Written by Tufail Ahmad
Editor of Leading Pakistani Paper:'If, in Order to Resolve Our Water Problems, We Have to Wage Nuclear War with India, We Will' – Water Disputes Between India and Pakistan – A Potential Casus Belli
Concern is growing in Pakistan that India is pursuing policies in an attempt to strangulate Pakistan by exercising control over the water flow of Pakistan's rivers. The concern is most related to Pakistan's agricultural sector, which would be greatly affected by the building of dams and by the external control of the waters of several rivers that flow into Pakistan.
(1) The issue has a layered complexity, as three of the rivers flow into Pakistan through the Indian portion of Jammu & Kashmir, the territory over which the two countries have waged multiple wars.(2)
Pakistani columnists, religious leaders, and policymakers are increasingly articulating their concern over the water dispute in terms of a traditional rivalry against India and in terms of anti-Israel sentiment that has been fostered by the country's establishment over the years. In one such recent case, Ayaz Amir, a renowned Pakistani columnist, warned: "Insisting on our water rights with regard to India must be one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy.
The disputes of the future will be about water."(3) Hamid Gul, former chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), charged: "India has stopped our water."(4) Pakistan's Indus Basin Water Council (IBWC), a pressure group that appears deceivingly authoritative as an organization whose central purpose is to address Pakistani water concerns, currently maintains near hegemony over the pubic debate of the issue. IBWC Chairman Zahoorul Hassan Dahir claimed that "India, working in conjunction with the Jewish lobby" is using most of the river waters, causing a shortage of food, water and electricity in Pakistan.(5)
The Pakistani concern involves six rivers that flow into Pakistan through northern India, including the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir and the state of Punjab, both of which have been ideologically divided between India and Pakistan since 1947. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, disagreements began to arise over sharing of river waters, leading to the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, an attempt at a resolution brokered by the World Bank.(6) Though the treaty is perhaps the most enduring pact between the two nuclear powers, it is coming under increasing strain.
Understanding the Indus River System
The Indus Water Treaty sets out the legal framework for the sharing of the waters of six rivers: the Indus River and its five tributaries. All six rivers - Indus, Chenab, Jhelum, Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi - flow through northern India into Pakistan. Under the pact, the waters of three rivers - the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum, which pass through Jammu & Kashmir - are to be used by Pakistan, while India has rights to the waters of the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi before these three enter Pakistani territory. The Chenab is the key tributary, as it carries the waters of the rest four rivers into the Indus.
The complicated origins of the Indus river system plays a key role in the water debates, as the rivers originate in and pass through a number of countries. According to the Indus Water Treaty, the following three rivers are for use by Pakistan:
* The Indus River: originates in Chinese-controlled Tibet and flows through Jammu & Kashmir.
* The Chenab: originates in India's Himachal Pradesh state, travels through Jammu & Kashmir.
* The Jhelum: rises in Jammu & Kashmir and flows into Pakistan, finally joining Chenab.
The Treaty affords India use of the following three rivers:
* The Sutlej: originates in Tibet, flows through Himachal Pradesh and Punjab before joining the Chenab.
* The Beas and the Ravi: originate in Himachal Pradesh state and flow into Pakistan, emptying into the Chenab.
Taking into account the flow of the rivers, the importance of the Chenab and the Indus becomes clear. The Chenab combines the waters of four rivers, the Jhelum, the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi, to form a single water system which then joins the Indus in Pakistan. The Indus River is considered to be the lifeline of Pakistani economy and livestock.
Pakistani Concern and Baglihar Dam
Pakistani concern regarding the water from the rivers started in the 1990s after India began constructing a hydroelectric power project on the Chenab River in the Doda district of Jammu & Kashmir. Since the Chenab is the key tributary of the Indus, Pakistani policymakers, religious and political parties, and political commentators feared that India could exert control over the waters. Such control could be used to injure the Pakistani economy and livestock, or could be used to cause floods in Pakistan by the release of water during times of war. Discussions of Pakistan's concerns are most often centralized around the Baglihar dam, though it is only one of the several water projects being developed by India in its part of Jammu & Kashmir.(7)
The first phase of the Baglihar dam, a 450-MW hydroelectric power project initiated in the 1990s, was completed on October 10, 2008. Inaugurating the project, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh noted: "It is a matter of satisfaction that the reconstruction program... [entailing] 67 projects is well under way with 19 projects completed, one of which is the Baglihar project that I inaugurated today."(8) The fact that the Baglihar dam is one of 67 development projects underway in Jammu & Kashmir raises further concerns among many Pakistanis who believe that Kashmir, having a Muslim majority, rightfully belongs to the Islamic state of Pakistan. The extensive building of infrastructure by India is therefore a cause of further Pakistani displeasure and contention.
