On March 22 every year, World Water Day is being celebrated on global level, focusing attention on the world’s water crisis as well as the solutions to address it. In this context, with reference to India and Pakistan, the issue of water needs special notice.
Notably, since the 9/11 tragedy, international community has been taking war against terrorism seriously, while there are also other forms of bloodless wars, being waged in the world and the same are like terrorism. In these terms, India has been waging water war against Pakistan.
In the recent past, while addressing Islamabad’s concerns by speaking in diplomatic language, Indus Water Commissioner of India G. Ranganathan stated, “India had been affected as much as Pakistan due to water shortage in the Indus.” He denied, saying: “Indian decision to build dams on rivers has led to water shortage in Pakistan”, while rejecting Islamabad’s concerns regarding water-theft by New Delhi including violation of the Indus Water Treaty, assuring his counterpart, Indus Water Commissioner of Pakistan, Syed Jamaat Ali Shah that all issues, relating to water between Pakistan and India would be resolved through dialogue.
In international politics of today, these are deeds, not words which matter, so ground realties are quite different as to what G. Ranganathan indicated in his statement. In fact, India is acting upon water war against Pakistan.
Besides other permanent issues including the thorny dispute of Kashmir which has always been used by India to malign and pressurise Pakistan, water of rivers has become a matter of life and death for every Pakistani as New Delhi has continuously been employing it as a tool of terrorism to blackmail Pakistan.
In the recent past, Indian decision to construct two hydro-electric projects on River Neelam which is called Krishanganga in Indian dialect is a new violation of the Indus Basin Water Treaty of 1960. The World Bank, itself, is the mediator and signatory for the treaty. After the partition, owing to war-like situation, New Delhi deliberately stopped the flow of Pakistan’s rivers which originate from the Indian-held Kashmir. Even at that time, Indian rulers had used water as a tool of war against Pakistan. However, due to Indian illogical stand, Islamabad sought the help of international arbitration. The Indus Basin Treaty allocates waters of three western rivers of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab to Pakistan, while India has rights over eastern rivers of Ravi, Sutlej and Beas.
Since the settlement of the dispute, India has always violated the treaty intermittently to create economic crisis in Pakistan. In 1984 a controversy arose between the two neighbouring states after India began construction of the Wullar Barrage on river Jhelum in the occupied Kashmir in violation of the Indus Basin Water Treaty.
In the past, the issue of Wullar Barrage has also been discussed in various rounds of talks, being held under composite dialogue process between the two rivals, but Indian intransigence has continued. In the mid 1990s India started another violation by constructing the Baglihar dam on the Chenab river.
In 2005, Pakistan had again sought the World Bank’s help to stop construction of the Baglihar dam. Although WB allowed India to go ahead with the project after a few modifications, yet it did not permit the interruption of the agreed quota of water flow to Pakistan.
In 2008, India suddenly reduced water flow of the Chenab river to give a greater setback to our autumnal crops. Islamabad on September 17, 2008 threatened to seek the World Bank’s intervention on the plea that New Delhi had not responded to its repeated complaints on the issue appropriately. Pakistan’s Commissioner to the treaty, Syed Jamaat Ali Shah had also remarked that the shortage of water in the Chenab river, occurred due to filling up the Baglihar dam. Despite repeated pleas from Islamabad, India did nothing to address the problem.
Nevertheless, apart from intermittent violations of the Indus Water Treaty by construction of the Krishanganga project over Neelam River, New Delhi, in fact, has been using water as a tool to pressurise Islamabad with a view to getting leverage in the composite dialogue especially regarding Indian-held Kashmir where a new phase of protests has started. In this respect, the then Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, while talking in connection with the revival of Pak-India dialogue, had said on February 8, 2010 that Pakistan’s case on Kashmir and water was based on truth, and the government would fight it with full strength.
Indian diplomacy of water war could also be judged from some latest development. Reports suggest that India has secretly offered technical assistance to the Afghan government in order to construct a dam over Kabul River which is a main water contributor to Indus River.
By applying such a shrewd diplomacy of using water as another instrument of war against Pakistan, New Delhi intends to fulfil a number of nefarious designs. India wants to keep her control on Kashmir which is located in the Indus River basin area, and which contributes to the flow of all the major rivers, entering Pakistan. It is determined to bring about political, economic and social problems of grave nature in Pakistan.
Regarding Indian clandestine aims, a report, published in the “New Scientist” in 2005 pointed out a number of issues in relation to Pakistan by writing: “Violation of the Indus Basin Treaty could lead to widespread famine, and further inflame the ongoing conflict over Kashmir. Pakistan relies on the Indus river and its tributaries for almost half of its irrigation supplies, and to generate up to half of its electricity. Pakistan also fears that India would use various dams as a coercive tool by causing floods in Pakistan through sudden release of dam waters.”
In this context, China Daily News Group wrote in 2005: “Another added complication is that in building a dam upstream of Pakistan, India will possess the ability to flood or starve Pakistan at will. This ability was witnessed in July of 2004 when India, without warning, released water into the Chenab river, flooding large portions of Pakistan. The history of conflict between these two nations makes it possible for New Delhi to use nature as a real weapon against Islamabad.”
According to an estimate, unlike India, Pakistan is highly dependent on agriculture, which in turn is dependent on water. Of the 79.6 million hectares of land that makeup Pakistan, 20 million are available for agriculture. Of those 20 million hectares, 16 million are dependent on irrigation. So, almost 80% of Pakistan’s agriculture is dependent on irrigation.
It is mentionable that many of Pakistan’s industries are agro-based such as the textiles industry. Besides, 80% of Pakistan’s food needs are fulfilled domestically. Thus an interruption of water supply would have broad-ranging effects. For example, when the country suffered a drought from 1998 to 2001, there were violent riots in Karachi.
It is of particular attention that half of Pakistan’s energy comes from hydroelectricity, and at present, our country has been facing a severe crisis of loadshedding which is the result of power-shortage in the country. During the last two summers, people in a number of cities like Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad etc. lodged violent protests against the loadshedding, culminating into loss of property and life.
While Pakistan has already been facing multiple challenges of grave nature coupled with a perennial phenomenon of terrorism like suicide attacks, bomblasts, targetted killings etc., committed by the militants who enter our country from Afghanistan where Indian secret intelligence agency, RAW has established training centres for anti-Pakistan activities—New Delhi also uses water as a tool by increasing its scarcity, making life too often miserable for Pakistanis with the unlitmate aim of creating poverty which could produce more terrorism in turn. And is likely to deepen differences among Pakistan’s provinces over various issues which are directly or indirectly related to water.
So, still by employing water as an instrument of war, Indians continue to intensify political unrest, economic instability and social strife in Pakistan.
Surprisingly, in the last year, India started resumption of talks with Pakistan paying a greater attention on terrorism instead of equally addressing all the issues of the composite dialogue. Nonetheless, Islamabad must include water as a major focus of agenda in the future dialogue; otherwise India is likely to continue its water war against Pakistan.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations