PAKISTAN-INDIA WATER CONFLICT
Nature, Impacts and Solutions
For over seven decades, water has been a principal reason behind conflict between Pakistan and India. The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) resolved the issue to a great extent, but it did not prove fruitful in the long run because of frequent violations by India. The recent statements of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, about blocking the flow of river water from India to Pakistan have further conflagrated the conflict. Similarly, the current upstream water infrastructure projects by India have heightened the tensions. Because of all this, Pakistanis and their source of living and their life itself are under a dire threat.
At the time of partition, the boundary line between Pakistan and India was drawn under the Radcliffe Award. Consequently, India became the upper riparian country and Pakistan the lower riparian. In this way, water in rivers that flow through Pakistan comes from India. However, right after the partition, India prevented the river flow into Pakistan. As Pakistan’s agricultural structure, which makes the backbone of the national economy, depends heavily on river water for irrigation, it affected the country badly. For this reason, Pakistan contacted the international community to resolve this issue. After the involvement of the World Bank as mediator, a treaty was signed in 1960 between the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and President of Pakistan, Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan, under the name of “Indus Waters Treaty.” The terms of the treaty generally stated that the waters of the three Western Rivers, namely Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, would be available for the unrestricted use of Pakistan; and India was granted unrestricted use of the waters of the three Eastern Rivers – Sutlej, Ravi and Beas. This obliged both the neighbouring countries to cooperate and allow the flow of waters of the rivers that lay in their territory but even though their water was to be used by the neighbouring country. The IWT did an outstanding job on its part. However, India’s flagrant violations of the treaty have rendered it irrelevant, and Indians are acting as if the treaty was never “signed” by them.
In 1999, India announced the construction of Baglihar dam on Chenab River that the treaty had given for the exclusive use of Pakistan. This act of India is a violation of the IWT because it can restrict the flow of Chenab water to a drastically low level.
Similarly, Modi also announced to review the IWT but that would never be acceptable to Pakistan. Construction of other dams on Chenab, Jhelum and Neelum rivers has also been initiated by the Indian government. These projects include 330MW Kishanganga project on Neelum river and 850MW Ratle hydropower project on the Chenab. Pakistan has serious objections to all these projects. They are not only in violation of the IWT but are also a serious threat to Pakistan’s economy as it is heavily dependent on agriculture. Therefore, the restricted flow of water would affect crops badly.
Due to these Indian activities, there is a 50 percent cut in the flow of all three rivers in Pakistan, especially Chenab. India is defending its right to construct dams. It takes a stance that the decline in the flow of rivers is due to lower rainfall because of climate change. However, Pakistan is of the opinion that rainfall is not a major contributor to the river flow. Moreover, 50-80 percent of water in the Indus system comes from the melting of glaciers and snow. Similarly, rainfall cycles have been disturbed; therefore, there is either prolonged drought or pre- and late-monsoon. Pakistani officials explain that India is planning to divert the upstream river course, thus reducing the volume of water in downstream rivers.
India has waged a water war against Pakistan. Around 70 percent of Pakistan’s agricultural region is in Punjab, followed by Sindh. Therefore, Indian dams will adversely affect Punjab’s fertile land. Crop failure will lead to food scarcity as well as a curtailed source of earning of more than half the Pakistanis. The reason is that 45 percent of the labour force of Pakistan is employed in agriculture. In the same manner, the health of the people will also be badly affected. Besides this, there will be negative impacts on agricultural infrastructure because the water in canals and barrages come from western rivers.
India is not only violating the IWT but also several other international laws about human rights. According to several international conventions, it is a basic human right to have enough drinking water. The construction of dams by India on western rivers, which the IWT allocated to Pakistani, is depriving the people of Pakistan from the basic human necessity of water. Just like violations of human rights in Kashmir, India has started doing the same in Pakistan as well.
According to article 55 of the UN Charter, it is necessary to ensure “higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development”; water falls in this domain. Article 25 of “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” highlights the significance of access to basic necessities of one’s life. Moreover, “The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” (CEDAW) says that water is crucial for the quality of life for a woman. A woman living in a rural area needs not only water for drinking purposes but also for rearing her children, for fulfilling family as well as domestic needs. Besides, “The Convention on the Rights of the Child” says that a child needs nutritious food and clean drinking water for normal and proper growth. Furthermore, Article 10 of “The United Nations Watercourses Convention” says that water for drinking purposes is more important than water for agricultural, industrial and other needs. The list of international conventions on the availability of water as a basic human need is long. However, India is clearly going against all of them and such actions on the part of it present its inhuman image to the world.
It is time for Pakistan to take immediate measures to tackle the problem of water shortage before it gets too late. Relying only on the IWT is no more an option because India holds no reverence to it nor for the promises it had made to the international community. Pakistan needs to look for other solutions like bilateral talks. In such a process, both countries should discuss IWT-related issues. One thing that Pakistan needs to take special care of in this regard is that it must send experts for the bilateral talks with proper beforehand preparations instead of politicians and bureaucrats. Other than this, the will of the officials is the most important thing. Many projects of different natures are started in Pakistan and the citizens are asked to donate for that as much as they can, but, unfortunately, the projects keep on delaying for long without apprising the citizens of the actual reason. Therefore, the corrupt and lazy officers need to be out of this matter now; otherwise, the situation will further deteriorate. In addition, India must facilitate Pakistan by allowing visits to the under-construction dam projects. It will help Pakistan to know about the height, size and proper location of the dams.
In addition, Pakistan needs to construct dams and complete the new and ongoing projects in time. It is one of the weakest points of Pakistan which India uses in its favour. Due to a fewer number of dams, Pakistan is wasting huge amounts of water that falls into the sea without adding any benefit to the country. To stop the wastage of water and prevent India from further violations of the IWT, Pakistan needs dams. For example, if Diamer-Bhasha dam is constructed in due time, India will have a limited chance to construct dams on upstream rivers. These dams will increase the water-life of Pakistan, which is only 32 days at present (extreme danger zone). The construction of Dasu and Mohmand dams will also increase water-life in Pakistan. The focus should not be on mega projects only but the construction of medium and small dams should also be among the top priorities of the concerned authorities. Plus, rainwater along with river water should also be stored. Similarly, it is important to spread awareness about using water carefully. In addition, Pakistan needs to shift its agriculture sector to other techniques like drip irrigation. In this way, less water will be required to irrigate crops.
To sum up, access to water is a basic human right and a necessity for life as well. However, the construction of dams by India on western rivers that have been allocated to Pakistan has already created a threatening situation in the country. These dams must be good for Indians but they are violating human rights of Pakistanis. The construction of dams curtails the volume of water in eastern rivers that will not only produce a shortage of water and food but will bring unemployment and many other social evils. At this level, Pakistan and India are at war but if the conflict is not resolved, local people will become thirsty of each other’s blood because of water scarcity. Therefore, it is indispensable now to construct dams as soon as possible. Plus, it is time to bring on new agricultural and industrial ways that would use less amount of water. The resolution of this conflict is vital to the peace of both Pakistan and India otherwise the war between the two nuclear powers will destroy the whole world.