The discussion of water easily ignites popular passion because Pakistan is increasingly confronted by an impending water crisis. In early 2009, it was estimated that Pakistan is on the brink of a water disaster, as the availability of water in Pakistan has been declining over the past few decades, from 5,000 cubic meters per capita 60 years ago to 1,200 cubic meters per capita in 2009. By 2020, the availability of water is estimated to fall to about 800 cubic meters per capita.(9) M. Yusuf Sarwar, a member of the Indus Basin Water Council, has warned that the lessening flow of water in rivers and shortage of water generally could cause Pakistan to be declared a disaster-affected nation by 2013.(10) Dr. Muhammad Yar Khawar, a scientist at the University of Sindh, released research last year based on sample surveys that warns that less than 20 percent of below-surface water in the Sindh province, previously thought to be a viable water source, is acceptable for drinking.(11)
Amidst this shortage of water, Pakistan is also confronted with a number of internal factors that amount to further strain. One columnist warned that with Pakistan's population set to jump to 250 million in just a few years' time, a shortage of water, along with that of oil, sugar, and wheat, will become a major problem.(12) Pakistan is also estimated to be losing 13 million cusecs [approximately 368,119 cubic meters/second] of water every year from its rivers into the sea, as it does not have enough reservoirs or dams to store water.(13) Further tensions arise from allegations of inequitable distribution of water between various Pakistani provinces. The Indus River System Authority (IRSA), which allocates water to provinces, averted a major political controversy between provinces in June 2009 by declaring that there would be not cut in their water supply.(14)
While a number of Pakistan's internal behaviors are responsible for the depleting water table, the construction of Baglihar dam by India has multiplied Pakistani concern. Pakistani writers warn that the dam will deprive Pakistan of 321,000 acre feet of water during agricultural season, greatly affecting wheat production in the Punjab province and leading to crop failures.(15) There are some warnings that the dam will adversely affect 13 million acres of irrigated land around the Chenab and Ravi rivers, forcing Pakistani farmers to change crops, and in the face of starvation, deepening Pakistan's dependence on food imports and burdening the country's national exchequer.(16) In an editorial published in June 2009, Pakistan's mass-circulation Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Jang said India "is nursing an unpious dream of turning the entirety of Pakistan into a desert."(17)
Under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, India is not permitted to build dams for the purpose of water storage on the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum rivers, but it is allowed to make limited use of their waters, including developing run-of-the-river hydroelectric power projects.(18) India is required to provide Pakistan with the technical details of any water project it wants to develop on these rivers before building begins.(19) Pakistan has formally raised objections on the technical specifications of the Baglihar dam, including design, size, gated spillways, and water capacity.(20) Over the past decade, India and Pakistan held a series of talks on the issue of the Baglihar dam but could not resolve the matter within the framework of the 1960 treaty.
In 2003, Pakistan formally served a final notice to the Indian government, urging it to resolve the Baglihar issue by December 31, 2003, a process that failed to yield results.(21) In 2005, Pakistan approached the World Bank for mediation. The World Bank noted that it was "not a guarantor of the treaty," but had the authority to appoint a neutral expert.(22) In 2007, the appointed neutral expert Professor Raymond Lafitte of Switzerland delivered a verdict rejecting most of the Pakistani objections.(23)
However, Professor Lafitte did require India to make some minor changes, including reducing the dam's height by 1.5m.(24) Significantly, Professor Lafitte's judgment classified Pakistani objections as "differences" and not a serious "dispute," which could have paved the way for the issue to be taken to a Court of Arbitration as envisaged in the treaty.(25)
To this day, Pakistan remains dissatisfied over the Lafitte verdict. Though India has facilitated visits by Pakistani officials to the dam site and Indian delegations have visited Pakistan to examine Pakistani claims of a water shortage in the Chenab river, the countries remain at an impasse.(26) Bilateral talks between the two countries are now increasingly focused on water disputes. Pakistan has accused India several times of completely stopping Pakistan's water from the Chenab River. In March 2008, Hafiz Zahoorul Hassan Dahir, the IBWC chairman, charged that India "completely shut down the Chenab river from the 1st to the 26th of January 2008, with not even a drop of water moving."(27) India was also accused of curtailing the water supply from the Chenab River during September-October, 2008. Due to a precedent set in the 1978 case of the Salal dam construction by India in Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan is requesting to be paid a compensation for any water shortfall.(28)
