India’s discrete water diplomacy

Media reports reveal that India has embarked upon secret water diplomacy to dilute the provisions of Indus Water Treaty and provide a rationale for the construction of dams on the three westerly rivers which were allotted to Pakistan under this treaty signed by Pakistan and India in 1960.  Indian Union Minster of JalShakiGajendra Singh Shekhawat, while addressing a public meeting at Bernoti of district Khatoa last month, renewed his threat of stopping the downward flow of water in rivers allocated to Pakistan. He had made the same outburst at an election rally in the India’s Punjab in May last year when he was holding the portfolio of agriculture ministry. Similar incendiary remarks had been once made by the Prime Minister NarendaraModi in election campaign.

Indian diplomats have secretly circulated a draft among its likeminded UN members about the construction of dams on rivers on which Pakistan has exclusive right as lower riparian country under Indus Water Treaty. The draft may be made public at an appropriate time after garnering diplomatic support.

Resolution of water disputes with India was also included within the ambit of composite dialogue process, which remains suspended after 26/11 Mumbai attacks. After the completion of controversial Kishan Ganga dam on the river Nellum, India has diverted bulk of its water. It has not only reduced the water flow for Nellum Jhelum hydropower project but also for the planned Kohalahydel power project on the river Neelum in Azad Azad Kashmir.  Kishan Ganga project was conceived in 1993 and at that time Pakistan had rejected its design. But later the matter was not vigorously pursued by two successive elected governments. However, President Musharraf government made it a component of composite dialogue process during 2004-06. India started construction work in 2016 and completed it in 2018. Pakistan approached the World Bank in 2016 for setting up arbitration tribunal but its plea was not entertained. The World Bank insisted on the appointment of neutral expert as a delaying tactics to give time to India to complete the Kishan Ganga dam project. Meanwhile, President World Bank informed Pakistan about the decision to pause the process regarding the appointment of tribunal and neutral expert till January, 2017. It was a covert move to allow India enough time to complete the construction work on the project.

Now India has started construction of two dams—1000 megawatts PakalDul and 48 megawatts lower Kalnai–on the River Chenab. In January last year, India agreed to allow Pakistani experts to inspect sites of these dams. The inspection was made but the issues pertaining to designs of these dams, particularly lives storage capacity, is yet to be resolved. In December last year, reports in print media revealed the drying up of River Chenab at Head Marala had affected wheat crop in the areas which get irrigation water from it. The launching and completion of storage dams on the westerly rivers is nothing but strangulation of 200 million people living in Pakistan by destroying its agriculture. Hopefully, the incumbent government will be well aware of the secret water diplomacy of India and will effectively counter it at the relevant forums.