Published On: Tue, Mar 14th, 2017

How fertile land of Pakistan is turning into desert?

Water shortage is choking Pakistan

By Atta Rasool Malik

General Rizwan Akhtar the former Spymaster and President National Defence University has come as a blessing for NDU students. General definitely has some inside knowledge of the impending security threats to the prosperity of Pakistan and their related complexities.  Students at NDU are found inquisitive while interacting with their president and asking all sorts of related questions.

Unfortunately, research in our national universities, particularly in social sciences is more of theoretical and descriptive and faculty always felt nervous about touching sensitive issues. A few leading universities in private sector also produce “research” to please their donors and sponsors. Against the flow under new leadership, NDU has directed the faculty to encourage students on choosing sensitive domestic issues to investigate and understand in their research assignments. This new beginning in NDU is very heartening and hopefully, we may develop original, unbiased and balanced findings & opinion on various issues. NDU with its resources has shown the will of its leadership to turn it into a rock-hard Think-tank.

On 17 Jan 2017, we the alumni of NDU had the opportunity to attend a seminar on a Hydro-politics of South Asia in the context of Indus Water Treaty. It was quite enlightening for students to know a criminal negligence of some political elite for not attending to one of the most pressing issues of Pakistan. Ever increasing shortage of water may twist into an existential threat for the country in near future.

In 1960, IWT treaty was brokered by World Bank between Pakistan and India assigning exclusive rights on the flow of three western rivers of the Indus basin; the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab (except a small quantity used in Jammu and Kashmir state) to Pakistan, whereas the flow of three eastern rivers: the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej were reserved for India. Now India is hinting to terminate or further decrease water share of Pakistan from three dedicated rivers to Pakistan by 20% unilaterally. According to international law, a treaty like Indus Water can’t be terminated unilaterally; however, it can be replaced with another treaty.

India despite committing gross human violations against Kashmiri youth, blames Pakistan for sponsoring militancy in Kashmir. Mr Narendra Modi threatens to terminate the treaty by saying “blood and water cannot flow together in Kashmir.” Indian diplomacy under BJP has gone over assertive and Pakistan political elite is stuck up with Panama Scandal and political point scoring.

Former Chairman WAPDA, Engr. Shams ul Mulk during the seminar on Hydro-Politics of South Asia said that to best of his acumen has deduced that Pakistan hydro policies have been formulated by enemy agents. He might have specific and credible information which convinced him to believe like that.

During the conference, the chief guest, Mr Khawaja Asif, Minister of Power & Water came up with a very interesting argument to safeguard water level in Pakistan. He said he is vigorously opposing solar powered tube wells for farmers because he feared farmers would get cheaper irrigation water and most likely to waste it. Many participants enjoyed the ‘vision ‘of the chief guest.

Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel was also amongst the notable guests. Astonishingly neither anyone from MoFA turned up nor any expert from WAPDA except the chairman General ® Muzammil Hussain came up to attend the important seminar.

The points of experts in the seminar which I thought as essential are given below for researchers.

Pakistan is heavily dependent approximately 76% on external water resources [excluding rainfall and earth water]. Pakistan is single basin country with an average annual rainfall of 240mm. Our economy and population are heavily dependent on Indus water, 21% of GDP, 45% of employment and 60% of its exports. Pakistan has moved from water stress country to water scarce country, 5600 cubic meters per person to 1066 cubic meter per person in recent years.

The level of underground water in the Western Belt Balochistan, KPK and FATA has dropped to an alarming level. These areas of Pakistan were the hub of dry and fresh fruits and production was in abundance. These parts of Balochistan and FATA were dependent on “Karez System” for irrigation purposes which have been destroyed by poor Government policies. Instead of maintenance of Karez, Irrigation department has installed tube wells run on electricity in a close proximity to such Karez. Resultantly, Karez are dry and slushed with mud and overpriced electricity is provided for a shorter duration. Hence, agriculture in these areas is fast becoming uneconomical and impracticable.

International advocated water storage capacity for any nation is 1000 days. The USA can hold water for 900 days and India can store water for its entire population for 220 days. However, water storage capacity of Pakistan is 30 days. It is a very important sector for a country to invest in for better future. Our neighbour, India is constantly increasing its storage capacity by building large dams and reducing our share of water.

Kalabagh dam, a God-gifted site for storage of huge water near Mianwali, fell victim to politics. A propaganda campaign was started to depict that dam would waterlog vast areas of KPK. It was propagated that Nowshera, Kohat and Peshawar would submerge like flood line of 1929. Swabi, Pubhi, Charsada and Mardan would be water logged.  It was a propaganda started by oil companies which never wanted to be cut in oil imports and dependence on thermal power generation. Few ethnic political parties also fuelled this propaganda to cash the sentiments of commoners and easily took political advantage. Later, the issue was picked by our adversaries to harm our core national interests.  Indians, on the other hand, have constructed 5000, large dams and plan to construct additional 2500 by 2030 to increase its storage capacity.

Global warming is increasing resulting into fast depleting of glaciers in Northern Areas, causing excessive flooding and stress on water resources.  Expected water reduction due to the aforesaid phenomenon is 30-40%. Non-construction of water reservoirs, over pumping of water and old system of irrigation, flooding; has also contributed to the shortage of water and further dropped water level in various parts of the country in addition to climatic changes in the region.

India under BJP, in particular, will continue to create unrest in the region and IWT would remain prone to political manipulation. India is also instigating Afghanistan to cease its Kabul river water share to Pakistan.  Kabul River is contributing 20-25% to Indus water. We need to sign a treaty with Afghanistan also as a lower riparian country.  India even hides hydrological data and does not share it with neighbouring countries which ultimately creates distrust in the region and hurt/damage human life and crops at a very large scale.

My Thoughts

  • There is a water emergency in Pakistan; therefore, NOT a single drop of water is wasted not even of rain water. It should be mandatory for all major buildings to have a proper storage capacity for collection of rain water which could be used for watering lawns and plantation.
  • National Media should spare some time for impending threat of water shortage. Political parties are also expected to cooperate on the emergent national issue. Enhancement of Water storage capacity of Pakistan should be an election agenda. National consensus should be developed to build a number of dams including Kalabagh dam.
  • Glaciers in the northern areas need to be protected from undoing warming by de-militarizing.
  • Pak Military should be re-assigned the responsibility of constructing and improving river banks as it was before the year Flood water should be diverted and utilised in Thar Desert and Balochistan through flood canals. The flow of rainwater should be checked and delayed in dry channels in Balochistan, Kashmir and anywhere where suitable to improve under surface water level.
  • Ever since money given to flood victims as compensation on annual basis could better be utilised if flood protection bunds improved and flood and rain water should be diverted to needy areas. This would be a real welfare to the affected areas.
  • Efforts should be made to restore Karez system in western belt of Pakistan.


Rapidly developing a shortage of water in Pakistan is urgent and an important security issue. Political elites need to address it at priority through diplomacy with India and Kabul and by enhancing storage capacity and taking appropriate water preservation measures at home.

Author is PhD scholar, International Relations and can be reached at:


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