Shahtoot Dam: Pakistan’s misplaced fear!

India will soon start work on Shahdoot Dam project on the Kabul dam, worth $236 million. The project has raised concerns in Pakistan as it will have a significant impact on flow of water to Pakistan and will further hurt already strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The project will be completed in next 3 years. On the contrary, the project will lead to economic prosperity in Afghanistan and foster ties between India and Afghanistan.

The origin of the Kabul river lies in Hindukush mountains in Afghanistan from where it takes a eastward course.  It passes through Kabul and few other cities in Afghanistan. Kunar River-the main tributary of the river joins it in Jalalabad in the eastern side. Kunar river has its origin in Pakistan where it is known as Chitral. Kabul river, enters Pakistan and after passing Khyber Pakhtunwala, Peshawar and Nowshera ultimately joins Indus river towards north-western side of Islamabad near Attock.

The river thus has a long course and influences the livelihoods of over 25 million people who live in its basin. Its significance has further grown especially in the wake of critical water shortages in the capital city of Kabul. Latter can be attributed to the geography of the region as Kabul largely falls in the arid zone with an annual rainfall of 362mm. In addition, there is a rapid increase in the population of the city as many thousands come for better life prospects. Water infrastructure of Kabul is in a bad state and people are forced to dig deeper for water. This has further worsened the situation as the ground water levels have drastically fallen and has led to water contamination. Also, 68 percent people in Kabul do not have channelled access to piped water supply.  Thus, Shahdoot Dam as proposed by India will be a blessing for the people of Afghanistan as it is proposed to cater to drinking water and sanitary needs of nearly 2 million people. It will also be used for irrigation in the area.

Shahdoot Dam has thus brought hope across Afghanistan but has raised concerns in Pakistan.

Pakistan is also suffering from a water-deficit and people largely depend on agriculture for a living. The lives are woven around River Indus although River Kabul also plays an important role. Waters of Kabul are essential for survival of nearly 2 million people in Peshawar city while it also caters to the irrigation needs in Peshawar valley, Dera Ismail Khan, North Waziristan etc. Kabul River also augments Indus river to a great extent as it pours 20-28 million acre feet. Furthermore, Kabul River also powers the Warsak Dam which is responsible for production of 1100GWH electricity per year.

There is an evident fear that construction of more dams on Kabul River will hit the water flows to Pakistan and have grave consequences for crop productivity. Pakistani media has presented reports stating Afghanistan is in process of planning 12 hydropower projects on the river which will generate 1177 MW electricity in addition to storing 4.7 MAF for use of Afghanistan. Experts say that the claims and fears of Pakistan are ungrounded as the Maidan River carries only 0.5 percent of the total flow of Kabul River and will not have any major impact on the downstream flow. Thus, it is not water but the growing close ness of India and Afghanistan which is acting as bone of contention and is irking Pakistan. In an eventuality of war, Pakistan has fears that India will block the flow of River Indus, which originates in India but is intricately linked with livelihoods of many thousands in Pakistan and can have a severe blow on the Pakistani economy. The increasing influence of India in Afghanistan and is contribution to other dam projects will empower it to choke the waters of those rivers as well.

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