In June 2009, the Pakistani government declared that India rejected its demand for monetary compensation for the loss of water from the Chenab River. Pakistan alleged that the waters of the Chenab had been stopped by India during August 2008; however India refuted these claims, citing unreliable Pakistani statistics regarding water stoppage and loss.(29) In an editorial, the Urdu-language Pakistani newspaper Roznama Express noted: "If India continues to build dams on our rivers and stop our water, then the day is not far when our lands will become barren and this nation, that has a spectacular history of agricultural production, will be forced to import food."(30) The daily observed that during a meeting with President Asif Zardari, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured the President that he was looking into the matter, but no action was taken. In October 2008, President Zardari took "serious notice" of the issue and warned of "damage to bilateral relations" if Pakistani concerns were not addressed.(31)
A few days before President Zardari's statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated the Baglihar dam project, stating that "Pakistan's concerns about the project had been addressed."(32)
On June 6, 2009, two years after the Lafitte verdict, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi accused India of violating the Indus Water Treaty.(33) Qureshi further warned that any failure to resolve the water disputes "could lead to conflict in the region."(34) A sentiment is now emerging in Pakistan that the 1960 Indus Water Treaty has proven to function to the sole advantage of India. Ayub Mayo, the president of the farmers' lobby group Pakistan Muttahida Kisan Mahaz, declared that the 1960 pact is simply "a conspiracy to deprive Pakistan of its due share of water."(35) While the talks between the two nations regarding water-related issues are continuing into the second half of 2009, public debate in Pakistan on the subject continues to be vigorous and sentimental, raising complicated concerns of national security, traditional rivalry with India, as well as historical anti-Semitism.
The Perceived Threat
During the past two years, the debate in Pakistan about the Indian water projects in Jammu & Kashmir has gained a bitter momentum, as Pakistani leaders have begun to describe India as their eternal enemy and accuse India of trying to suffocate the Pakistani economy. Speeches by the leaders often carry an element of anti-Semitism, blaming India for acting under an international conspiracy led by Israel, the U.S. and India against the Islamic state of Pakistan.
In early 2008, an editorial in the Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Ausaf accused India of planning a "Water Bomb" strategy to economically strangulate Pakistan. The article quoted the officials of the IBWC pressure group as saying that India wants to achieve through a "water bomb" what it could not achieve through the three wars waged over the past six decades.(36) Noting that India is planning "50 dams to raid the waters of the rivers" flowing into Pakistan, the IBWC warned: "If this is not foiled, Pakistan will face the worst famine and economic disaster."(37)
In April 2008, IBWC Chairman Hafiz Zahoorul Hassan Dahir stated that India plans to construct 10 more dams on rivers streaming into Pakistan in addition to the ongoing construction of 52 new dams. "We believe that if India succeeded in constructing the proposed dams," Dahir disclosed, "Pakistan would join the list of the countries facing a severe water crisis. If we are to save Pakistan, we have to protect our waters and review our policies in Kashmir."(38)
One month later, Dahir accused India of using 80 percent of the water of the Chenab and Jhelum rivers and 60 percent of the water of the Indus, stating: "We can do nothing about what India is doing but we are concerned about the role of our government. If continued, this distribution of water would not only affect our energy but also agricultural production. We wonder as to why we are leading toward collective suicide."(39) In May 2009, Dahir described "India's water terrorism as a bigger threat than Talibani terrorism," and then added: "The day is not far when circumstances like those in Somalia, Ethiopia and Chad will emerge inside Pakistan... Between India and Pakistan, there is an extremely dreadful dispute. In an aggressive manner, India has readied a weapon for use against Pakistan that is more dangerous and destructive than an atomic bomb."(40) Dahir warned that by 2012, India will acquire the capability to completely stop the waters of the Jhelum and the Chenab.(41)
One month after the inauguration of first phase of the Baglihar project by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Jamaat Ali Shah, Pakistan's Indus Water Commissioner and liaison between the countries within the framework of the 1960 treaty, warned that India plans to make Pakistan barren by 2014 by stopping its water. At a seminar in Lahore, Shah contented that India is permitted to generate electricity from the waters of the rivers but not to stop Pakistan's water as it has on several occasions, most notably from August 19 to September 5, 2008, a suspension presumably necessary to fill up the Baglihar dam.(42) Pakistani leaders estimate that during the 36 day hiatus from September-October 2008, India deprived Pakistan of more than 1.2 million cusecs water.(43)
Defense Security Concerns
