By Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry
“Human beings can survive for centuries without democracy, and even without much security. They cannot live for more than three days without water.”
– AnatolLieven in his book, “Pakistan: A Hard Country”
Our body like a sponge absorbs and retains about 75% of this elixir in its cells. The blood that runs in our veins contains 82% of it. Water is so sacred that in every religion it is mentioned as a cleansing liquid that purifies the body and the soul. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) promised Janat to a bad woman who once quenched the thirst of a dog, and he advised another person to dig a well of water if he wanted to earn the closeness (qurb) and pleasure of Allah.
The word, “ Jaalna” in Arabic means “ designing and constructing”, meaning, life is designed and constructed on it. The term, Shariah, literally means a broad way leading to water. Heaven is where water is. Dr F. Batmanshelidi once said it so right, “You are sick; you are thirsty. Treat your thirst with water, and not with medication.”
This briefly explains how our existence solely depends, not on a political system; not on our fat bank accounts; not even on the number of children we have and the jobs we hold, but on this fluid called water. It is heartening to learn that America is the only country that, perhaps after truly realizing its importance, mandated that its citizens must be given clean and abundant fresh water. America further ensured its purity through a law by declaring that the mixing of drinkable water with the sewerage, or polluting of it with toxicants, would be deemed as a crime. This basically is an Islamic concept.
Water is also a miracle of Allah in a very unique sense. Its total volume or amount has remained the same since the creation of the Planet Earth, and would stay so till the Day of Judgment. This phenomenon is a blessing as well as a warning. It is up to us now to keep it or pollute it, and have it for all by not crowding the world with too many humans. In simple words, water is the lifeline of human beings as well as of all the living things. The question, however, is: Do human beings remain as careful about its use and preservation and conservation as they should? Keeping in view its scarcity and importance, the answer expects from humans that they should value it as much, if not more, as they value their children or their most precious assets, and even more.
70% of the earth is covered with water, no doubt, but 98% of it is undrinkable and is non-usable. The problem gets further complicated when we find that God has tied the survival of living things to it on one hand and has fixed its amount and has made it so rare on the other hand. Of the 2% of the entire body of water that is drinkable, some 98% of it, is further being kept out of the reach of man by trapping it in frozen glaciers – perhaps God’s arrangement of stocking it for life to survive in all ages . Out of the remaining 2% of the available 2%, some 20% of it further lying conserved only at one place – in Russia’s Baikal Lake. It is, thus, just a matter of Mathematics that only 1% or even less than that of the total available water is drinkable and is available to man. Man is his own worst enemy if he tampers with something that is so vital and so indispensable for his own survival.
And the matter gets further complicated when we see that even the distribution of this 1% drinkable water available for 7.3 billion thirsty individuals inhabiting this Earth, is neither balanced nor regulated, perhaps with a purpose by God. If water is the recipe for staying happy and healthy, then one does not need to be a Thucydides to deduce, keeping in view the human behavior relating to the usage of water, that humans do not have a bright future. Man without water is just three days away from his death.
Pakistan Gamble On River Indus: This is the title of a sub-chapter of AnatolLieven’s book, “Pakistan: A Hard Country”. Lieven is very optimistic about Pakistan, and perhaps rightly so, but for not the right reasons. What we often classify as the main weaknesses of Pakistan, responsible for holding it back socially as well economically, Lieven takes them as Pakistan’s main sources of strength. Political instability, extremism, terrorism and corruption have weakened Pakistan, but such factors, according to Levien, can never destroy a country. Congo, Somalia, Haiti and Nigeria are the examples. Pakistan is tougher than it looks, because it just keeps living on, and moving on. Kinship and “ Bratheri-system” hold it together like magic glue; its religion acts likes a cohesive force that amazingly unites it in calamities; its traditions, social and cultural, just remain clinging to the Pakistanis wherever they may choose to live. Pakistan as a State is weak, no doubt, but as a Society it is very strong. Lieven regards these as Pakistan’s virtues.
Lieven’s logic is interesting in this regard. “Pakistani political elites, especially in the countryside, rely for their strength not just on wealth but on their leadership in clans or kinship networks; kinship plays a vital part in maintaining the dominance of the ‘feudal’ elites…” Elites, according to him, carry a sense of responsibility for their followers, “and circulating patronage downwards, kinship also plays a role in softening – to limited extent – class domination”. Just as in scientific terms, water is “H 2O” , the same way Pakistani society is “K-2-O” (two-times kinship and one time patronage). Kinship and patronage, according to this writer, are responsible for Pakistan’s surprisingly low rating of social inequality, according to the Gini Co-efficient. Revolution of any variety – a socialist or an Islamist type – is just not possible in Pakistan because people hardly ever agree on anything.
While Lieven’s observations are interesting; they are not totally convincing. Most of Pakistan’s major problems – poverty, lack of justice and order, selective application of law, lack of respect for it by the rich and powerful, non-availability of equal opportunities for the common man to rise in life, prevalence of deep-rooted nepotism, dynasty-rule in the name of democracy, criminal disregard for the spread of education, and worst of all, lack of consensus even on matters that relate to all, just as that of the fair distribution of water resources, or building of new dams – small or big – all get stalled, ignored, shelved and remain mismanaged due to the vadera-bratheri culture, and the tribal clanism and cronyism. These are not the virtues that a decent and civilized people can be proud of, or which can be extolled. But Lieven thinks they are the strong points of Pakistan.
