Amendment) and provinces like Punjab have been avoiding local bodies elections despite the Supreme Court’s decisions and clear-cut directions from the Constitution (Article 32 and 140). However, the majority of political leaders are reluctant to devolve the powers to the grassroots levels as it would weaken their hold on local politics by controlling development work but at the same time, they use the 18th Amendment for their political leverage. This trend is a part of the provincial politics of Sindh and KPK—the two provinces that blocked the construction of dams in Pakistan such as the Kalabagh Dam. Since elections are knocking at the door, political parties from Sindh and KPK have created an opportunity for their provincialism-based politics and the target is “possible repealing of 18th Amendment. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is claiming that PMLN has decided to roll back the 18th Amendment after coming into power. PPP Sindh chapter president Senator Nisar Khuhro recently claimed that PMLN had decided to “attack the 1973 Constitution” and the target is the 18th Amendment. However, PMLN through Senator Ishaq Dar categorically rejected such allegations by stating that it had no plan to repeal the 18th Amendment but indicated amendments in constitutions if needed.

In KPK, the Awami National Party (ANP) had gone too far and threatened the federation with dire consequences in case the 18th Amendment was touched. Aimal Wali Khan while addressing a meeting stated that his party would demand “Azadi” (freedom) from Pakistan if the Federation would repeal the 18th Amendment.

From Kalabagh Dam to 18th Amendment ---A saga of provincialism that harms the Federation
His statement is not different from ANP’s stance of the past over Kalabagh Dam and his statement refreshes all memories that how so-called nationalists like ANP blocked the construction of several water storages including the Kalabagh dam in the past by threatening the Federation with the same kind of harsh language. It also indicates that politicians have yet not come out of their self-driven slogans and have brought KPK to where it is now. Politicians like Nisar Khuhro and Aimal Wali Khan instead of threatening the Federation should objectively examine:

  • How did the 18th Amendment benefit the people of Sindh and KPK?
  • Has it brought prosperity?
  • Has it reduced poverty and inflation?
  • Has it increased literacy in the provinces, has it reduced corruption?
  • Has it made provinces financially more independent?
  • Has it improved the security situation?
  • Has it transferred resources and administrative power to the grassroots level?

One can keep on asking such questions and frustration will keep on increasing because the aim of politicians like Aimal Wali Khan is none of these objectives but rather to control development funds being received through the 18th Amendment and hold immense administrative power in their hands and their greed has no bounds, their venom for conspiracies is matchless and their thirst for power is bottomless. Therefore, they will never engage in objective discussions instead will fan only more emotions and rhetoric. Unfortunate to believe that political spin masters for protecting their political interests weave a web of unfounded accusations, threats, and showboating that practically harms the Federation. They should remember that the phraseology of “provinces” survives when there is a “Federating Unit”—the State. Their rhetoric had been harmful to Pakistan in the past and would surely harm it again. Should they forget the disasters Pakistan is today facing in the sectors of energy and water that are surely just because of such kind of provincialism during yesteryears?

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