Dawn Editorial 7 April 2021

Water shortages

IRSA will meet tomorrow to address the issue of distribution of irrigation water — or rather its shortage — among the provinces for the kharif season. With 12pc to 19pc shortages anticipated this summer against the provisions of the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord, the total amount of water likely to be available for distribution is expected to be in the vicinity of 65 MAF and 68 MAF. But before distributing water, Irsa will have to tackle two critical issues. First, Punjab believes that the system losses for the early kharif season (April 1-June 10) would be nearly 20pc — and not 35pc — unless ‘justified’ through a professional study or Irsa’s technical consensus. Second, the bigger challenge would be the demand from Wapda to fix 1,470 feet as the water conservation level at Tarbela against its maximum conservation level of 1,550 feet until June 10 in view of ongoing development works at its two power stations. It is hoped that the authority will develop a consensus on these challenges without much difficulty as these issues aren’t new for Irsa.
Ever since the water accord was finalised, water stress has intensified and its availability for the kharif and rabi seasons has come to be defined more by shortage than abundance. In fact, since the accord, the demand for kharif crops has never entirely been met. The annual availability of water for summer crops has averaged 14pc less than what is envisioned in the accord because of lack of sufficient water storage and climate change. As a result, we have seen provinces accusing each other of stealing water from their respective shares and Irsa blaming them for theft and misreporting. The situation gets worse each year with a seasonal deficit of 4pc to 28pc because of climate change. The winter shortages are even higher. The water stress is anticipated to increase going forward. The emerging situation calls for urgently building new storages to trap floodwaters, as well as incentivising farmers to adopt modern irrigation technologies so that they can achieve better yields while conserving the depleting resource.



Policy shift?

THIS is one U-turn that has been much needed. On Monday, while presiding over a meeting of his spokespersons in Islamabad, Prime Minister Imran Khan instructed them to refrain from criticising the opposition in the media and instead highlight the government’s achievements. Further, he termed the opposition as “harmless”, saying they “did not matter” any longer.
The change in tack comes across as a major policy shift, considering that Mr Khan has made the excoriation of previous governments the hallmark of his tenure. He has repeatedly denounced opposition leaders as “looters of the national wealth” who are responsible for Pakistan’s economic woes. That uncompromisingly one-track narrative has been echoed by many federal ministers and advisers in a seemingly endless loop. As a result, government-opposition relations are perennially hostile, and political rhetoric rather than governance has taken centre stage.
Consider it took months before three dozen plus standing committees — that are necessary for legislative work — could be constituted, a task that according to the National Assembly’s rules of procedure must be completed within 30 days of the leader of the house being elected. The PTI’s needlessly combative stance never let up enough to allow for a working relationship across the aisle.
The statement on Monday by the prime minister is the first clear sign of a recalibration in strategy. Increasing public discontent, Yousuf Raza Gilani’s unexpected victory over the then finance minister Hafeez Sheikh in the Senate election; the threat of the PDM’s mass resignations and long march; and the perception that the much-vaunted ‘one page’ was showing signs of wear and tear may have forced a rethink. Certainly, with the election of his candidate as Senate chairman and the implosion of the PDM, Mr Khan has seen off the latest challenge to his government, at least for the moment. But, after nearly three years of ignoring advice to climb down from the ‘container mode’ of his dharna days, the premier may have realised that beating the drum about the previous governments’ failures so far into his tenure was becoming untenable. In fact, the law of diminishing returns had kicked in a long time ago.
The rift in the PDM has lowered the political temperature — and no doubt anxiety levels in government corridors — at a time when the treasury benches need to engage with the opposition. The judicial and electoral reforms the government has proposed can only be carried out through dialogue with legislators as a whole, not just those belonging to PTI or its allied parties. Nevertheless, knowing the prime minister’s predilection for self-righteousness and mercurial about-turns, it is difficult to gauge whether the political rhetoric will be dialled down for long. What is certain is that far-sighted leaders concentrate on the work the nation has entrusted them with rather than pursuing a barren policy of harking to the past.



The ‘disappeared’

OUTSIDE the Quaid’s mausoleum, under the blazing Karachi sun, a sorry sight awaits passers-by: since last Friday, families of Shia missing persons, including toddlers and the elderly, have set up a protest camp to demand that the state provide them with details about their loved ones and return them without delay. However, at the time of writing, their demands remained unfulfilled. Some men have been ‘missing’ for up to a decade, as families struggle to find answers. Unfortunately, this latest protest proves that the scourge of enforced disappearances in Pakistan is very much alive. As these and other protesters have demanded of the state, if their loved ones are accused of breaking any of the country’s laws, they should be produced in court so that they can properly defend themselves. Sadly this logic has failed to convince the quarters concerned about the ‘missing’ who include Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, members of the Shia community as well as those believed to be harbouring sympathies for religious outfits, armed and otherwise.
The courts have stepped in to remind the state of its duties, and citizens’ constitutional rights. For example, while hearing a case last month, a Sindh High Court bench censured the federal government, saying the centre was taking little interest in the cases of missing persons, and added that no legislation had been passed against enforced disappearances. The Islamabad High Court had also slapped a Rs10m fine on the authorities for failing to trace the whereabouts of a missing man. However, even the protestations of the courts seem to have had little effect where ending the disgraceful practice of enforced disappearances is concerned. As mentioned above, if the authorities believe someone is guilty of a crime, they should be booked and tried in a transparent manner. Whisking people away and keeping them incarcerated without charge is not only a flagrant violation of human rights, it also does not serve the ends of justice. Instead of strengthening national security, ‘disappearing’ people actually alienates the public from the state and its institutions. The prime minister must take notice of all cases of enforced disappearances and provide answers to the family members of missing persons. Moreover, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances must play a more proactive role in tracing the disappeared, and hold to account those who have unlawfully detained citizens. If Pakistan is to become a true welfare state, there can be no room for such illegal abductions.

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