By Khalid Mustafa
ISLAMABAD: While the country grapples with a sever water crisis, the whimsical actions of a presidential favourite have threatened to torpedo Pakistan's critical legal case challenging India's construction of Kishanganga Hydropower project before the Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
As Pakistan takes on India today (Friday), with the initiation of arbitration proceedings in The Hague, highly informed sources told The News that Pakistan's panel of experts led by Kamal Majidullah, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Water & Agriculture, is neither competent enough to deal with the matter nor does it enjoy the full support of the Ministry of Water and Power. In fact the ministry has even expressed its total surprise on the inclusion of two irrelevant individuals in the delegation.
"We had objected to the names of Shumaila Mehmood, and Khalil Ahmad who is ambassador at large, but Kamal Majidullah, who has special relations with President Asif Zardari and chief executive of Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, prevailed upon the objection of the ministry and managed to include the said two names," a top official at the Ministry of Water and Power confided to The News.
The allegation is also borne out by the contents of a summary moved by the ministry to the prime minister to 'sanctify' the whims of the all-powerful special assistant. In para 6, the summary states, "...The ministry, however, is unaware of the involvement and the roles of Mr Khalil Ahmed and Ms Shamila Mahmood in the instant case since legal advisors have already been engaged". And then interestingly, the summary goes on to request the prime minister to accord approval for para 6. Highly informed sources told The News that Shamila Mehmood's services had already been dispensed with by the Law Ministry and that she had 'left Pakistan' some time back under mysterious circumstances which had also led to an exhaustive probe by a non-civilian intelligence agency.
People closer to Majidullah deny any influence on his part in this issue. Majidullah, according to a senior functionary of the ministry, had hired three international lawyers including Alan Vaughn Lowe, James Crawford, Shamsin Woordsth to fight the case at exorbitant rates of $750 per hour, $500 per hour and just under $500 per hour respectively. In an inexplicable zeal, Kamal Majidullah, according to the source, had even suggested an open ended time limit for the highest rates offered to the said lawyers. "However, the ministry had opposed to the proposal of open ended time limit," the source said, adding, "On top of it, we also have strong fears that Pakistan will lose the legal battle just because of incompetence of our point man (an indirect referral to the PM's special assistant)." The official went on to say: "Mr Majidullah is not technically qualified in matters of water and agriculture management, he is neither a lawyer nor does he have any proven credentials of acquired expertise in these disciplines. He was simply a former editor of an eveninger and has only one qualification of being the president's friend".
Kamal Majidullah is also opposed, the official disclosed, to the construction of any water structure on any river in Pakistan arguing it would hurt the flows of the Sindh River despite that fact there exists the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord between the four federating units.
He also played havoc with Pakistan by replacing Jamaat Ali Shah with Sheraz Memon as Pakistan's Commissioner for the Indus River as Shah is the sole expert of the Indus Waters Treaty inked in 1960 between India and Pakistan. "As far as Mr Memon is concerned, he is an alien to the Indus Waters Treaty and we have strong fears that he will not be able to give his required input before the court."
The official divulged that Shumaila had served in the Ministry of Law as a consultant, but the government refused to extend her tenure as consultant keeping in view the unsatisfactory reports of the intelligence agencies about her, but unfortunately, Mujahidulla again played the role to get her included in the delegation. Khalil Ahmad, Ambassador at Large, is a retired bureaucrat and also reputedly a close friend of Zardari and other than that he has no qualification required to give his valuable input in the legal battle against India on controversial construction of the Kishanganga Hydropower Project which is the issue of life and death for Pakistanis.According to Pakistan, India is constructing the Kishanganga Hydropower Project with faulty design which is not in line with the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty.
India is constructing the project on Ganga tributary near Bandipur in Baramullah district in held-Kashmir.
The said tributary is called Neelum River when it enters Pakistan and India is diverting water of the Neelum River (Ganga River) to Wullar Lake to generate electricity, but Pakistan objects that diversion of water by India is not allowed under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. Pakistan is building Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project on the Neelum River in Azad Kahsmir.
Pakistan says the diversion of water flow will not only adversely reduce the electricity generation capacity of the 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project by 20 percent, but will also inflict huge damage on the environment of the Neelum Valley. And if the Neelum-Jhelum project loses 20 percent capacity to generate electricity because of non-availability of water then its financial viability would be compromised.
"Under the Indus Water Treaty, the country that will complete its project earlier will have water priority right of the Neelum River. India had almost completed the 22-km tunnel to divert," the official said.