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Labor of Love

by Shehrbano Taseer
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An anti-Kalabagh dam protest in Washington, Aug. 14, 2000. Stephen Jaffe—AFP

An anti-Kalabagh dam protest in Washington, Aug. 14, 2000. Stephen Jaffe—AFP

Salmaan Taseer’s advocacy for building Kalabagh dam.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] love that I had the liberty to disagree with my father. He encouraged it. “Read up on issues. Always make up your own mind about things,” he would tell me.

But this didn’t stop him from ringing me in Washington, D.C., to ask why, after the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, I had written a piece arguing against construction of the Kalabagh dam. The piece appeared days after his press conference underscoring how the dam was indispensable to Pakistan’s future and would have helped prevent flooding. I insisted that smaller dams were more feasible, more practical politically, and that Kalabagh would deprive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh of their share of water. “You’re a pain,” he joked.

When I moved back to Pakistan last September, I tagged along with him wherever I could. He was overseeing his businesses, singlehandedly fending off the Pakistan Peoples Party’s political opponents in the Punjab, and working with national and international relief organizations for the rehabilitation of the flood-stricken. It was during this time that he became even surer of Kalabagh.

He wanted a watertight defense of Kalabagh. He sought to address provincial grievances and technical and environmental concerns. He wanted to counter, point by rational point, the manufactured political criticism of the project. He wanted to depolarize Kalabagh by highlighting the urgent merits of its construction. He worked with water and power, environment, engineering, agriculture, and legal experts to better understand Pakistan’s water storage and distribution issues, the power infrastructure, irrigation systems, riparian rights, crop yields, population growth. He lobbied politicians and lawmakers from all parties and all provinces for Kalabagh, and he took his case to students, journalists, think tanks, villages. Tired, I left one of his Kalabagh meetings after four hours. The meeting concluded three hours after that.

My father was a determined man. He toiled away all October on his report, 100 Reasons Why Kalabagh Should Be Constructed Immediately. Like everything else he did in life, this was a labor of love. I had the good fortune of working with him night and day on this project. Soon enough, the pros for Kalabagh became self-evident. I was won over. He told me after one of his Kalabagh interviews that he had to keep himself from laughing out loud during the taping. I had apparently been nodding my head in agreement the whole time, my brows knit together, as I watched alongside the TV crew.

I had the opportunity to slowly rethink my position on Kalabagh by working with my father, by watching him uncover facts and new truths. Pakistan does not have that luxury. The monsoon rains are back. Badin has been deluged. Some 750,000 homes have been destroyed already. We are on track to becoming a water-scarce country, not merely a water-stressed one. When that happens, the turmoil will be uncontainable. Kalabagh makes sense. It should not be held hostage to half truths and interprovincial distrust. The need for Kalabagh is urgent. The need for it is now.

From our Sept. 2 & 9, 2011, issue.

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