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February 25, 2019

India can’t squeeze water flow to Pakistan


February 25, 2019

ISLAMABAD: BJP’s PM-in-waiting Nitin Gadkari has chipped in by saying that India will cut off water to Pakistan.

By implication Gadkari was repeating the old threat that India would retaliate, this time for Pulwama, by turning off the spigots of the three western rivers of the Indus basin that flow unhindered into Pakistan and sustains most of its agriculture and power generation. The truth is that the flow of blood can be stopped, but water will continue to flow, says report published in Asian Age Saturday.

The Indus river system has a total drainage area exceeding 11,165,000sq km. It is the 21st largest river in the world in terms of annual flow. It is also Pakistan’s sole means of sustenance.

The British had constructed a complex canal system to irrigate the Punjab region of Pakistan. Partition left a large part of this infrastructure in Pakistan, but the headwork dams remained in India, fuelling much insecurity among the Punjabi landowning elite in that country. The World Bank brokered the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan after many years of intense negotiations to allocate the waters of the Indus river basin. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Ayub Khan signed the treaty in Karachi on September 19, 1960.

According to the IWT, control over the three “eastern” rivers — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej — was given to India, while control over the three “western” rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum — to Pakistan.

Since Pakistan’s rivers flow through India first, the treaty allowed India to use them for irrigation, transport and power generation, while laying down precise regulations for India building projects along the way.

On the face of it the pact is seen as generous to Pakistan as it gives the lower riparian state 80 percent of the water of the western rivers. The main Kashmir Valley is just 100km wide at its maximum and 15,520.30sq km in area. While the Himalayas divide the Kashmir Valley from Ladakh, the Pir Panjal range, which encloses the Valley from the west and the south, separates it from the great plains of northern India.

This picturesque and densely settled Valley has an average height of 1,850 meters above sea level but the surrounding Pir Panjal range has an average elevation of 5,000 meters. Thus, the Pir Panjal range stands between the Kashmir Valley and the rest of the country and is an insurmountable barrier that precludes thetransfer of water anywhere else. And neither do the contours of the Kashmir Valley allow for more waters to be stored in any part of it. Since the waters cannot be stored or used by diversion elsewhere, it has to keep flowing into Pakistan.

The Pulwama incident has fuelled much anger within India and the Narendra Modi government, which rode to power promising to deter Pakistani-origin terrorism in India by threatening retribution is now hard pressed to deliver. Thus, the somewhat exasperated suggestion seemingly made by the Modi government that it would take a relook at the treaty. It can take a relook it till kingdom come, but the reality remains the same.

As Dr Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, head of earth sciences at the geology and geophysics department of the University of Kashmir, recently said: “Let us assume we stop the water supply for the sake of argument. Where would the water go? We do not have infrastructure to store this water. We have not built dams in J&K where we can store the water. And being a mountainous state, unlike Tamil Nadu or Karnataka, you cannot move water to another state. So you cannot stop the water technically.”

Foreign Media says, “Using water as weapon not so simple.” On Pulwama Aftermath the Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 and governs six rivers that start in India but form a crucial lifeline for Pakistan, reported NDTV.

There's just one problem: to do that, India would have to violate a long-standing treaty that is the single most successful example of cooperation between the two nuclear-armed rivals. Three years ago, after a Pakistan-based group killed 19 Indian soldiers, Modi reportedly told government officials that "blood and water can't flow together."

On Friday, Nitin Gadkari, India's water resources minister, said that there were calls for India to prevent even "a single drop of water" from going to Pakistan. But such decisions would have to be taken at "higher levels" of government.

India's rhetoric around water comes as its government is under intense public pressure to retaliate against Pakistan, and forms part of a pattern of "bombastic statements" over the past week, said Brahma Chellaney, a security expert and the author of two books on water and geopolitics.

"India can argue from a legal standpoint that Pakistan's use of terrorism fundamentally changes the essential basis of the treaty," said Chellaney. As the upstream country, India could also unilaterally decide to withdraw from the treaty, he said.

To squeeze Pakistan, India would have to build dam-like infrastructure on the western rivers, violating the treaty. "These are not temporary projects to do for a few days until Pakistan behaves," said Himanshu Thakker, coordinator of the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People. "Any project to divert, use or stop water takes decades, and decades are not a canvas on which political tensions between the two nations last."