Shahid M Amin
PAKISTAN-India relations have reached a new low. There seems hardly any possibility that, under Modi, relations are going to improve. Therefore, practical wisdom demands that policy-makers should focus attention on managing the dangerous situation as well as possible, so that matters do not get any worse between two nuclear-armed states. For the last few weeks, there has been daily exchange of fire by the two armed forces along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir, as also on the Working Boundary.
Apart from causing death and injury of innocent civilians, mostly on Pakistani side, the number of soldiers and officers killed on both sides is probably the highest ever. It is a tit-for-tat situation. Every breach of LoC by one side brings an equal or greater response by the other side. Diplomats of the two countries are summoned every other day and protests lodged. Pakistan has also sought to draw the attention of other states, including five permanent members of the UN Security Council, to the volatile situation created by India’s aggressive posture.
It seems that India is deliberately heating up the LoC to divert attention from unprecedented protests in Indian-occupied Kashmir for nearly four months. World opinion was becoming critical of India’s gross violation of human rights due to use of pellet guns and other tactics, amounting to a reign of terror in occupied Kashmir. There could be some other reasons also why India has heated up the LoC. In Azad Kashmir, civilian population lives right up to LoC, while on the Indian side, civilian population has been moved away from LoC. India alleges that terrorists, who cross the LoC from Azad Kashmir, take cover of civilian population near the LoC.
By inflicting civilian casualties, India might be expecting that civilian population on the Azad Kashmir side would be pushed back from LoC, so that terrorists do not find shelter in civilian population. A third reason for heating up LoC could be that India wants to destroy its legality, enabling it to act without any restraint. Pakistan’s response against this background should be to manage the situation by not adopting a tit-for-tat response every time and in any case by not allowing the LoC violations to become a military confrontation. Our restraint would help increase international pressure on India to act more responsibly and not inflame the situation any further.
Indian attitude has hardened since the Uri incident in September when 19 Indian soldiers were killed in a terrorist act. India accused Jaish-i-Muhammad (JEM), a Pakistan-based group, for this terrorist act. Goaded by the Modi government, the Indian media went into a war hysteria, calling for revenge against Pakistan. India then claimed that it had carried out a ‘surgical operation’ across the LoC in Azad Kashmir. This was hotly denied by the Pakistani military, which took the international media to various spots on Pakistani side of LoC to show that there had been no surgical strike. Nevertheless, the claimed surgical strike suggested a confrontational stance by India. It next embarked on a campaign to isolate Pakistan internationally to have it declared as a ‘terrorist state’. This has further vitiated the atmosphere in India-Pakistan relations. Pakistan can manage this sinister campaign through proactive diplomacy. Effective steps taken to curb JEM and Lashkar-e-Taiba will silence our critics abroad.
Modi also warned that India might abrogate the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) which had divided the six rivers between India and Pakistan equally. He implied darkly that Pakistan would be denied the river water that is so crucial to its economic survival. In another statement on November 26, Modi said that India would ensure that every drop of the three eastern rivers —Ravi, Sutlej and Beas— would be given to Indian farmers and would no longer flow to Pakistan and going to waste in the sea. He said that this was India’s right under the IWT but the water was still flowing into Pakistan. To recall, IWT allocated three eastern rivers to India and the three western rivers –Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — to Pakistan.
In effect, Pakistan gave up its share of riparian rights to the three eastern rivers. To compensate Pakistan for the voluntary abandonment of its share, several countries joined the World Bank in building ‘replacement works’ in Pakistan under which Tarbela and Mangla dams, five barrages and eight link canals were built in Pakistan. Thus, Pakistani farmers who no longer had access to Sutlej and Ravi were provided water for their farms. However, a minor amount of water of three eastern rivers still reaches Pakistan, particularly during the Monsoons. Modi wants to ensure that India retains this water also for the use of its farmers. Technically, this may not be possible, but we need not get too concerned since such an action would not be inconsistent with the allocation of river waters made under IWT.
However, if India tries to block waters of the three western rivers, that would be a flagrant violation of IWT and could cause serious problems for Pakistan. But IWT was not merely a treaty between India and Pakistan. It also involved other countries like USA and UK, apart from World Bank, which played the key role in securing IWT. India cannot unilaterally abrogate the treaty. On cooler reflection, it seems that India can hardly block the Indus, which is a small river when it passes through Indian-occupied Kashmir, in the middle of the highest mountains in the world. Indus grows in size only when it is flowing inside Pakistan. Jhelum does originate in Indian-held Kashmir but becomes a big river after it enters Pakistan. Chenab also originates in Indian-occupied Kashmir but any diversion of its water in mountainous area would be difficult or impossible.
Moreover, India would be the loser if it seeks to abrogate IWT. In that situation, under International Law, Pakistan would reassert its riparian rights to the three eastern rivers. Abrogation of IWT by India will mean that we go back to square one, with the big difference that replacement works under IWT have already given Pakistan two great dams, five barrages, and eight link canals, and all the benefits accruing from these works. For example, Tarbela remains the single largest source of power in Pakistan.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.