Pakistan has been once again gripped by the highly controversial debate of whether or not Kalabagh dam should be built. This is the first time since the inception of the present regime that the "broader national interest" has something to do directly with the people. Until now we have had our national interest in the war against terrorism, establishing peace with India and abandoning the Kashmir cause, organizing "cultural" shows, redefining educational curriculum, promoting a moderate face of Islam, performing crackdowns on religious outfits and recognizing Israel.
And finally when we are on to something important we have slogans and statements circumcising Sindhi or Punjabi? Balochistan versus Pakistan! Rights for pushtoons! NFC is based on provincial discrimination. To many the rise in nationalistic chauvinism which forms the base of the political differences between the provinces is a result of a die-hard and desperate attempt by unpopular parties to survive in the political arena, in reality it is the rebirth of the monster of nationalism, a tool used for too long and too much by the West to divide the Ummah to achieve her objective. This makes the ongoing KBD debate even more controversial and complex.
It does not take much of brains to suggest that the political situation in Pakistan before the present debate on KBD was in ruins. Infact the inability of the present regime to deliver and her unpopular and pro-American policy has created a political vacuum in the country. The Opposition to the masses is a set of power hungry and greedy politicians who have failed to raise their real concerns. Infact the Ummah in Pakistan has begin to question and blame the very systems by which they are being governed and their affairs being organized. The secular world order which has had a direct impact on Pakistan and the war on terror has caused many people to revert back to Islam and call for its implementation. The Pakistani media and the masses have suddenly found the rise of the debate of the reestablishment of the Caliphate amongst them. With Pakistan topping majority of the anti-American polls and the continuous decline in the popularity of the present regime many, even the US Congress, and numerous American think tanks have warned against the vulnerability of Pakistan to radical Islamists and the possibility of the return of the Islamic Caliphate from this region.
It is in these times and such a situation that Musharaf has come up with the debate of KBD. Whether or not he intends to go on with the dam or not is one matter but he has successfully attempted to arouse the confliction between the provinces by seducing them to nationalism. In this way he has provided the masses a platform to rally on, and divert the strong public opinion in favor of unification. However his attempt would definitely fall short of its goals for a number of reasons. Firstly not a single member of the national or provincial assembly represents the aspirations of the people of Pakistan, a trait common to democracy. The Ummah has suffered for too long at the hands of such politicians to put her trust in them. Secondly the political vacuum created in the country is too large and the inclinations of the people are so strong towards Islam that it is now impossible to fool them with such slogans and issues. Musharaf has failed to analyze or refuses to accept the fact that his theory of enlightened moderation has backfired to the extent that his policies has totally radicalized the masses.
The problem is that even the sincere elements amongst the people those who realize the importance of such water reservoirs have failed to understand the root cause of the problem, which has transformed a purely technical decision to a political one. The call for abandoning provincial racism in the interest of Pakistan is indeed a call to nationalistic division. These people have failed to understand that when you bound the people together on the basis of a broader geographical inhabitance, this bond is very likely to be transferred to the grass root thus weakening the federation founded on such a bond. Therefore when Pakistanis are preferred over the Afghanis on the basis of geographical inhabitance, it is inevitable to stop the Sindhis or the Balochis or the pathans from doing the same. So you cannot call for a broader nationalism and on the same time avoid the smaller one.
Another problem with nationalism and patriotism is that they are weak and reactionary bonds. Therefore they are only activated when a foreign threat exists and when the inhabitants are endangered. That is why we never see Sindhism, or Pashtunism or Pakistanism, being the cause for progress, time and again the terrible state of affairs in Pakistan has been accompanied by a hue and cry asking the culprits to stop in the name of Pakistan , a call which never bore any fruit. On the other hand a foreign threat sees nationalism arousing people to fight for their rights and defend their territory. The fall of Dhaka , the Balochistan crisis, the water dispute between provinces, differences over NFC and concurrent list, the call for the liberation of Sindh and Balochistan, and now the Kalabagh dam, all are a result of nationalism.
Whether Pakistani government needs to go on with a multi-billion project when almost 40% of the country’s population lives below the poverty line is a debate unto itself, the issue at hand, however, is not the dam but what the government wants to achieve through this "consensus debate". Through this discussion musharaf aims to divide the Ummah and the people of Pakistan as one Sindhi journalist put it "it is not the dam which is the problem it is just that we cannot trust Punjab and her promises". When international leaders like Bush and Blair are warning the world of the return of a global Islamic empire, musharaf aims to provoke the masses on the basis of nationalism to divide her further trying to prolong the state of misery of the Muslim Ummah. The muslims of Pakistan should be wary of his trap.