End of Modi-Obama bonhomie? After Israel and Russia, outgoing US administration meddles in Indus Waters dispute

The fabled Narendra Modi-Barack Obama friendship may have been just for the cameras.

End of Modi-Obama bonhomie? After Israel and Russia, outgoing US administration meddles in Indus Waters dispute
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) ánd US President Barack Obama in the gardens of Hyderabad House in New Delhi on January 25, 2015. (Reuters file)

The fabled Narendra Modi-Barack Obama friendship may have been just for the cameras. For the outgoing US administration led by President Obama has started something that won’t be appreciated by Prime Minister Modi as the best parting gift from the former. According to a report in Pakistani newspaper Dawn, the US has started the process for “peacefully” resolving the Indus Waters dispute between India and Pakistan. The report says the US has taken the initiative on its own without “waiting for an invitation to do so”.

Meddling in the Indus Waters Treaty dispute is the latest act of the outgoing US administration to unsettle bilateral relationship with “friendly” countries. Last week, the US Secretary of State John Kerry had irked his country’s all-weather ally Israel by suggesting a “two-state” solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and claiming that the Jewish state was ruled by “most right-wing government” in its history.

Watch PM Modi Says, ‘Blood And Water Cannot Flow Together’

In his speech, Kerry had attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for settlement-building, accusing the latter of dragging Jewish state away from democracy. A week before Kerry’s speech, the US had abstained from an anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution. Kerry said the US abstention helped preserve the two-state solution.

The US administration’s stand on the conflict was not liked by Israel, as Netanyahu said he was done with the Obama administration and ready to deal with the incoming Donald Trump administration.

On December 29, President Obama issued an order for the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies. The US also imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in alleged hacking US political groups during the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Russia has denied the hacking allegations and said Obama’s move would “harm Russian-American ties.” However, President-elect Donald Trump brushed aside the hacking allegations against Russia.

The US’ latest intervention in the Indus-Waters Treaty (IWT) would threaten the apparently blooming India-US ties. According to Dawn, Kerry met Pakistani Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and discussed options for an “amicable settlement” of the dispute. Kerry’s intervention came after World Bank President Jim Yong Kim informed him about the complaint by Pakistan against India on the Indus Waters Treaty.

A press release by Pakistani Ministry of Finance on December 30 said, “US support on principles and legal position of Pakistan on the treaty issues would be greatly appreciated,” reported Dawn.


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The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-sharing arrangement signed by then India PM Jawaharlal Nehru and then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan on September 19, 1960, in Karachi. It covers the water distribution and sharing rights of six rivers — Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum.

The agreement was brokered by the World Bank. The agreement was necessary because the source of all the rivers of the Indus basin was in India (Indus and Sutlej, though, originate in China). The treaty gave the three “eastern rivers” of Beas, Ravi and Sutlej to India for use of water without restriction. The three “western rivers” of Indus, Chenab and Jhelum were allocated to Pakistan.

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Following the Uri attack by Pakistani terrorists on September 18, which took lives of 18 Indian soldiers, India hardened its stand on IWT and also threatened to repeal it. During a meeting of officials called to review the IWT on September 27, PM Modi said “rakt aur paani ek saath nahin beh sakta” (blood and water cannot flow together).

With just a few days left for the end of Obama administration’s term, the US intervention in the IWT would certainly not be appreciated by New Delhi. In the case of Israel, Trump had assured the Jewish country to wait for January 20. It would be interesting to see how he responds to Obama’s meddling in the Indus Waters.

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First published on: 03-01-2017 at 11:37 IST