By Amna Razzaq
India and Pakistan have fought three major wars and many skirmishes since independence. The most important and lingering issue (besides Kashmir issue) between the two states lies with the simplest but the most crucial necessity of life: water. Water is becoming an existential threat to Pakistan stability. The country is facing a grim situation regarding its fast depleting fresh water resources. For Pakistan, primarily an agrarian country, water becomes the most important of all the natural resources to be secured and managed. The source of irrigation for Pakistan agriculture is Indus River. Being a single-basin country Pakistan relies heavily on the Indus basin water to meet its domestic, agricultural and industrial needs. The water resources are getting short due to irregular flow of water in Indus River. India is aiming to destabilize Pakistan by creating artificial shortage of water in Pakistan which may lead to a chaotic situation in the country. Moreover the international community has built an opinion on the basis of their perceptions that Indian efforts to dry up Pakistan can lead towards another armed contest between the two constant rivals.
The water issue between the two countries dates back to April 1948 when India stopped its canal water to flow into Pakistan, leaving about 5.5% of West Pakistan’s planted area and nearly 8% of its cultivated area without irrigation at the start of the crucial kharif (Monsoon) season. That act from Indian side raised hostility between the two neighbours. However as a result of mediation from the World Bank, Indus Water Treaty came forward in 1960 which stated that waters of three western rivers Indus, Jhelum and Chenab are to be used by Pakistan while India was given rights over eastern rivers, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas. But India as usual dishonored this accord from time to time to create economic crisis in Pakistan.
First controversy arose in 1984 when India violated the laws of the agreement and started construction of Wullar Barrage over river Jhelum without consulting, informing and showing the design to Pakistan which enraged Pakistani authorities. However despite strong resentment and criticism from Pakistani side, India once again violated the Indus Water Treaty and built Buglihar dam on river Chenab in mid 90’s. With the construction of Baglihar dam, millions of arable land in several parts of Pakistan had been severely affected which raised serious concerns among the Pakistani officials and they asked World Bank to intervene in the issue and scrutinize the matter seriously. India undertook another condemnable action in 2008 when she started filling the reservoir of Baghliar Hydel Power Project, left Pakistan a water scarce country. India’s attitude and actions on Baglihar may have implications for other areas like Siachen, Sir Creek and Kashmir as well. Kishanganga project of India is another project which sparked the hostility between the two neighbours.
India being an upper riparian has always created problems for Pakistan depriving her from the due share as prescribed in Indus Water Treaty 1960. India many times stopped water flow to Pakistan during crop season creating problems. There are projections that if this water issue remain unchecked, it would lead to devastative armed conflict between the two nuclear rivals. According to certain media reports, India is planning to build 53 power projects and about seven dams which will disturb the flow of water to Pakistan that would lead to alarming situation for Pakistan to meets its water demands, hence making it internally vulnerable. The main argument is that Pakistan’s vulnerability to the trans-boundary impacts of India’s ambitious hydro projects on the Western rivers goes unrecognized and underappreciated in India. It is not only violation of the spirit of the Indus Water Treaty but also ignoring the huge trans-boundary impacts on hydrology and ecology of the rivers. India intends to gain monopoly over all rivers flowing into Pakistan to coerce Pakistan economically and militarily while converting arid land of Punjab (Pakistan) into wasteland.
The stoppage of river water by India is a practical evidence of India’s nefarious, malicious and hegemonic designs against Pakistan. It is also warrant suggesting that Pakistan should develop its own water reservoirs/ dams at priority. Dr Nasrullah Mirza in his book “Hydro Politics: A Latent Dimensions of Kashmir Conflict” argues that the Kashmir conflict is neither an emotional issue between the two rivals, nor purely an ideological tangle but equally, if not more so, an issue of realpolitik which is inherent in the nature of territory of Kashmir. The importance of the territory lies in its wealth of water resources of the world’s mighty Indus River System comprising the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers, serving as the Jugular vein’ of Pakistan’s agrarian economy. India is not prepared to lose the upper- riparian status and Pakistan is fearful of its vulnerabilities. Kashmir issue is also a question of control of the life-giving rivers in upstream originating from the territory of Kashmir, parts of which were captured by both India and Pakistan in 1948. Hence it would be right to say that water is one of the main cause of Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan. State minister for water and power Mr. Abid Sher Ali blamed the country’s water shortage on neighboring India for having constructed dams and hydropower projects on rivers that flow between the two countries. Such a shortage, Sher Ali warned, will spell catastrophe for Pakistan – a nation already burdened by myriad other woes, including terrorism, political corruption, widespread poverty, and chronic power outages. He has urged Islamabad to build its own dams. “If Pakistan [does] not think seriously about [the] construction of dams, its soil will become infertile in [the] future.”
Pakistan is expected to face 31 Million Acre Feet (MAF) of water by 2025 which poses a grave threat to Pakistan economy and stability. According to Time Magazine reports, it has been revealed that India is planning to build a dam on Wular Lake which would affect the flow of water in Pakistan. According to the media reports, India has ventured upon an ambitious plan worth $120 billion to divert waters of Rivers
Jhelum, Chenab and Indus flowing from north to south and turn fertile lands of Pakistan into a desert. So far, it has built 65 dams and headwork, but has plans to build a total of 300 small and big size dams so as to gain total control over the three rivers. It is constructing a 3800 kms long canal in order to divert water from River Indus to River Sutlej thus depriving Pakistan from its due share of Indus water and it is expected that the country may face acute water shortage in years to come.
India has therefore started water terrorism by bringing vast area of Pakistani territory under floodwater and at many times she has attempted to stop river flow in Pakistan. According to a report, in year 2011 India had released more than 70,000 cusecs of water into River Sutlej at Pakistani side which mounted its level to an alarming extent, washed away dozens of villages and worsenly affected the livestock and crops. India intends to complete its water denial plan to Pakistan by 2016 after which Pakistan will get deprived of its share of water. Pakistan’s condition will become worse than Somalia and Ethiopia, the two drought ridden countries. India has now managed to coax its strategic partner Afghanistan to build dams over River Kabul and has offered its full assistance that would further worsen water problem of Pakistan. If India opens the gates of these illegal dams, it can sink Pakistan within 48 hours. Reports states that Indian government has also allowed their corporate farmers direct pumping on massive scale from Chenab and its tributaries for which free electricity is being provided.
Climatic changes and mismanagement of Pakistani higher authorities is also a cause of water scarcity. As we have lack of reservoirs and dams due to which huge cusecs of water goes waste and damage the crops and property. By the construction of Kalabagh dam, we could save million cusecs of flood water in order to meet our energy demands as well as domestic needs. However, the time demands us to take serious measures for water management in order to save our future generations. Similarly, we should immediately take up this grave matter in the UNSC and International Court of Justice and under the UN deputed unbiased Commission they should carry out on spot inspection of all the spots on Rivers Chenab, Jhelum and Indus where dams have been/are being built and put an end to India’s madness and to save Pakistan from worst situations in years to come.