Within a week of the dam's October 2008 inauguration, Major General Athar Abbas, a spokesman for the Pakistan Army, expressed concern over the Baglihar dam, describing it as a "defense security concern."(44) Abbas stated that a number of canals, drains and artificial distributaries used for irrigation purposes are crucial during times of war.(45) The strategic importance of the Indian water projects in Kashmir is so significant that officials from the Pakistani Army headquarters attended a government meeting on the issue in February 2009 "to discuss the impact of the said dams on Pakistan's water and defense interests... The armed forces became alarmed when they learned the projects could wreak havoc... if the said dams were to collapse or malfunction."(46)
Retired General Zulfiqar Ali, former chairman of Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority expressed that by building dams on rivers in Kashmir, India has achieved military, economic and political supremacy vis-a-vis Pakistan.(47) In an editorial, the Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Khabrain accused India of using water as a weapon, proclaiming: "In order to establish its hegemony over the region [of South Asia], India is even using water as a weapon."(48) Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, a senior Pakistani politician and former Minister of Railways, has warned that Pakistan and India may go to war on the issue of water, adding: "India wants to make Pakistan a Somalia by stopping its water."(49) Addressing a seminar in late-2008, Javed Iqbal, an eminent retired justice in Pakistan, said, "the government of Pakistan should pressure the Indian government to resolve this issue; and if it does not agree, then a threat be issued that we are ready for a war."(50)
A number of Pakistani commentators warned that the water issues may incite nuclear war between the two countries. At the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a convener of the Pakistani chapter of the Kashmiri secessionist organizations' alliance, Syed Yousaf Naseem stated that Pakistan is facing a water crisis and that the Indian efforts to effect cuts in its water share from the rivers flowing into Pakistan could compel Pakistan to use unconventional weapons against India. Naseem added that: "The Kashmir issue is cardinal to Pakistan-India relations. Unless this issue is resolved, the Damocles' sword of a nuclear clash will remain hanging over the region. Kashmir is very important for Pakistan and a delay in the resolution of this issue will jeopardize the peace of the region."(51)
The warning of nuclear war between the two neighbors has been reiterated by multiple sources, including veteran Pakistani editor Majeed Nizami.(52) Even former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a center-right politician who was responsible for conducting the 1998 nuclear tests, warned in May 2009 that "the issues of water and Kashmir must be resolved as early as possible so that the clouds of war between Pakistan and India can be eliminated forever."(53) A similar linking between water issues and Kashmiri emancipation has been articulated by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of jihadist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. In an address to a group of farmers in Lahore last year, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed warned that the "water problem cannot be resolved without liberating Kashmir from India."(54) Syed Salahuddin, the chairman of the Muttahida Jihad Council, a network bringing together nearly two dozen Pakistan-based militant organizations, warned in October 2008 that jihad against India in Jammu & Kashmir will continue until the territory is liberated.(55)
Blaming the Jews
Though a few Kashmiri secessionist organizations maintain their own opinions on the water matters, Pakistan's water rows with India are essentially bilateral in nature.(56) However, religious and political commentators in Pakistan often frame the issue in terms of an international conspiracy involving the Jews and Israel.
Majeed Nizami, editor-in-chief of Pakistan's influential Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt, inserted anti-Israel sentiments in an article that primarily described India as the "eternal enemy of Pakistan."(57) Nizami aaccused India of blocking water from the Chenab River and further proclaimed that India wants to destroy Pakistan, saying: "Our crops are not getting water. If this situation continues, Pakistan will become Sudan and Somalia."(58) Nizami elaborated on the international threats faced by Pakistan, proclaiming that Pakistan's fight is with the "Three Satans": India, the U.S. and Israel. Nizami accused these satanic nations of being united against Pakistan because Pakistan is the only Islamic power with nuclear capability. He added: "If, in order to resolve our problems, we have to wage a nuclear war with India, we will."(59)
At a seminar organized by Nazaria-e-Pakistan Foundation in April 2008 entitled "Water Crisis - Challenges Faced by the Nation and Their Solutions," Majeed Nizami went to the extent of declaring that "the Hindus [of India] had decided to make Pakistan barren even before 1947," i.e. before Pakistan was created.(60) Presiding over the seminar was Gen. (ret) Hamid Gul, former ISI chief, who addressed the Indian dams on rivers from Jammu & Kashmir by warning: "The nation needs to be determined.
