Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is reportedly considering to review its position on the Indus Waters Treaty as the country attempts to find out ways to “punish” Pakistan without actually waging a war. The 56-year-old Indus Waters Treaty between both the countries has become a rallying point for many. It has been suggested by some politicians that India should either revisit or abrogate the treaty as it would be the easiest way to punish the neighbouring country that refuses to control terrorism emanating from its land. Many in India claim that the treaty is too one-sided, hence it requires introspection. However, the suggestion is fraught with dangers, according to experts.
On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to take stock of the treaty in New Delhi, where top officials from various ministries including External Affairs and Water Resources are expected to brief him on the pact. Signed in 1960 by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Pakistan President Ayub Khan, the treaty allocates 80% of water from the six-river Indus water system to Pakistan. Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum from the Indus water system that flows from India to Pakistan. This is a unique treaty involving a third party. It was brokered by the World Bank.
So far the treaty has survived wars and phases of frosty ties between India and Pakistan. India’s any move affecting the treaty would be closely watched by the international community. Here we provide you what experts are saying about the treaty and how any move on it by India will affect both countries.
1. Environmental damage
India may face environmental damage if it decides to scrap the treaty, while Pakistan may face draught-like conditions. India is not in a position to stop or divert the water of Indus river. It would take years of work to build huge dams or reservoirs or canals to change the flow of water. The move, however, may lead to floods in the valley.
2. Long term strategy needed
India cannot abrogate the treaty on a short notice. It takes years to divert the flow of a river. The government od India will have to prepare a long-term strategy if it intends to threaten Pakistan by diverting or stopping the water. Strategic issues expert Brahma Chellaney, recently wrote: “India should hold out a credible threat of dissolving the Indus Water Treaty, drawing a clear linkage between Pakistan’s right to unlimited water inflows and its responsibility not to cause harm to its upper riparian.”
3. May provoke terrorism further
The decision of not giving water to Pakistan may further enrage the terror elements in the country, making them intensifying their attacks on India. Even the construction works for diverting the flow of water would be on the target of terrorists all the time. To check them, India will have to deploy huge security forces. This would further drain the Indian economy.
4. Severely affect Pakistan
About 65% area of Pakistan, including the entire Punjab province, is a part of the Indus basin. Interestingly, Pakistan boasts of the world’s largest canal irrigation system because of its development of the basin, which covers over 90% of irrigated area. The water from Indus is important for the country for irrigation, drinking and other purposes. India’s decision to abrogate the treaty would affect Pakistan severely.
5. Detrimental to India
India’s decision to abrogate the treaty may be detrimental to the country’s interests in the long run. Experts say that people in Pakistan already do not like the fact that India controls its rivers, even as it has complied with the provision of the treaty sincerely. The Indian Express reports Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, head of the Earth Sciences Department, Kashmir University as saying: “In fact, the eagerness in a section of Pakistani society to wrest Kashmir originates in the desire to take control of its rivers. Any tinkering with the treaty is likely to see an intensification of Pak-backed activities in J&K.”
According to Romshoo, Indus water cannot be stopped from flowing to Pakistan, unless India is ready to inundate its own cities.
6. India can Punish Pakistan even by not stopping flow of Indus water
The Indian Express quotes Uttam Sinha of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses as saying that Pakistan can be pressured even without stopping the waters or violating any other provisions of the Indus Treaty. “We have never used our rights on the western rivers. Under the Treaty, we can make use of the waters of the western rivers for irrigation, storage, and even for producing electricity, in the manner specified. If we just do what we are entitled to under the Treaty, it would be enough to send jitters through Pakistan. It would be a strong signal without doing anything drastic,” Sinha said.
7. India should engage with Afghanistan on Kabul river development
According to Sinha, India needs to engage with Afghanistan on the development of the Kabul river that flows into Pakistan through the Indus basin. “This again can make Pakistan extremely nervous. It is in our strategic interest in any case to enhance our engagement on developmental issues with Afghanistan,” he said.
8. Irk other neighbours
India at present enjoys a moral high ground because it respects all its treaties with the neighbouring countries. The decision to abrogate the treaty would make other smaller neighbours uneasy. Not only the neighbours would be distrustful of India, even the country would not be in a position to say anything if China also takes a similar move against it. The country may also earn the ire of China. Indus originates in China and if the country decides to divert the Indus, India would lose over 35% of its river water. China is already building big dams on the Brahmaputra and it can hurt India’s interests anytime.
9. Global condemnation
Not respecting the treaty, may invite global condemnation to India as the treaty is an international agreement. At present India is on a moral high ground vis-a-vis Pakistan after the Uri attack. This would be lost if India doesn’t follow the deal. Such decision by India would automatically bring World bank in the picture and in support of Pakistan.
10. New Dimension to Kashmir issue and formal start of Water Wars
The Kashmir issue will get a whole new dimension if India withdraws from the treaty. Not only this, it would trigger the formal beginning of water wars, which experts like Chellaney have been predicting for long. Moreover, it is unlike that Pakistan would mend its ways under Indian pressure of Indus water. The will also be spillover impacts India’s withdrawal of the treaty in other countries.