Friday, 30 May 2008

Issue of Mangla Dam

Issue of Mangla Dam
Shabir Choudhry

Issue of extension of the present dam is causing a great concern among the people of Kashmir in general and people of Mirpur in particular. The extension, no doubt, would create immense problems for the people of Mirpur; similar to the problems they faced at the time of building of the original dam in 1960s.

The WAPDA and the Pakistan government's contention is that this dam extension is important to meet power and water needs of Pakistan. After completion of this dam Pakistan and the people of Pakistan would benefit, they are already taking full advantage of the existing dam, without paying a single penny as a royalty.

It must be noted that royalty is paid to respective Pakistani provinces for Tarbela and other Dams and Sooi Gas. Azad Kashmir is denied royalty for the Mangla Dam by the Pakistani rulers. One Pakistani official during our discussion on the subject told me that no royalty is paid to Azad Kashmir because this is not a province of Pakistan, and royalty is only paid to provinces.

It is true that Azad Kashmir is not a province of Pakistan, and we are treated as a second-class people - provinces of Pakistan have much more power and influence than this area known as Azad (Free) Kashmir. A Police Inspector could be sent by Islamabad government to dismiss an elected Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, arrest him and put him behind the bars. The same thing could not be done in any of the Provinces in Pakistan.

That apart, Pakistan could not be allowed to use this excuse to deprive the people of Azad Kashmir from this important revenue that could be used to change their lives. If Azad Kashmir is not paid royalty because it is not a province of Pakistan then we must consider some kind of profit sharing scheme that people of Azad Kashmir could benefit from their resources.

A number of promises were made to the people of Mirpur in 1960s, at the time of construction of the original dam. The people of Mirpur opposed the construction of the dam, yet the dam was built by oppressing that opposition, and promises made to them were not honoured. The fact is that the people of Mirpur are still suffering because of the dam in many ways. Those who were uprooted in 1960s still have not come to terms with the trauma of migration and problems faced in Pakistan. Many of them did not get possession of their allotments, some of them were forced to leave the area and return to Mirpur; and those who some how managed to live in new places in far fetched cities of Pakistan are still considered as second class citizens and are known as 'Mahjars'.

Despite the above-mentioned problems and despite the knowledge that it would create innumerable problems and uproot thousands of people, the Pakistani authorities want to go ahead with the extension plan because it will benefit Pakistan. It will surely benefit Pakistan but what about people of Mirpur? Why do they have to suffer for the second time to satisfy water and power needs of Pakistan? Isn't it time that people of Pakistan make some sacrifices to meet Pakistan's water and energy needs?

It would be pertinent to note here that plans for Kala Bagh Dam were made in 1953, and over the years the government of Pakistan has spent millions of dollars on different reports and feasibility projects. Prominent foreign experts prepared these reports, and each report confirmed that it was a profit-making project. Yet the Kala Bagh Dam project is still on papers, and not a single brick has been put in its place because of strong opposition of the people. People opposed the Kala Bagh Dam because it directly affected their livelihood; it affected their homes and graves of their ancestors. They said we would blow it off with a bomb, even though they knew it was in the national interest of Pakistan.

Like in 1960s, the Pakistani authorities are making some more attractive offers to the people of Mirpur. They would pay generous compensation to the people and resettle them. I am sure people living around Kala Bagh area were also offered compensation in return for abandoning their homes and graves of their forefathers. But they refused to accept any compensation even though the proposed dam would have benefited their country.

As far as the issue of resettling is concerned, since 1971 there are some five lakh Pakistanis still waiting in Bangladesh to be resettled in Pakistan. No one has cared for them, yet these people suffered twice in the name of Pakistan, first in 1947 and second time in 1971. If a country or a nation could abandon its own people I wonder how it would treat Kashmiris who legally and constitutionally, are not Pakistanis. And irony of all this is that respective Pakistani governments did not care about the plight of the Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh, and refused to accept them, but accepted millions of Afghans in 1979, because with each Afghan increased the flow of dollars and riyals. It is different matter that with all this a new culture of Kaleshenkof and heroin was also introduced in Pakistan and gradually to Azad Kashmir.

Pakistan also wants to build Skardu Dam on the Indus River in Baltistan district, which is also part of State of Jammu and Kashmir. These vast areas are known as Northern areas and are under the direct control or occupation of Pakistan. The administration of these areas is selected and controlled by Pakistan, and these areas have no links with areas of Azad Kashmir. These people do not have basic human rights; even people of Azad Kashmir have far more rights than them, yet the administration there has opposed the construction of the Skardu Dam.

They said to the Islamabad government that the project may submerge the entire valley and may necessitate large-scale human resettlement, and could cause serious controversies. The Skardu runway will also be submerged and the cantonment area will face a similar threat. Apart from that they asked Islamabad to 'avoid steps which might lead to controversies and unpleasant situations in the area and to keep in mind concerns of the local people.'

The President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf has approved blueprint of the proposed Skardu project, and a sum of Rs. 70 millions has been approved for a two-year feasibility study. So it looks that Pakistan governments wants to go ahead with this project despite the opposition. These people are not Pakistanis and their opposition, if necessary, could be crushed, and there won't be any political fall out. But opposition regarding Kala Bagh could not be crushed because of the following:
· They are aware of their rights and strength
· There is a big political price to be paid and no government could afford that
· They are Pakistanis why uproot them, while same goal could be achieved by uprooting Kashmiris whether they are in Mirpur or Baltistan

Perhaps it would be pertinent here to quote comments of a Pakistani columnist Badee Ul Zaman, he wrote: It looks that Pakistan needs Kashmir not Kashmiris. Kashmiris should learn from the plight of Mohajars and Biharis who have given great sacrifices in the name of Pakistan… Nothing has been done to change the fate of the Pakistanis in the last fifty years, yet lofty claims are made to instantly change the fate of Kashmiris. There is a policy of creating rifts among people in Azad Kashmir and there is no unity. People of Gilgit and Baltistan have not become Pakistanis in the last fifty years; and their fate is like that of Biharis stranded in Bangladesh.' (Sargoshi, Nation, 10/07/98)

Like many in the past; Pakistani authorities would not appreciate my article, and even some Pakistanis and Kashmiris would not like it either, but I owe it to my conscience and the next generation that I speak my mind on the issue and warn the authorities of its consequences. My sincere advice is that Pakistan should find another suitable place to build a new dam to meet its requirements rather than uprooting the people of Mirpur again.

Over the months the opposition to the proposed extension is getting stronger, and I have heard some unpleasant things in the meetings. There are some people who have shown their determination to oppose this extension and for this they are prepared to adopt violent means. Some have even indicated that they would destroy the existing dam as well, as it was built against the wishes of the people. This is a dangerous trend, and nothing should be done to provide oxygen to this.

I understand that Pakistan government has not only money but has other means to silence the people of Mirpur, and if needed has power to crush their opposition, and complete the extension of Mangla Dam. But what would be fall out of this? My fear is that it would provide a spark that might not be easy to extinguish; and this could create a situation where angry youths of Azad Kashmir might resort to violent struggle against Pakistan.

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