Dr Muhammad Khan
Water being an essential requirement for every living being, needs to be guaranteed. Unfortunately, at global level, with the rising population, changes in the climate and environmental degradation, this essential commodity is falling short of human demand. Once there is a gap between the supply and demand, there are likely chances of conflicts arising for securing the sources of water between states and socities. The water experts strongly visualize that, apart from hydrocarbons and other mineral sources, future conflicts and wars would be centered on water sources. This prediction is very dangerous indeed.
In South Asia, the inter-state water issues are rapidly becoming complex, leading to conflicts and even future wars as envisioned by US think tanks and even lawmakers few years ago. South Asian region spreads from Afghanistan to Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. India and Pakistan are two important countries of the region, having severe water issues between them, right from their independence in 1947. There are three main river systems in the region; the Indus River System, the Ganges River System and the Brahmaputra River system. The sources of the all these river systems are either in the Himalayan Mountains or Tibetan plateau (otherwise part of Himalayan Mountains).
The Himalayan Plateau is an elevated plateau in South and central Asia. The Tibetan Plateau also called; “the Roof of the World” is the world’s highest and largest plateau with an area of 2500,000 sq kms. At times, called as the ‘Third Pole’ the Tibetan plateau is the headwaters of the drainage basins of the water systems flowing in the India and Pakistan and other surrounding regions. Having thousands of glaciers, this plateau is also known as the water tower, water storage for the region.
The Indus River system, comprises three eastern rivers; Ravi, Sutlej and Beas and three western rivers; Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. As per the Indus Water Treat (IWT)-1960, India got exclusive right over the water of three eastern rivers and Pakistan was given water of three western rivers. World Bank brokered IWT in September 1960, after almost a decade of hectic diplomacy and negotiations. Indeed, India manipulated the partition plan of Sub-continent and manged possession of the main head works, of Indus River System, releasing water to Pakistani area (after partition). A year after independence of both countries, through a pre-planned strategy, India stopped the water flow to Pakistani areas, creating a crisis for the agrarian economy of Pakistan. Pakistan was forced to pay for the water for some time and later, international mediation, facilitated the process.
Indus Water Treaty (IWT) worked well for some time; however, India started manipulating with the water of the western rivers in 1980s. India started constructing barrages, water storages and even divergences in the main watercourses of these rivers. Construction of Wullar Barrage stared in 1984, over Jhelum River. Baglihar Dam was constructed over Chenab River in 2008. Kishanganga Hydoelectric Power project over Neelum River is under construction. These are the major water dams and storages by India over the western rivers, whose water was exclusively reserved for the Pakistani usage. India is in the process of constructing dozen of dams and water storages over these western rivers in violation of the IWT.
On the Eastern Rivers, India was supposed to release a certain amount of water for maintaining the environment along the watercourses. Nevertheless, it has never regarded those clauses of the IWT. Rather release the water during monsoons, causing flood in vast areas of Pakistan. In a way, India is involved in water terrorism in Pakistan. Indian water terrorism effect Pakistan in two ways. It control and manipulate the water of the western rivers through the construction of a number of barrages, water divergences and dams, thus eventually converting the huge agricultural land into desert. India fully understands that, Pakistan has agrarian economy and through water terrorism, it can destroy Pakistani economy. Secondly, India release huge water in all rivers, during rainy seasons and monsoons, another line of attack for causing damage to Pakistani economy and society.
Whereas, as upper riparian, Indian water terrorism is going on against Pakistan for decades now, it has not spared its own created state of Bangladesh. India is not releasing the due amount of the water from Ganges River to Bangladesh despite having a formal treaty between both. Despite, the current Government of Hasina Wajid is very friendly with the Indian State; yet, India has not honoured the agreements on water and many other areas, border disputes and even Indian anti Muslim/Pakistan role in Bangladesh. In the case of Nepal, India is a lower riparian country, yet, it has not allowed that Hindu state to utilize its water resources for its needed usage. Nepal has been severely constrained by India for the potential usage of its river waters for agricultural and electricity production.
From the forum of SAARC, the South Asian countries must persuade the India to respect the bilateral and international agreements over water issues with its neighbours. In case, India still continues its policy of water manipulation in South Asia, the other states and societies of the region will be severely damaged. In the case of Indo-Pak, water issues, if IWT is not followed in true letter and spirit, there would the situation leading to conflict, which may be worst, in the context of nuclearization of both these state.
The best way forward for the India is to respect the IWT and let the water flow along the Western rivers as constant and uniform, rather stopping the water during the Rabi and Kharif corpses. As a major regional country, India should take the IWT as precedence for the resolution of other issues, like Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek with Pakistan, bringing peace, stability and economic prosperity of the entire South Asia. Indeed, conflicts leading to wars would not be in the favour of any country, including India. The sooner, India realises that, the better it would be for itself and other regional countries, who otherwise desire regional peace and stability.
— The writer is International Relations analyst based in Islamabad.