Water is a hot issue in the relations between Pakistan and India today. However, this is not new. It was so soon after Pakistan’s independence when, on 1st April 1948, India stopped the flow of water to Pakistani canals, with devastating effects not only on agriculture but also on the supply of drinking water to cities like Lahore. Exploiting Pakistan’s utter desperation to get the water supplies restored, India forced Pakistan to sign the Delhi Agreement But Pakistan had to pay the price by renouncing all rights to these waters and pledging to tap alternative sources for its needs. Then followed a series of bilateral negotiations to find a permanent solution to the issue, but due to Indian obduracy they remained inconclusive. Subsequently, the World Bank mediated the dispute which resulted in the conclusion of the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960. It allocated the Eastern Rivers (Sutlej, Ravi and Beas) to India and the Western Rivers (Chenab, Jhelum and Indus) to Pakistan, while at the same time allowing India the right to make “limited use” of their waters and operate run-of-the-river hydropower plants. The Treaty worked more or less satisfactorily over the years, even during the 1965 and 1971 wars. However, since its rise as an economic power, India has started to flex its muscle and begun abusing the Treaty by planning huge dam-like structures on the Western Rivers. It has already built one on the Chenab River called the Baglihar dam and is currently building another one on the Jhelum River called the Kishanganga dam.
This is, however, not the end of the story of India’s dam building activity on the Western Rivers. It is now planning more than a hundred dams under the guise of hydropower projects. Pakistan believes them to be in violation of the terms of the Treaty as they are not run-of-the-river projects. Pakistan’s concern about the issue is evident from the fact that according to the Strategic Foresight Group, an Indian think tank, every proposal that Pakistan has made since 1999 in the two-track diplomacy has focused on water as a matter of pivotal concern to that country. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that in March 2009, a group of more than 20 different UN bodies warned that given the rising tension over the water issue between Pakistan and India, the world could be perilously close to its first water war. India, of course, rejects Pakistan’s claim by arguing that it is building hydropower projects strictly in accordance with the terms of the Treaty. It contends that Pakistan’s objections are mostly political in nature and have no technical or engineering relevance. It is not prepared to engage Pakistan in order to find an amicable solution to the issue and rejects predictions of war as being alarmist.
The question arises: why is India bent upon building these dams? Is it doing so merely to generate electricity or is there some hidden agenda behind it as well? From all the available evidence, it is clear that India is trying to acquire capability to control the waters of the Western Rivers in order to release them to inundate Pakistani territory or withhold them to render it dry at an opportune moment. Independent and neutral observers tend to agree with Pakistan’s assessment. For example, this is what John Brisco, Professor of Environmental Engineering at the Harvard University, who has worked on the issue for quite some time, has to say in the matter:
“[There] is a veritable caravan of Indian projects-Kishanganga, Sawalkot, Pakuldul, Bursar, Dal Huste, Gypsa. The cumulative live storage would be large, giving India an unquestioned capacity to have major impact on the timing of flows into Pakistan… [Calculations suggest] that once it has constructed all of the hydropower plants on the Chenab, India will have ability to effect major damage on Pakistan.”
Incidentally, if India is trying to control the flow of the Western Rivers, its attitude has been no different towards its other South Asian neighbours. It has succeeded in imposing unfair water treaties like the Mahakali and Tanakpur Agreements on Nepal and the Ganges Agreement of 1996 on Bangladesh. Additionally, it has plans to interlink Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghna rivers by transferring water from surplus to deficient rivers which would hit Bangladesh hard as it would deprive the latter of water which it has historically used. In this backdrop, the Indian intentions vis-a-vis Pakistan through vast dam-building plans become clear. It is not only to steal waters which rightfully belong to Pakistan but also to use them as a weapon to reduce Pakistan to the status of Nepal or Bangladesh. India is doing so because it is a hegemonistic power which is bent upon imposing its version of the Monroe doctrine on South Asia. It is making a strategic use of water to subdue Pakistan which is the last line of resistance against India’s quest for supremacy in South Asia.
All maps have been provided by the author.
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