Water for peace

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Javaid Iqbal

From the signals that are appearing from Delhi and the office of the prime minister, it is clear that in the wake of the Uri attack the intention is to run the whole gamut of options before the alarmed gaze of Pakistan, and that anyone else who is worried about the escalating tension in South Asia, without actually implementing any of them. The carrying out of any one of them will incur loss beyond conceivable imagination. Prime Minister Narnedra Modi’s meeting with the experts on the Indus Water Treaty, while offering tuition to Mr Modi on the nuances of the natural flow of water from one country and state to another, is also intended for intimidation than execution. If he cannot resolve the water crisis between two states of his own country, and cannot avert the damage to human life and property due to this internal water dispute, is it logically possible that he can, with all the right wing zealotry at his command, muster support and courage to review or revisit the terms of the Indus Water Treaty.
Not just Kannadigas and Tamils, even the disquiet in Punjab about the flow of water to lower riparian states has remained undiminished. A treaty that has on it signatures of respected international bodies like the World Bank cannot be unilaterally amended without inviting severe response from the other parties as well as the allied parties that can easily turn on and off the water flow of water bodies. Like China, for example, which has economically and politically invested in Pakistan, can — if such a crisis arises — consider the option of gearing up to the favour of her diplomatic partner. In a sense, China is to India what Karnataka is to Tamil Nadu in terms of the water flow of Indus as well as the Brahmaputra. If Karnataka can bring public pressure to mount on government to stop the flow of water as an upper riparian state, why can China not do the same if its international interests are harmed in the disputed region? The aggressive meetings are a cheap disguise to show that the current threatening gestures match with the past war rhetoric.
A more rational course would be to look at the Indus Water Treaty objectively. It is a natural water body passing through a disputed region. Anything within the disputed region is not the exclusive property of any party until the final resolution. Water is a disputed property within a disputed region. This property is a matter of temporary trust and has to be treated as such without arrogating to oneself any claim that alters the current position. Last time one of the parties to the Treaty suspected that the height of a dam had been raised by some feet without consultation with the other party, a decision that was felt to breach the agreement of the Treaty, even that action did not go away without a good degree of internationalisation.
From that it is imaginable what might be the repercussions if the Treaty is used against the interests of the other country. The step would have both domestic and international unconstructive reactions, not to mention the disadvantageous interpretations. Though it is not the focus of the discussion now, but it is a matter of fact that if the terms of Accession with India had been respected, it might have been Jammu and Kashmir that could have used its political weight to discuss with Pakistan the terms of the Treaty and not India. It is because the original document, which has been damaged beyond recognition, mostly against the interests of Jammu and Kashmir, only provided for three subjects that came under the domain of Indian sovereignty. That document has been worn out so much that instead of being an indispensable party to the water problem, the people of the disputed region have been rendered helpless spectators to what is being perceived as the brinkmanship of neighbours.
In the current scenario of ongoing siege and killings, the use of water by one country against another, is ridiculous beyond belief. The focus should have been the scorching circumstances in Kashmir and not vain, threatening gestures. Instead of using the Indus Water Treaty to wage a water war against Pakistan, the Treaty could be used to wage peace.
There is something else that the government of India can do but has not even contemplated. That is to plead for the modification of the Indus Water Treaty in favour of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The dominant and justifiable perception right now in Jammu and Kashmir is that the rivers Chenab and Jhelum are exploited by the government of India for the production of hydro-electricity, most of which goes to various parts of northern India. Precisely because of which a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir termed the Treaty as an “abomination” that should not have materialised in the first place, or at least not come into shape after bypassing the vital interests of the people of Kashmir.
The hydro-electric dams made on the rivers that form Indus have not benefited the people of the disputed state. The Modi government would do well to realise that the Indus Water Treaty has damaged the economic interests of Jammu and Kashmir. There are villages close to the hydel projects of Uri and Baghliar where electricity is unavailable but the same is supplied to far off regions in India for peanuts in the form of royalties to the government of Jammu and Kashmir. This measure, if implemented, harmonises well with the words of the late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, an architect of the PDP-BJP alliance, to whom the credit goes for raising popular awareness against the theft of hydro-power from Jammu and Kashmir.
The usage of the Treaty for the interests of the people of the disputed region makes sense both in the current circumstances when there is a mass uprising against the government as well as in the historical context of ‘broken promises’. The Treaty has survived three wars, part of the reason being that the party that should have formed a primary intervention to the agreement, has, for obvious reasons, been subjected to silence and exploitation just like it has been in other spheres. The Treaty can be changed to amend the water wrongs in Kashmir, and not deployed as a war tool against a neighbour.