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by Khalid Hashmani, McLean, Virginia
This is one of the rare times that I saw a video of Pakistan’s President Asif Zardari giving a public speech. I was kind of impressed with his style and delivery.
In my view, his decision to give this speech in Punjabi, one of the national languages of Pakistan, was a quite shrewd. There was an aspect of humility and irony when he said that he learnt Punjabi in a Lahore jail and other jails in Punjab. I also liked his focus of on the poor of Pakistan – farmers, workers, and others from deprived areas. He rightfully pointed out that the importance Kashmir to Pakistan also lies in the fact that water that flows in Pakistani rivers originates in Kashmir. It makes a lot of sense to look at Kashmir and water as one issue. This may open up other possibilities of a negotiated settlement between Pakistan and India on the two issues.
One aspect of his speech that disappointed me greatly was his reference that he traveled to many foreign countries and has secured 700 millions in loans to build several dams in Pakistan. He talked about 5-6 dams that will create fertile lands (obviously implying that more water will be siphoned away in Punjab) around the new dams. He promised those newly created fertile lands to the poor people of the areas where the dams will be built. This statement amounted promising more share of water to Punjab when the lower riparian land throughout Sindh and particularly down stream from the Kotri barrage lies barren. Further, tmangrove forests in the delta area where the Indus River meets Arabian Seas are fast disappearing. In believe that PPP will not be able deliver on such promises as Sindhis are in no mood to loose even loose one drop of water being diverted from Sindh in the times when terrible poverty prevails in the rural areas of Sindh.
I hope PPP leadership will realize that giving more water to Punjab is far from being a balancing act but rather amounts to creating further distance between PPP and the people of Sindh.