Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Grabbing Water Resources by Zaresh Khan

In 1990, an analyst remarked in his report that, "by making water the main issue of contention, we could undertake to resolve other contentious issues. For example, by treating the Chenab River as the frontier we could establish the geographical boundaries of Kashmir. The analyst concluded his report by citing two sentences, whose interpretation is nearly the same; the first sentence was, “The Rivers hold the keys to the future conflict” and the next sentence was “The issue (Indus Waters) has the germs of future conflict.” Last summer, in agricultural heartland of Pakistan, farmers began to notice that the level of water in the river and groundwater is decreasing to a great extent. The waterways, which bisect the Punjab are fed with glacial melt waters from the Himalayas and for centuries has provided crucial irrigation for the region. According to Pakistan India is withholding millions of cubic feet of water upstream in Indian-administered Kashmir and storing it in the massive Baglihar dam in order to produce hydro-electricity.

A treaty known as Indus Waters Treaty was signed between Pakistan and India on 19 September 1960 with World Bank as a signatory. According to this treaty, Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, termed the eastern rivers, will be under the exclusive right of India and Pakistan is entitled to unrestricted use of the rivers, Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. However today that treaty is in tatters because India has repeatedly broken it, bent it, subverted it, and worked around it to reduce the amount of water to Pakistan and increase the amount of water to India. India never had any intention of living up to it or to allow any concessions to either Pakistan or Bangladesh. Water is not only a strategic resource, but also a lethal weapon which is being used and will be used in the future. India has used her dams to cause flood damage to Pakistan. According to Lt Gen (r) Hameed Gul, India has so far built 62 dams and hydro-electric units on Pakistani rivers to deprive Pakistan of water and render into a desert.

Here two important question arises, firstly the water needs of Pakistan and secondly what will India gain from stopping the waters of Pakistan. As far as the first question is concerned, Pakistan is a successful agrarian society. Punjab province of Pakistan has been blessed with 30 feet of topsoil and a host of rivers to irrigate it. About 85% of this water originates in the Western Himalayas, in India and Tibet and the rest comes in small distributaries from Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Chenab River that flows through the heart of this fertile Pakistani Punjab area is the key to the prosperity of the region. But according to a recent report, the flow of river water in Pakistan is dropping precipitately, at nearly 7% a year. The country's vast irrigation network is silting up and agricultural output will reach a crisis by 2010, with two key commodities - food grain and cotton - badly hit. And the reward goes to India. Building dams and reservoirs in Kashmir could help irrigate Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan. The trouble is that the territory required for such construction lies in Indian Kashmir. And again courtasy India, Pakistan cant build dams to fulfill its water requirements. And now the second question what is India gaining? Analyst believe that low water flows and energy deficiency have forced India to increasingly manipulate the IWT to its advantage; secondly, Delhi wants to use water as political leverage against Pakistan; thirdly, keeping up ancillary issues as a wall to keep the core issue on the backburner and lastly, to prove to the Kashmiris that Islamabad is denying them jobs and opportunities which originate from the state’s very own resources.

The Indus basin treaty in itself had the seeds of discontent as the World Bank solution violated the International Law which does not allow change of direction and the flow of the rivers anywhere in the world. River Ravi passing through Lahore was given to India. Subsequently Pakistan saw with open eyes India building dams and powerhouses on the three Western Rivers which were designed “for exclusive use of Pakistan.” this was yet another conspiracy planned against Pakistan. Pakistan has been apprehensive that in a dire need India under whose portion of Kashmir lies the origins and passage of the said rivers, would use its strategic advantage and withhold the flow and thus choke the agrarian economy of Pakistan. and the worst fears of Pakistan came true when on June 14, 2002, The Indian Minister for Power and Water, Chakravarty, said openly in a formal meeting of the IWT council held at Delhi: “When we abrogate IWT, Pakistan will be in a state of draught and Pakistanis will cry for drops of water”.

India out of its hatred and revenge for Pakistan is leaving no stone unturned to damage the integrity of Pakistan. The implications of this move of India against Pakistan will be far reaching and disastrous. The water bomb needs to be defused. No nation should deprive another of a shared resource which, thanks to geographic design, collects in a basin within its borders. The Final Settlement calls for a cross-border body that will oversee the Indus water basin and treat water as a commodity to be shared equitably. Islamabad is acting mature and so should New Delhi.

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