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Dawn Editorial 18 January 2020

Water shortages

THE Senate standing committee that was informed about water being ‘unutilised’ downstream of Kotri should disregard these words, and focus, instead, on getting Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda to answer its summons. During a hearing, the standing committee on water was told by the Member Punjab of the Indus River System Authority, Rao Irshad Ali Khan, that water worth $29bn flows downstream Kotri Barrage into the sea ‘unutilised’ every year. Mr Khan urged the construction of more dams for water storage so that this water could be utilised for irrigation purposes. His argument, as well as the calculation he presented, is entirely flawed and should be ignored. The more important observation during the hearing was made by the committee’s chair, when he noted that the water minister seemed to have plenty of time for making himself and his government appear absurd thanks to his controversial stunts on TV talk shows, but had no time to appear before parliament, which is his constitutionally mandated duty.
It must be emphasised again and again that dams are not the solution to Pakistan’s growing water challenges. Pakistan’s per capita availability of water is only slightly above 1,000 cubic metres per annum, which is considered the threshold below which a country can be defined as ‘water scarce’. Water withdrawals from the country’s river system and groundwater reservoirs are staggeringly high by any standards. The United Nations has estimated that 74pc of the country’s renewable water supply is withdrawn, whereas a value of 25pc is considered high stress. The same percentage in Iran is 67pc, India 40pc, Afghanistan 31pc and China 19.5pc. Clearly, Pakistan is squandering its water resources, and an increased amount of water withdrawal from the system will only aggravate the problem, not solve it. In December 2019, the World Meteorological Organisation noted that a new tool to estimate the likelihood of conflict due to water scarcity showed Pakistan to be at “significant risk” of experiencing water-related conflict in some parts within the next 12 months.
Time and again, those who have taken a close look at Pakistan’s water economy have said the problem is not lack of storage, but the wasteful utilisation of this precious resource. The existing irrigation system collects less than a quarter of its operation and maintenance cost from water charges (abiana), with the rest having to come from government resources. The lack of proper pricing is at the heart of the water economy’s dysfunction. But for water pricing to work, a proper system of measurement across the irrigation system down to the farm is required. The Senate committee ordered such a telemetry system to be installed. The Irsa bureaucracy needs to focus its attention on these solutions rather than constantly ask for more dams. And the senators should brush aside any demands for more water withdrawal infrastructure, and insist on sound measurements as a start.


SCO invitation

WHERE bilateral efforts to improve relations fail in the Pakistan-India context, multilateral forums can offer a ‘safe’ space for dialogue to pursue peace.
In this perspective, the prospect of Pakistan’s participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit to be held in India later this year has brought up the possibility of forward movement where the currently frozen bilateral ties between the two countries are concerned.
Read: After UNSC prod, India to invite Imran to SCO moot
As reported, when asked whether the prime minister of this country would be invited to the SCO moot, an Indian external affairs ministry spokesman told the media that “all eight countries and four observers will be invited”, indicating in a rather lukewarm tone that Pakistan would be asked to participate.
Pakistan and India became full members of the SCO in 2017; the grouping — under the stewardship of Russia and China — brings together the Central Asian states as well as observers such as Iran and Afghanistan.
Though no miracles should be expected (the moribund status of Saarc is before us), were the prime minister to participate and interact with his Indian counterpart, perhaps the ice between Islamabad and New Delhi could be broken.
However, there should be no illusions; unless the core issues affecting the Pakistan-India relationship are addressed, a mere photo op between the two leaders will be of little use.
The Indian lockdown of Kashmir must top the agenda, as New Delhi should realise that its siege of the held region is destroying all chances of peace in the subcontinent. Further, Pakistan has valid concerns about the Islamophobic laws India has introduced to disenfranchise millions of its Muslim citizens. And the recent bellicose, anti-Pakistan statements by Indian generals have further poisoned the atmosphere. If there is to be peace, such jingoism must be reined in.
That said, the fact is that the only viable option for Pakistan and India to pursue is constructive dialogue that paves the way for peace. Irresponsible war talk and chest-thumping only serve shrill anti-peace lobbies; the people of the subcontinent deserve prosperity and friendship.
Let India extend a proper invitation to Pakistan with respect. Thereafter, the prime minister should take up the opportunity and try to take matters forward.
Pakistan has over the past few years taken several steps for peace, yet the response from the other side has been less than enthusiastic. The SCO summit can prove to be a chance to change things for the better.


Outrage in 60 seconds

THE political storm in a teacup surrounding TikTok celebrities Hareem Shah and Sandal Khattak continues to rage on. On Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication urged the FIA to treat the actions of the two social media celebrities as cybercrimes, eg violations of privacy, defamation or blackmail. The following day, Ms Khattak filed a petition in a sessions court stating that the FIA had targeted her for harassment by repeatedly issuing her summons without disclosing the grounds for its inquiry. Given that the duo’s high jinks remain a source of embarrassment for many a male politician, it is unlikely that this matter will soon die down. And while no citizen should be allowed to break laws for the sake of making viral content, it is concerning that virtually all talk of assigning blame and responsibility is focused only on these two young women.
The outrage and noise surrounding this scandal has obscured the need for more serious issues such as lapses of security to be addressed. As for lapses of judgement, while politicians like other public figures have a right to privacy, their personal conduct must not give rise to allegations of misuse of the powers of their public office. Some introspection on how they may have themselves muddied the waters by often dragging opponents’ personal affairs into the public domain would also not be unwelcome. Sections of the mainstream press, too, are not above reproach for subjecting the TikTok duo to vicious chastisement — often laced with misogyny and classism — and personal risk by disclosing private information. Moreover, the irony of labelling the two women ‘attention seekers’ while actively participating in the machinery of tabloid spectacle is not lost on anyone. Lastly, it is an interesting reflection on our national priorities that public discourse surrounding TikTok has more to do with moral panic than potential issues concerning users’ data collection, manipulation of public opinion, and amplification of hate speech, disinformation and harassment campaigns endemic on all social media platforms.


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