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Pakistan’s Water Wars with India?

Ambassador P. Stobdan was Senior Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • February 13, 2009

    In a surprise move, Pakistan has once gain spawned the water issue on a political fast-track against India.

    On January 28, 2009, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in an article in Washington Post described water as a major issue between Pakistan and India. While congratulating the new US President Barack Obama, Zardari pleaded the US to re-hyphenate Pakistan with India on a number of accounts including the water crisis which he thought was fraught with serious consequences not only for environmental catastrophe, but also for fuelling extremism and terrorism in South Asia. He applauded Obama’s desire to engage Pakistan and India to defuse the tensions in South Asia.

    Why bring the water issue now? There could be two main reasons for it. Firstly, Pakistan is disturbed at being clubbed with Afghanistan as a troubled state, especially with Richard Holbrooke’s appointment as a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The direction by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized on the importance of “an integrated strategy” that treats the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single whole is a disturbing thing for Islamabad. Clinton intends to give a sharp focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan by mobilizing US allies and friends from around the world to stir up the faltering war on terror.

    In the op-ed piece Asif Ali Zardari urged Obama to expand special emissary Richard Holbrooke’s brief to include Kashmir and other disputes between India and Pakistan. He wrote “Much as the Palestinian issue remains the core obstacle to peace in the Middle East, the question of Kashmir must be addressed in some meaningful way to bring stability to this region.”

    He reminded the US that the situation in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India is indeed critical, but said that its severity actually presents an opportunity for aggressive and innovative action. He wrote that “the special envoy will work with India and Pakistan not only to bring a just and reasonable resolution to the issues of Kashmir and Jammu but also to address critical economic and environmental concerns.”

    Secondly, Pakistan wants to divert the world’s attention away from focus on terrorism in which Islamabad had landed itself up after 26/11 Mumbai attack. The world’s pressure on Pakistan to own the 26/11 responsibility has tarnished Pakistan’s international image as the real epicenter of terrorism.

    By raising the water issue, Pakistan wants to convey the point that it is not its professed ideology and fanaticism but water resources that fuel the fires of discontent among its people and in turn breads extremism and terrorism. Pakistan’s own media reports suggest that the water issue vis-à-vis India are being raised by the agencies other than the Pakistan Indus Waters Commission. Pakistan’s position is that India is violating the Indus Waters Treaty’s provisions by reducing the flow in the Chenab river at the Maralla headwork having adverse impact on the loss of cropped areas in Lahore, Kasur, Okara, Sialkot, Hafizabad, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad and Jhang district.

    Besides, Pakistan claimed that the flow would cause early depletion of water reserves at Mangla dam. Pakistan threatens to write letters to Muslim countries, the members of the Friends of Pakistan forum and Britain to draw their attention to the issue.

    It appears that Pakistan is keen to make water as the next catalyst for conflict with India. This is notwithstanding the fact that India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty way back in 1960s, which has been adhered to by India without tempering it despite several wars between India and Pakistan. The Treaty is being cited as a unique example of water-sharing mechanism in the world.

    Two things have emerged clearly from Pakistan’s renewed attempt to raise the water issue. Firstly, it is clear that Pakistan is unlikely to come to terms with India even if the Kashmir issue is brought to any satisfactory solution. Those who believe that Kashmir is the only dispute between India and Pakistan are highly mistaken. Pakistan has been February 2009 5 propagating throughout that the question of Kashmir is the only key to India – Pakistan relations.

    Secondly, it is also now clear that Pakistan has actually been eyeing for Kashmir’s environmental resources rather than seriously thinking about the actual life and destiny of Kashmiri people. Islamabad’s plea to Ambassador Holbrooke was to address critical economic and environmental concerns, but the failure to do so, according to Zardari could ‘fuel the fires of discontent that lead to extremism and terrorism’ comes as a stern warning.

    Pakistan wants to change the rule of the game. Is India ready for it?