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October 19, 2019

The water threat


October 19, 2019

Responding to remarks by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Foreign Office said in the weekly briefing on Thursday that any attempt by India to stop water supply to Pakistan would be seen as an act of aggression. Modi while speaking at a ceremony recently had said that water required by Indian farmers had flown to Pakistan for too many years and that an end would be put to this. He said the water would instead be distributed to farmers in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. This would be an extremely grave violation of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. Under the agreement, water from three rivers Sutlaj, Ravi and Beas can be utilized by India while that from the other three rivers Indus, Jhelum and Chenab would go to Pakistan without hindrance. There have been disputes in the past over the construction by India of dams on rivers, the waters of which are intended for Pakistan under the treaty. Each of the rivers flows from the Indus which itself has its mouth in India-occupied Kashmir.

Both countries suffer severe water shortages and analysts have warned that the issue could lead to tensions and in the worst-case scenario even conflict in the region. The India media has quickly picked up on Modi’s alarming words and harsh language, once again creating hype by suggesting that Pakistan and its 220 million people would soon go thirsty and Indian lands would turn green. While Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has once again spoken of finding solutions to problems including that of Kashmir, the threat of blocking water is one that has always haunted Pakistan. Commentators writing or speaking on the issue at international forums have warned the fourth major war between the two countries could involve water. Two of these wars have been fought over Kashmir.

Pakistan will need to act quickly. The Indian government remains in an aggressive mood though some of its hype over Kashmir has gone down following the UN General Assembly. However, the cabinet in New Delhi is made up of hawks and Pakistan remains a subject of attack in many speeches delivered by ministers. In the past, the World Bank and other bodies have had to intervene to resolve issues over water between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours. At this point, Pakistan will need to plan out a strategy and find as many friends as it can in the international community, so that it is prepared for any antagonistic action by India. We hope such action will not be taken and the interests of billions of people who live in the Subcontinent will be put before politics and populist threats to go against agreements reached in the past over the sharing of resources.

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