By Dr Waseem Ahmad Qureshi
Many of the wars in this century have been for oil, but wars of the next century will be over water – Ismail Serageldin, former vice president, World Bank.
The Indo-Pakistan water conflict dates back to 1948, when India first blocked the river water flow to Pakistan and threatened the agrarian system of the time. The bone of contention between India and Pakistan is Kashmir, neither country being willing to renounce its claim on the state due to the origin of river waters from this region. India’s human rights violations in Kashmir, its misappropriation of assets, which were allocated to Pakistan during partition, its unilateral action in Hyderabad and Junagarh states and its violations of the Indus Water Treaty are some of the examples of its attitude towards human rights and its bilateral agreements with Pakistan. Shockingly, India is planning to deprive Pakistan of access to water despite the fact that water is a basic human right. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently issued a statement: Water belonging to India cannot go to Pakistan.
India cannot, in practice, stop all of the water from flowing to Pakistan because doing so could cause flooding in the Indian states; however, Modi has expressed a strong conviction that the rivers that flow through India belong only to India and that their water should not go to Pakistan. This illogical statement is merely based on his hatred for Pakistan as there are no grounds for justification of his statements; for instance:
Blood and water cannot flow simultaneously – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 27 September 2016 to a public gathering.
Modi has also criticised the Indus Water Treaty, as well as the mediation role of the World Bank. He stated that India should revoke or modify the Indus Water Treaty as per its own interests and should resolve its water conflicts with Pakistan without mediation from the World Bank. These statements have raised serious concerns for Pakistan as cancelling the treaty and blocking the river water could literally cause famine in Pakistan as there would be no water left for agriculture. As a result, Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, termed India’s plan to breach the treaty an act of war or a hostile act against Pakistan. He further stated that: Threats of a water war are part of a military, economic and diplomatic campaign to build pressure on Pakistan – Sartaj Aziz, while addressing the National Assembly of Pakistan.
The Indus Water Treaty has distributed the river water between India and Pakistan since 1960 and the World Bank has played the role of an arbitrator and a facilitator of the treaty. According to the agreement, the Sindh, Jhelum and Chenab Rivers have been allocated to Pakistan, while India has been assigned the Ravi, Sutlej and Bias rivers. The Indus Water Treaty binds India not to use the water of the Chenab, Jhelum and Sindh Rivers for storage and dams, but India has disregarded this completely over the last two decades by constructing the Baglehar Dam on the Chenab River and is currently at work on the Krishan Ganga and Ratle dams on the Neelum–Jhelum and Chenab rivers. The construction of these dams would significantly reduce the availability of irrigation water in Pakistan.
At present, 65 per cent of the Pakistani population has agriculture as their only means of subsistence; therefore, preventing their access to water would mean putting not only them but also the rest of the population at risk by removing all agrarian infrastructure. Ultimately, a massive shortage of food could occur all over the country and make arid a 20 lakh acre area. Therefore, Pakistan cannot afford this severe action to take place, and for that reason Pakistan has adopted a firm stance against any modifications to the Indus Water Treaty.
Nonetheless, in the event of India’s resilience on the Indus Water Treaty, Pakistan should try to persuade its ally, China, to step into the issue and threaten India by blocking the water of the Brahamaputra River, which flows all the way from China to India and is also called the Yerling River within China. This could harm the agricultural production of five major states of India. China has also announced the construction of a hydroelectric project on this river.
Following the Vienna Convention, no country can unilaterally violate and abolish a bilateral treaty. Moreover, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Watercourses Convention, the Stockholm Declaration, the Mar del Plata Action Plan, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prevent India from blocking water access to Pakistan, which would directly constitute a human rights violation because access to water is a basic human right and is necessary for survival of every living being.
Tensions have also been escalating since the outrageous statement of the Indian home minister threatening Pakistan that it may get divided into 10 parts. However, the Interior Minister of Pakistan Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan responded to that statement in the following way:
Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) dream of splitting Pakistan is nothing but a dream. Oppressing masses in India is part of the India’s policy and India has been interfering in Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan.
In light of this, the World Bank should play its role as a mediator to resolve the water-related tensions between India and Pakistan. As per the Indus Water Treaty, the World Bank can appoint a neutral expert on the matter, whose decision is binding on both countries. It is in fact the World Bank whose mediation role has kept the Treaty alive, and without it India would already have blocked the river water flowing to Pakistan, because India has a long and contentious history of violating bilateral agreements with Pakistan. Pakistan has no reason to trust India to resolve the water dispute without the mediation of the World Bank or any other higher authorizes party. As a result, mediation is the only solution and not using this option could only result in a new Indo-Pakistan dispute, which might be more grave and complex than the Kashmir issue, as blocking the river water to Pakistan implies challenging the very survival of Pakistan.
The good news is that the World Bank has appointed a special envoy for resolving the differences between India and Pakistan, which brings hope for a peaceful resolution of the Indo-Pakistan water conflict.