New Dimensions for Water Policy in Pakistan. By: M. Arshad Manzoor 15th July, 2013. (Un-Published). During the last regime 2008-13 of Pakistan Peoples Party in Pakistan, a robust argument was heard in favour of establishment of new provinces or more precisely the divison of Punjab into various provinces. The issue was also discussed in the Parliament many a times by various MPs. The issue was not highlighted on the basis of traditional parochial wrangling but on a solid demographic reality. Now that the Punjab is a province with almost 100 million population, it is not administratively possible and advisable to run such a demographically large province. Punjab, being the main consumer of natural water in Pakistan, has to have a domestic altercation over water issues as well as having international dimensions vis-Ă -vis Indian water projects in Indian held Kashmir. Apart from other matters, the policy makers should turn to the issues that would confront Punjab or its residuary provinces in near future. Not less than a workable water policy will be the requirement for quenching the water needs of ever increasing concentration of population in the existing Punjab province. Population is the most significant driver of water policy around the world. The disputes over water distribution in the sub-continent date back to the colonial era. The water politics and water disputes in Pakistan stem from the same colonial legacy. The emergence of new provinces may also increase the political commotion over water distribution issues. It would be appropriate that the policy makers in Pakistan should start working to dig out some out of the box parameters to devise an internal water policy for existing or future federating units of Pakistan. One should not circumvent the fact that huge urbanization in the cities of upper Punjab has been supported and managed at the cost of development of other areas of the province. One should not also undermine the water and sanitation problems in the cities of upper Punjab especially in Lahore. The underground aquifers in and around Lahore obtained the recharge from the fresh waters of the river Ravi. At present, the river Ravi gets very meagrre amount of water that enters Pakistan after India completed Ranjit Sagar dam over river Ravi in 2000. The dearth of water resources in the eastern part of Pakistan shall be a major public policy challenge in the near future. With the establishment of new provinces, the water issue will spring up with enhanced bitterness widening the political chasm in Pakistan. We share water courses with India. After the Indus Basin Treaty with India in 1960, we are on the verge of acute water scarcity in Pakistan. It is reported that India has surplus water from Ravi, Bias and Sutlej water system to the tune of 17.17 MAF which is distributed between various Indian States. There is still a lot of water potential in the above system to provide irrigation water to the adjoining areas of Pakistan. We are adept in waging wars. We have the references of two wars, i.e. Cold war battles in Afghanistan and the recent War on terrorism in our own country. But one should believe that the Pakistani nation will not be able to spare blood and money for next generation water wars with India. Now that the political debate over creation of new provinces is expected to get intense, there are also new prospects for the development of national policies on a wide range of new subjects of internal and international issues including water policy. Water issues with India can also be discussed in the new context. It is optimistic that the
composite dialogues are again on the anvil for lasting peace with India. The water issue should also be discussed keeping in mind the on ground realities within Pakistan. It is also the time that the Indian policy makers must start thinking beyond the traditional mindset towards the state of Pakistan. By following Mr. Atal Bihari Bajpai Doctrine, India should now assume the role of a facilitator to diffuse the regional issues within SAARC region to turn it into an economic zone for increasing the consumer base for its booming economic development. That is the reason that India can be persuaded to sell irrigation water for a limited area in Pakistan to provide irrigation waters for upper Punjab and Bahawalpur regions. The landlords and tillers of these regions will be more than happy to pay for this Indian water. It is likely that two additional provinces from the Punjab will emerge. One shall be the province based on the areas of the defunct state of Bahawalpur and the other Saraiki province based on the areas of Multan, D.G. khan and Sargodha divisions including D.I. Khan district from Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Pakistan should persuade India to provide irrigation waters to Pakistani Punjab. This arrangement will spare the waters of mighty Indus for thirsty lands of Saraiki and Sindh provinces cementing the way towards lasting harmony between the communities and provinces in new Pakistan. The canvas for discussing water policy and governance is very vast. It ranges from drinking water supply to trans-boundary water disputes between the countries. The subject of disposal and treatment of waste water is another allied area for water related affairs. The main concern has been the pollution of underground aquifer near the big cities in Pakistan. The efforts are needed to stop the pollution seepage by ensuring that the waste water is treated properly before disposal into natural surface and underground water bodies. Already polluted water of aquifers can be diluted through recharge of clean fresh water from the surface. The recharge can be done by rivers and water reservoirs but unfortunately, Pakistan is languishing under the apathy of the policy makers towards water related problems. With the argument of big population for creation of new provinces, water issues cannot be put behind the curtain. A Pakistan with a tangible water policy can ensure better quality of life for its citizens as well as it can present a modern moderate foreign policy especially towards India. For the resolution of the water issues in Pakistan, Indian attitude will play a vital role. The composite dialogue between India and Pakistan should have a significant focus on water issues in the wake of new political and administrative developments. By adopting a role of facilitator in the region, India will rule the roost by becoming a leader of an economic zone including SAARC countries and Afghanistan. Facilitating the solution of water issues, India can help curbing the jingoist mindset in policy making circles of Pakistan. The resumption of back door diplomacy may create an opportunity to look for new dimensions for solving the water issues in Pakistan.
Note: The writer completed his Master in Public Administration from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, firstname.lastname@example.org