Is India Serious About Water-War? 

Is India Serious About Water-War? 

SAM Report,
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India’s prime minister Narendra Modi once again strongly hinted about a water-war against Pakistan. By obstructing the water flow of common rivers, will he retract from the 1960 Indus Waters treaty brokered by the World Bank between two countries? Or is this just a ploy to distract attention from the controversial demonetization of Indian 500 and 1000 rupee notes by creating an anti-Pakistan issue.

Modi said he would stop “every drop” of Indus water from going to Pakistan. “Water of the Satluj, Beas and Ravi rivers which belongs to India cannot be allowed to go to Pakistan. Farmers have the right over the water that flows through Indus,” PM Modi said at a rally in Bathinda, Punjab, near the Pakistan border. He advised Pakistanis saying, “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 Indus water treaty between India and Pakistan already caused severe tension in the region including three wars and a riot. India now perceives that the agreement to usea mere 20 percent of the water from three tributaries of Indus and allow free flow of the other three to Pakistan is not reasonable. Pakistan, on the other hand, has issued warning against any Indian plan of cutting water supply and causing drought or famine in their country. Any violation of the water treaty would mean war, they 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 at Uri, New Delhi again threatened to start a water war against Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of being behind the attack.  While speaking in the Open Debate of the Security Council on water, peace and security, Pakistan’s permanent ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi stressed that the international community should take responsibility to protect normative frameworks at multilateral and bilateral levels on waterways so that any issues regarding common rivers can be solved through discussion. Earlier the World Bank initiated an endeavor to solve the disputes between India and Pakistan on the common water issue.

Regional impact

In 2005 India planned a hydro power project on the tributaries of the river Jhelum in Jammu and Kashmir. Two years later Pakistan hired a Chinese company to work on a similar power plant in an adjacent position. A debate emerged as to who would rebate to keep up the water flow. The two sides went to the World Bank for the settlement of disputes as they were unable to reach in a bilateral agreement about constructing two power projects in same river. Pakistan calls for establishing an arbitration court to settle the issue and India claimed an independent expert. Complying to both demands, the World Bank moved for a peaceful settlement of disputes, but India objected to this parallel process.

India’s spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup said, “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.”  He also stated that it was “legally untenable” to set up two parallel dispute mechanisms at the same time. In the end the World Bank couldn’t move forward with the settlement.  As the Indus treaty was carried out with a World Bank intervention and guarantee, India will face diplomatic dishonor if they unilaterally withdraw from the treaty. It will also be uncomfortable for Bangladesh and Nepal, who also have water-sharing treaties with India. Other countries of the region, like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, will consider this as a warning sign too. These two countries are already leaning towards Beijing as a major part of China’s Maritime Silk Road plan.

Water terrorism?

India’s game plan of alleging non-state Pakistani terrorist groups using this treaty for “water terrorism” is unlikely to succeed. The word “water terrorism” was first coined during the construction of Baglihar Dam in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region. As a result, Pakistan had a reduced water flow downstream during one harvest season. Extremists took this opportunity and even now many extremist groups threat to wage war with India over the flow of water. If the treaty is canceled, then the water energy infrastructure could be a terrorist target.   Now if a re-evaluation of this treaty causes further water shortage for Pakistan, then further hostility could take place.

If serious damage occurs to the Indus-based agriculture system, it will greatly impact socio-economic and human livelihood, which in turn will spread to neighboring regions including India. If India wants to hasten their projects to exploit the hydro electricity potential in Kashmir, it will be a game changer. A total of 20 thousand megawatts of electricity will change the local Kashmiris lives for good. In that case, the deal will create a new level of conflict. Kashmiris already think that the Indus treaty is hurting their interests. Ultimately a new chapter will be written in the Kashmir dispute.

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Image Credit: Reuters

China’s objection

China will take a strong stance if the water flow to Pakistanis obstructed. They will not have the luxury to remain silent as Pakistan in inextricably linked with CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) and One Belt, One Road project because many investment projects of China including CPEC depend on the river water which India is threatening.  India is the upstream country for Pakistan, in contrast China is upstream country for India. China’s Tibet is the source of both Indus and Sutlej rivers, and currently there is no treaty with China in place. As a result, China can remove the water from the rivers. If China withdraws water from Indus, India will be deprived approximately 36 percent water of the river. This river along with its 27 tributaries is has considerablecontribution to India’s agriculture and commerce.

India is able to produce 3,600 megawatts of electricity from the river Sutlej. This makes it possible to illuminate the New Delhi City and nearby area. The Tibet plateau is also the source of the river Brahmaputra.  This river enters Bangladesh through India and is equally important for irrigation, hydropower and transportation. China recently set up obstacles to a branch of the river for hydroelectric plant construction. Modi has to consider these aspects before putting his words about canceling Indus water treaty into action. And the risk of starting an all out war between the two countries about water withdrawal can’t be ruled out.

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