Political chaos and water crisis

Among all the demands people have made in the run-up to the elections, the availability of water seems to be the most important

The general elections are almost upon us, and political engineering seems to have reached its zenith. It seems state institutions are doing everything possible to keep the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) out of the race. The deep state’ sagenda seems to favour the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). It appears nobody realise show much political instability these reckless games will cause once the elections are over. Already, the party that has been chanting slogans against corruption since its inception has been surrounded by corrupt electable-candidates and this seems perfectly acceptable to the party’s leadership. Awarding of tickets to professional turncoats has created deep rifts in the PTI’s folds. Some have parted ways and some have departed to different countries to avoid the ever increasing controversies and conflicts within the party ranks. No one seems to have considered what the consequences of bringing avictim of political segregation into power to create a weak central government.

On the other hand, the country’s largest political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is still struggling to find a level playing field. Unfortunately, the new PML-N president Mian Shahbaz Sharif is not performing well as lead campaigner for the elections. Will the PML-N be able to pick up the pace in the next three weeks? It seems to be quite difficult, if not impossible. Only the presence of Mian Nawaz Sharif is likely to make a difference.

On July 1, a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) convoy led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was attacked by angry citizens in Lyari (Karachi), which has been a PPP hub for the last 52 years. The protestors damaged several vehicles of and a few of the rally-participants were injured. An unfortunate start to PPP’s campaign.

This however, was not the first incident when people showed extreme aggression against the leadership of the top political parties for failing to deliver good governance. In numerous other constituencies, residents have exchanged harsh words with political candidates. This phenomenon indicates an increased political awareness among the people about their civic rights.

The election slogans being used are a major problem themselves. As always, the candidates are too busy shouting at their opponents and fooling the public with new false promises and commitments. Nobody seems to have any concrete plans on how to provide the people with basic amenities like water

Among all the demands people have made, the availability of water seems to be the most important. It is indeed a great sign of change in the general public. It is time for civil society and the media to inculcate further awareness among the general public to tackle the water scarcity threat. Pressure shall be mounted on the participating political parties to make water their topmost agenda. This is a pressing matter which it seems, is not even on the cards at the moment, even just three weeks before the elections.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to be bothered by the absence of a real agenda from the election manifestoes. The election slogans being used are a major problem themselves. As always, the candidates are too busy shouting at their opponents and fooling the public with new false promises and commitments. Nobody seems to have any concrete plans on how to provide the populace with basic amenities like water. Every party lacks clear commitment on developing and managing water reservoirs, small or large dams, saving the catchment areas of lakes and existing water reservoirs.

Ironically, senior PPP leader Syed Khurshid Shah has strongly criticised the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar for using judicial process to facilitate the building of new dams. He believes the CJP ought to concentrate on dispensing court cases instead of taking the lead on the water challenges confronting the nation. Though I agree with Khurshid Shah in principle, I still have to point out that Pakistanis have been waiting for politicians to construct more dams since 1968.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman claimed after the attack on the PPP election rally in Lyari (Karachi) that PPP has spread a net of small dams. But, she forgot to tell the media when or where they were built.  All of Sindh is suffering from acute water shortage, especially Karachi. So where are these dams? The run-up to the elections have shown that tall claims and white lies will not be able to fool the general public another time. For the first time, the stalwarts of politics have started facing severe resentment in their constituencies.

On one hand, many have appreciated the CJP for taking up the judicial process on constructing new dams and linking it to the loan waiver case to raise funds for the new reservoirs. Some developments emerged on Saturday as the CJP disclosed that consensus has been developed for immediate construction of two new dams, while a two-member bench of the apex court headed by the CJP resumed hearings in a case related to Rs54 billion worth of loan waivers by 222 individuals and companies.

During the course of hearing, the CJP said that consensus was developed during a key meeting with experts and various stakeholders earlier this week. He said that the amount recovered from the defaulters would be used to construct two new dams immediately.

In pursuance of the options given by the court, the CJP said that some of the defaulters had expressed willingness to pay 75 percent of the written-off loan amount. The cases of those people who did not return the amount would be sent to the banking courts. While addressing Farooq H Naek — a senior lawyer, representing some defaulters — the CJP said that soon he would contact his close friends to extend their financial support in this national cause.

It would be a great development if the CJP’s efforts came to fruition. It would lead to the beginning of a new era of sensitisation as well as actions to keep the water crisis under control. Water scarcity can be a mainstream agenda of this election if political activists, civil society and media take up the slogan ‘vote for water’ to mobilise the general public in the ever increasing political chaos.

The writer is an Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at devcom.pakistan@gmail.com. He tweets @EmmayeSyed

Published in Daily Times, July 3rd 2018.