The reason why no consensus in Pakistan can ever be built even on very vital matters, such as the constructions of dams, and more specifically on the Kalabagh Dam, is well illustrated by Mr Ali Hasan, a young Lahori, and he is quoted by MrLieven in his book. “If I were to jump on a box and preach revolution, with the best program in the world, you know what would happen? First, people from other provinces would say that we can’t follow him, he’s a Punjabi. Then most of the Punjabis would say, we can’t follow him, he’s a Jat. Then the Jats would say, we can’t follow him, he’s from such-and-such a Biradiri. Even in my own village, half the people would say … I can’t follow him, his grandfather beat my uncle in a fight over land. If you preach Islamic revolution, most Pakistanis won’t follow you because they practice different kinds of Islam and worship different saints. So you see, we Pakistanis can’t be united behind a revolution because we can’t unite behind anything.”
“A country in which a father can persuade a son to kill a much-loved daughter, not for having an affair, or becoming pregnant, but for marrying outside her kinship group without permission, speaks volumes for its cultural strength. Which culture on earth can get stronger than that?” Nonsense.MrLieven thinks it is not due to lack of values, but because of societal pressure. How can all this be accepted as a mark of enlightenment? This reminds one of a land that existed sometime in the Middle Ages. It is hard to digest all this coming from a country that boasts itself of being a nuclear power, and that, at the same time, lets its 80 million people starve and suffer in abject poverty.
What Can Damage Pakistan Fatally? Water And Its Lack Thereof: It is true Pakistan is amazingly resilient and it has many an island of progress and modernity to be proud of. Nothing can destroy Pakistan – neither the political chaos – corruption, kinship; social and economic disparity, nor the terrorists, and the religious extremism. They all, no doubt, can and as they have weakened Pakistan, and have embittered the lives of people. But all this is fixable because it is just a few steps away from the right kind of leadership. The saying is: “Thieves have no feet to stand on.” Water mismanagement alone has the potential to wipe out Pakistan. Wastage of water is just suicidal for a water-stressed country like Pakistan.
Pakistan’s total reliance on one river – River Indus – and Pakistan’s total failure to realize the stakes involved therein, and finally, Pakistan’s criminal and neglectful attitude towards the management of the water of this river, is what will eventually hurt Pakistan fatally. For nine months, during the off monsoon season, Pakistan lets the sweet water of Indus gush into the Arabian Sea while its people starve of hunger and thirst, and for the remaining three rainy months it lets the people submerge in the flood waters! Their sufferings are spread over 365 days of the year without a sign of relief in sight.
The leaders of the three provinces, namely, PukhtunKhwa, Baluchistan and Sindh who oppose the construction of the Kalabagh Dam most, appear to have signed a Faustian Pact with the Devil – a fable in which one, Dr Faustus sells his soul to the Devil for worldly pleasures and powers for a period of 24 years. At the end of this period, on the fateful night, people hear strange and most painful shrieks coming out of his cell, and in the morning they find the pieces of his body sticking to the walls. Playing politics of power and vested interests on a raging matter of urgency, is not just a matter of shame, it is a show of shamelessness. Pakistan, according to experts, also has a limited time, just about 37 years. Already five precious years of the country’s precious life have gone by in waste.
According to a 2009 study conducted by the Woodrow Wilson Center, Pakistan already is a thirsty country though it does not fall in the category of the 40 most poor and drought-prone countries of the world. The UN and the UNICEF recommend 50 liters of water per day for an average family of four for drinking, washing, cooking and sanitation. Pakistanis on the average get between 20 to 25 liters of water a day, or even less. The average size of a Pakistani family, according to the Economist’s World in Figures, is 7.1, with a fertility rate of 5.4 per woman during her life time. Readiness for war, perhaps, is not as important and necessary as is the need for conserving water in Pakistan. A woman on the average in the arid plains of Fateh Jang, near Rawalpindi, or Muzaffargarh in South Panjab, walks 10 miles a day during summer, seven days a week for more than three hours to fetch some 16 gallons of water, not necessarily fresh and pure. The situation is worst in the rural areas of Sindh, Baluchistan and the Southern parts of Punjab. 30,000 people die alone in Karachi in a year due to arsenic water. 40% of the country’s population is suffering from Hepatitis C, a kind of cancer of the liver, and yet Pakistan gleefully wastes the Indus River water by letting it flow into the Arabian Sea!
According to Lieven, time is not on Pakistan’s side. “In the long run, the most important thing for the people of Pakistan is not who they are or what kind of religion they follow, but that whoever they are, there are too many of them for the land in which they find themselves – and more of them all the time.
“In 2010, Pakistan’s population was estimated at between 180 and 200 million, making Pakistan the sixth largest country on earth in terms of population”. In 1998, they were just 131 million. What will Pakistan do by the year 2050, the year of doom predicted above, when its population would reach 335 million – about 155 million more thirsty people, all relying on the same amount of water as they have now, hoping nothing catastrophic happens in between now and then, such as the predicted climatic changes, the decline in the monsoon rainfall, and the inability of the people to control population growth. In all probability, they would do none of the above.