India’s prime minister Narendra Modi once again strongly hinted about a water-war againstÂ Pakistan.Â By obstructing the water flowÂ ofÂ commonÂ rivers,Â will heÂ retract fromÂ the 1960 Indus Waters treaty brokered by the World Bank between two countries?Â Or isÂ this just aÂ ploy to distract attention fromÂ the controversialÂ demonetizationÂ ofÂ IndianÂ 500 and 1000 rupee notes by creating anÂ anti-PakistanÂ issue.
ModiÂ said he would stop “every drop” of Indus water from going to Pakistan. “Water ofÂ the Satluj,Â Beas and Ravi riversÂ which belongs to India cannot be allowed to go to Pakistan. Farmers have the right over the waterÂ thatÂ flows through Indus,”Â PMÂ Modi said at a rally in Bathinda, Punjab, near the Pakistan border. He advisedÂ Pakistanis saying,Â “People of Pakistan should tell their rulers to fight corruption and fake notes. After the surgical strikes, Pakistan had learned what the Indian Army was capable of doing.”
Treaty violations can lead to a water war
The World Bank-mediated IndusÂ waterÂ treatyÂ between India and Pakistan already caused severe tension in the regionÂ including three wars and a riot. India nowÂ perceives thatÂ the agreement to usea mere 20 percentÂ of the water from threeÂ tributariesÂ of Indus and allow free flow of the other three toÂ PakistanÂ is notÂ reasonable. Pakistan, on the other hand, has issued warning against any Indian plan of cutting water supply and causingÂ drought or famine in their country. Any violation of the water treaty would mean war, theyÂ forewarned. Despite these threats and counter-threats, so far the two sides has averted an all-out water war.
After 18 Indian soldiers were killed in terrorist attacks atÂ Uri, New Delhi againÂ threatenedÂ toÂ start a water war againstÂ Pakistan,Â accusing Islamabad of being behind the attack.Â Â While speaking in the Open Debate of the Security Council onÂ water,Â peaceÂ and security, Pakistanâ€™s permanent ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi stressed that the international community should take responsibility toÂ protect normative frameworks at multilateral and bilateral levels on waterways so that any issues regarding common rivers can be solved throughÂ discussion. Earlier the World BankÂ initiated anÂ endeavorÂ to solve the disputes between India and Pakistan on the common water issue.
In 2005 India planned a hydro power project on theÂ tributaries ofÂ the river Jhelum inÂ Jammu and Kashmir.Â Two yearsÂ laterÂ Pakistan hired aÂ ChineseÂ company to work on a similar power plant in an adjacentÂ position. A debateÂ emerged as to who would rebate to keep up the water flow.Â The two sides went to the World Bank for theÂ settlement of disputes as they were unable to reach in a bilateral agreement aboutÂ constructingÂ twoÂ powerÂ projects in same river.Â Pakistan calls forÂ establishingÂ an arbitration court to settle the issue and India claimed anÂ independent expert.Â ComplyingÂ to bothÂ demands,Â the World Bank moved for aÂ peacefulÂ settlement of disputes, but India objected to this parallel process.
India’s spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup said,Â “India cannot be party to actions which are not in accordance with the Indus Waters Treaty. The government will examine further options and take steps accordingly.”Â He also statedÂ that it was â€œlegally untenableâ€ to set up two parallel dispute mechanismsÂ at the same time. In the end the World Bank couldn’t move forward with theÂ settlement.Â Â AsÂ the Indus treaty was carried out with a World BankÂ interventionÂ andÂ guarantee, India will face diplomatic dishonor if theyÂ unilaterallyÂ withdraw from the treaty. It will also be uncomfortable for Bangladesh and Nepal, who also haveÂ water-sharing treaties with India. Other countries of the region, like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, will consider this as a warning sign too. These twoÂ countriesÂ are already leaning towardsÂ BeijingÂ as aÂ majorÂ part of China’s MaritimeÂ SilkÂ Road plan.
India’s game plan of allegingÂ non-stateÂ PakistaniÂ terrorist groups using this treaty for “water terrorism” is unlikely to succeed.Â The word “water terrorism” was first coined during the construction ofÂ BagliharÂ DamÂ in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region. As a result,Â Pakistan had aÂ reducedÂ waterÂ flowÂ downstream during oneÂ harvest season. Extremists took thisÂ opportunityÂ and even now manyÂ extremist groupsÂ threatÂ to wage war with India over the flow ofÂ water. If the treaty is canceled, then the water energyÂ infrastructureÂ could be a terrorist target.Â Â Â Now if a re-evaluationÂ of this treaty causes further water shortage forÂ Pakistan,Â then furtherÂ hostilityÂ could take place.
If serious damage occurs toÂ the Indus-basedÂ agriculture system, it will greatly impactÂ socio-economic and human livelihood, which in turn will spread to neighboringÂ regions including India. If India wants to hasten their projects to exploitÂ the hydro electricityÂ potential in Kashmir, it will be a game changer. A total of 20 thousandÂ megawatts ofÂ electricityÂ will change the local KashmirisÂ lives for good. In that case, the deal will create a new level of conflict.Â Kashmiris already think that the Indus treaty isÂ hurtingÂ theirÂ interests.Â Ultimately a new chapter will be written in the Kashmir dispute.
China will take a strong stance if the water flow to Pakistanis obstructed. They will not have the luxury toÂ remainÂ silent as Pakistan inÂ inextricably linked with CPEC (ChinaÂ Pakistan Economic Corridor)Â and OneÂ Belt,Â OneÂ Road project because many investment projects of China including CPECÂ depend on the river water which India is threatening.Â India is the upstream country for Pakistan, inÂ contrastÂ ChinaÂ is upstream country for India. China’sÂ TibetÂ is the source of both Indus and Sutlej rivers, andÂ currentlyÂ there is no treatyÂ withÂ China in place.Â As a result, ChinaÂ canÂ remove the water from the rivers. If China withdraws water fromÂ Indus,Â India will be deprivedÂ approximatelyÂ 36Â percent waterÂ of the river. This river along with its 27Â tributaries isÂ has considerablecontribution to India’sÂ agriculture and commerce.
IndiaÂ is able toÂ produce 3,600 megawattsÂ of electricity from the river Sutlej.Â This makes it possible to illuminateÂ theÂ New DelhiÂ CityÂ and nearbyÂ area.Â The Tibet plateau is also the source ofÂ the river Brahmaputra.Â Â ThisÂ river enters Bangladesh through India and is equally important forÂ irrigation, hydropower andÂ transportation.Â China recentlyÂ set up obstacles to a branch of the riverÂ forÂ hydroelectricÂ plantÂ construction. Modi has to consider these aspects before putting his words about canceling Indus water treatyÂ into action. And the risk ofÂ startingÂ anÂ all outÂ war between the twoÂ countriesÂ about waterÂ withdrawalÂ can’t be ruled out.