Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Next War with India: Over Water --- not Kashmir

Water, not unlike religion and ideology, has the power to move millions of people. Since the very birth of human civilization, people have moved to settle close to water. People move when there is too little of it; people move when there is too much of it. People move on it. People write and sing and dance and dream about it. People fight over it. And everybody, everywhere and every day, needs it. We need water for drinking, for cooking, for washing, for food, for industry, for energy, for transport, for rituals, for fun, for life. And it is not only we humans who need it; all life is dependent upon water for its very survival.

Water as a resource is more paramount than oil; it is essential to all daily human activities. Water is becoming a very valuable commodity, yet freshwater resources are unevenly distributed. This scarcity in water has triggered desperation in countries that already have little access to water, let alone reliable water supplies. This desperation usually cannot be resolved by negotiations. If governments or rebels want water badly enough they resort to force to obtain it.

For centuries war and conflict has been tied to the protection of water resources. With the risk of water shortages becoming more and more of an issue, it has become the fuel of certain conflicts between Pakistan and India. Water Wars are becoming inevitable in region's future as the misuse of water resources continues between two countries that share the same water source. International law has proven itself inadequate in defending the equal use of shared water supplies in some parts of South Asia.

India has emerged as a major culprit in bullying its neighbors over the distribution of water. The unequal bargaining power of India and its small neighbors such as Nepal and Bhutan is seen as a crucial stumbling block in joint harnessing of Himalayan waters.

A water war between India and Pakistan is inevitable in the future. Apart from other native, vernacular, political, and national sound reasoning, Pakistan's prime interest was to secure its water resources.

Though Kashmir is a political conflict, one of its dimensions is linked to water, because all water resources for India and Pakistan generate from Kashmir. The head-works of main Pakistani rivers originate in India.

The Indus River Basin has been an area of conflict between India and Pakistan. Spanning 1,800 miles, the river and its tributaries together make up one of the largest irrigation canals in the world. The basin provides water to millions of people in northwestern India and Pakistan. Dams and canals built in order to provide hydropower and irrigation has dried up stretches of the Indus River. Water projects have further caused the displacement of people and have contributed to the destruction of the ecosystem in the Indus plain.

The enmity between India and Pakistan over water started early when India discontinued water supplies to Pakistan. Hard bargaining and the mediation of the World Bank led to the world acclaimed Indus Water Treaty in 1960. The treaty allocated the three Eastern Rivers — Ravi, Sutlej and Beas — to India, the three Western rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — to Pakistan. Pakistan was to meet its requirements of its Eastern river canals from the Western rivers by building replacement works. Safeguards were included in the treaty to ensure unrestricted flow of waters in the Western rivers. Also both parties were to regularly exchange flow-data of rivers, canals and streams. A permanent commission known as the Indus Waters Commission was constituted to resolve the disputes between the parties. This treaty is globally respected that it has survived wars and periods of acute tension between the two hostile neighbors. However, the treaty has encountered hiccups wherein some contentious issues have cropped up.

The 430-megawatt Baglihar power project on river Chenab is one such plan since it violates the treaty. India argues that the treaty allows construction for power generation if there is no diversion of water flow.

Wullar Barrage is another controversial issue, which has the potential to ruin the entire system of the triple canal project within Pakistan. Pakistan has protested because Wullar Barrage’s capacity is 300,000 acres feet, which is 30 times more than the capacity permitted by the Indus Treaty. India is already in control of the Chenab River through Salal Dam constructed in 1976 and many Pakistanis disapprove of the yielding of the Salal Dam.

Yet another issue is the Kishen Ganga project, a (390 MW) hydropower-generating unit on River Neelam in Indian Kashmir. It affects Pakistan’s Neelam-Jhelum power-generating project. However, the most significant point in the history of the treaty was when in 2001 India unilaterally tried to withdraw from the treaty. Despite the inadequacy of the international law, the fact that the treaty has another signatory (World Bank) helped Pakistan protect its legal claim to her rights in the treaty.

Political issues let countries use its water as a tool to maneuver and pressurize the other. A different water/border related dispute is that of Sir Creek. India wishes to follow the 1914 treaty between the then Government of Sindh and the Rao Maharao of Kutch in which the boundary was agreed to run through the middle of the creek as the border. According to Pakistan’s view the boundary should start with the Eastern Bank, on the basis of the resolution Map of 1914, drawn up by the British governor of Bombay.

If India and Pakistan take a political decision to restructure their relations, they will have to ensure that water serves as a flow to bring them together, rather than taking them further on the course of conflict. (