If necessary, India's dams will be blown up."(61) Though the subject of the seminar was water crisis in Pakistan, Gul went on to add: "Two states came into existence in 1947 and 1948: one, Pakistan; two, Israel. The two are threats to each other. Ultimately, only one of them will survive.... Pakistan can be saved by making a role model of the Prophet [Muhammad]."(62) Alluding to Samuel P. Huntington's Clash-of-Civilizations thesis, Gul went on to note: "At this point, the matter is not of a war between civilizations, but that of a clash between systems. Islam is a humanity-loving religion. The West is fighting the last battle for its survival."(63)
Hafiz Zahoorul Hassan Dahir too has repeatedly accused India of working "in cooperation with the Jewish lobby" on its power projects on the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers in order to stifle the Pakistani economy.(64) In an article, Dahir accused India of working on a "mega plan of water aggression against Pakistan," observing that, "the practical objective of this plan is to ensure that Pakistan is reduced to being a colony of India..... A consortium has been set up in cooperation with the Jewish lobby, three other nations, two multinational firms, one trans-national NGO, secret agencies of three countries, including the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) of India, are involved."(65) In another public statement, Dahir said that "with the cooperation of the Jewish lobby, India has opened a battlefront of water war aimed at making Pakistan's fertile lands barren."(66)
In an editorial concerning the water issues, the Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Ausaf also attacked Israel. Accusing the Pakistani government of not developing a counter-strategy to confront India's "dangerous ambitions," the article alluded to external supporters of India's anti-Pakistani policy, claiming that, "India was given easy rides which helped it complete most work on Baglihar dam."(67) The Roznama Ausaf editorial added that "with the aid of Israel, India also managed to build a fence on the working boundary and on the Line of Control [in Kashmir]. It was with Israeli help that India installed sensitive equipment on the working boundary and Line of Control to monitor the movement of Kashmiri freedom fighters."(68)
The International Conspiracy
In April 2009, former member of Pakistani parliament and Emir of Jamaat-e-Islami in the Sindh province Maulana Asadullah Bhutto said: "India is Pakistan's eternal enemy and from day one until now has been engaged in destroying Pakistan. It first occupied Kashmir through a conspiracy, thereafter cut off our eastern arm [creating Bangladesh] and for the past several years now has been stealing Pakistan's share of water... India is using Pakistan's water and is engaged in efforts to make our lands barren."(69)
The Pakistan-India water dispute was discussed by the Majlis-e-Shura (executive council) of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan in May 2009. In a resolution adopted at the end of the meeting, the Jamaat-e-Islami condemned "water aggression" by India and described it as "a dreadful international conspiracy to make Pakistan face a situation like [the drought-stuck] Ethiopia by making Pakistan's fertile lands barren."(70)
At another meeting organized by the Jamaat-e-Islami in Lahore, Syed Salahuddin, a jihadist commander based in Pakistani Kashmir, explained: "An attempt is being made to change the character of the population of Kashmir by inhabiting it with Hindus [from other parts of India] depriving Pakistan of water. Until now, India has not accepted the existence of Pakistan. The 160 million people of Pakistan support the Kashmiri mujahideen [militants fighting against India in Kashmir], making this fight the essence of Pakistan's national interest. The Israeli and Brahman [elite Hindu caste] imperialism can only be defeated by jihad and the use of force. Jihad will continue to liberate every corner of Kashmir from the Indian occupation."(71)
Although bitter feelings and heated public debates are likely to persist in the years ahead, the people and leadership of Pakistan generally accept that there is nothing that Pakistan can do, especially in light of the judgment delivered in February 2007 by the World Bank-appointed neutral expert Professor Raymond Lafitte. In an editorial, the Pakistani daily The News observed: "The only way to avoid problems arising is for the 1960 accord to be respected. India has, on more than one occasion, attempted to violate its spirit if not its letter, by seeking loopholes and technical flaws that can be used to its advantage. But in all this, there is also another message. The interests of the two countries are so closely linked, that they can be protected only by establishing closer ties. A failure to do so will bring only more episodes of discord, over river water, over dams, over toxic dumping in drains and over illegal border crossings...."(72)
In late June 2009, Pakistani Water and Power Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf observed that India does have a right to build dams, but that it cannot stop the flow of water into Pakistan in order to fill the dams.(73) In fact, Jamaat Ali Shah, Pakistan's Indus Water Commissioner, gave a rare candid interview in April 2008, stating that the Indian water projects currently undertaken do not contravene the provisions of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. Noting that India can construct dams within the technical specifications outlined in the treaty, Shah acknowledged: "In compliance with the Indus Water Treaty, India has so far not constructed any storage dam on the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum rivers. The hydroelectric projects India is developing are on the run-of-the-river waters of these rivers, projects which India is permitted to pursue according to the treaty."(74)
*Tufail Ahmad is Director of Urdu-Pashtu Media Project at The Middle East Media Research Institute (www.memri.org ).