Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
ACCORDING to the reports roaming in the Indian media, in its fervour of promoting an anti Pakistan atmosphere close to the upcoming election, the Modi government intends to deviously stop the flow of western waters into Pakistan (a coercive measure to be adopted in the post Pulwama incident). Yet this kind of notorious move if ever taken by New Delhi – will not only undermine the very basis of international water laws incorporated in the Indus Water Treaty—but also will escalate tension between the two nuclear South Asian capitals. By all means, Modi’s government’s tactic to gain political ends via water coercion against Pakistan—seems nothing but an inhuman marginalised hydro-politics tactic against a state whose water reserves are already very limited to the extent that its agrarian and quality of life survival is central to fulfilling its water needs.
Nitin Gatkari, India’s Transport Minister, said in a Twitter message that Our Government has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan. We will divert water from Eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. As for Pakistan, Islamabad drives no interest regarding the affairs of eastern rivers’ waters. But India’s attempt to curtail the flow of the Pakistani waters that come from the western rivers is a matter of grave concern. Under the stipulated parameters set in the Indus Water Treaty of 1960, Pakistan has de jure unrestricted access to the three rivers, ie Jhelum, Chenab and the Indus. Yet put practically and technically, being an upstream country India holds the defacto control over these rivers. As per the IWT rules, India has been allocated unrestricted access to the three eastern rivers, ie Ravi, Sutlej and Beas a privilege that it has already utilized to the best of its capacity and reach. But sadly, New Delhi has been deliberately and intermittently adopting the tactics to covertly and overtly stop the Pakistani water of the western rivers in a way to use these rivers’ water for building various numerous hydro electrical projects -Kishenganga , Baglihar and Rattle power plants constructed on the Indus and Jhelum rivers.
This Indian notion of reducing flow of the Pakistani water created big water disputes between the two states and consequently Islamabad contacted to the World Bank administered court of arbitration (COA) more often during the period (2002 to 2016). In this context, Pakistan raised warranted objections over the construction of some illegal hydro projects advocating that they basically violate the World Bank-enforced treaty, particularly on the sharing of the Indus river water—on which largely depends Pakistan’s irrigated agriculture.
Mischievously, the new Indian conceived design is based on a recreant pretext: since water from the Indus Basin flows downstream from India to Pakistan, revoking the IWT would technically permit India to take control of and — if it created enough storage space through the construction of large dams —halt the western waters’ flow into Pakistan. To the extremist Hindu policy makers trying to pull out of the IWT seems the first step in giving India carte blanche to start pursuing its blackmailing strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan’s right to swift access of Indus waters. In this context, the officials in New Delhi, who ardently support for annulling a water dialogue with Islamabad, say they could be reviewing the treaty and examining whether India would further dam and exploit the Indus and five other rivers that flow from India into Pakistan.
And yet the China-India juxtaposition case study reveals that both China and India (two arch- rivals) have no water sharing treaty as yet. And therefore India completely relies on China to share the respective data regarding the trans-border rivers under a pact signed between Beijing and New Delhi in October 2013. Fairly speaking, being an upstream water country China does not use such threating tactics to stop the Indian water despite the fact that there is no such formal water treaty signed between the two states as that of the IWT bilaterally signed between India and Pakistan. Recently, India, also shared the design data with regard to its three planned run-of-the-river hydropower schemes with Pakistan under the IWT. These Indian projects included Balti Kalan, Kalaroos and Tamasha hydropower projects to be constructed at the Jhelum basin and the Indus river tributary respectively.
The ICRC Legal Adviser Jean-Marie Henckaerts rightly argues: ‘’international humanitarian law provides special protection for life-giving water resources: ‘’In essence, water is a civilian object and, as such, protected by humanitarian law. But in addition, water is indispensable for the survival of the civilian population. Hence, it has been granted special protection, including water sanitation and distribution installations’’. Human right and water sanitation (HRWS) law is duly recognized as a human right through manifold human rights treaties, declarations and other standards established under the UN. Nevertheless, the Indian tactic- to use water as an aggression instrument against Pakistan- seems highly culpable under international law. Consequentially, If India ever stops Pakistan’s water, it will be technically tantamount to giving China a passport to stop the Indian water.
And above all, given the organic sensitivities that Islamabad justifiably registers in terms of Pakistan’s water needs, India’s any mala fide design of stopping the Pakistani water could cause a hot war between the two states. Yet notably, the IWT is the only bright spot in the dark history of relationship the two nuclear states share respectively. The New York Times is fully pertinent in its analysis regarding India’s misread affects: ‘’A full-blown water war could be catastrophic to the hundreds of millions of people in India and Pakistan who depend on river water. But this latest threat was not accompanied by details on when or how India might act to divert more water from Pakistan downstream or how large, in reality, such diversions would be’’.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum- analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of European Society of International Law (ESIL).
Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi