The Narendra Modi government is looking to review the Indus Waters Treaty in a bid to send a strong message to Pakistan after the Uri terrorist attack.
The Narendra Modi government is looking to review the Indus Waters Treaty in a bid to send a strong message to Pakistan after the Uri terrorist attack. However, experts are of the view that abrogating the Indus Waters Treaty won’t help solve India’s terror problem. According to Praveen Swami, while ‘hawks’ can argue that abrogating the treaty is likely to mount a lot of pressure on Pakistan, forcing it to stop indulging in a proxy war, the plan is not workable! Swami points out that not only is such an option not sustainable legally, but strategically also would require huge investments for ‘uncertain dividends’. “Worst of all, it may actually make India’s terror problems worse, not better,” he writes in a column in the Indian Express.
The Indus Waters Treaty has been a major factor in Pakistan’s attempts to seize control of Kashmir. This is because the agricultural economy of Pakistan is said to be dependent on the rivers that come out of Kashmir. Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has time and again blamed India for indulging in ‘water terrorism’. Weeks before the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Saeed had said that the ‘Hindu India’ was building dams in Pakistan in order to ‘choke’ water supplies in Pakistan. Recently, Saeed reiterated his earlier stance, declaring that Pakistan had to seize Kashmir so that India does not use its dams on Chenab to either flood or choke Pakistan’s land. Saeed has also said that within a few years, water would be scarce because of India’s steps, and war would then be the only option.
Pakistan alleges that India cut the flow of water to the neighbouring country by 2,000 cubic feet per second in August 2008. This seared the fields across Pakistan’s Punjab and led to the speech by Saeed before the 26/11 attacks. While hawks believe that abrogating the treaty will signal India’s willingness to impose costs for Pakistan’s use of terror, that may not be the case, notes Swami. “Events of 2008 enabled the Lashkar to increase its reach and influence in swathes of Punjab,” he says, adding that Pakistan’s first response is likely to be increased terrorism to step up the heat on India. In a nutshell, while any move to step back on the treaty would hurt the agricultural economy of Pakistan, it would also strengthen the jihadist groups, says Swami. Internationally too such an option would be difficult to justify, Swami adds. How can retaliation to terrorism be imposing thirst on people, the world would question.
And finally, as pointed out earlier this would have no legal standing. When the treaty was originally signed, provisions were made only for the modification or replacement by a “duly ratified treaty concluded for that purpose between the two Governments.” In 1969, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties laid out circumstances in which treaties which do not contain a denunciation clause may be repudiated. Prior to the 1969 treaty, nation-states often resiled on treaties. While India can act as other big powers have done and ignore the law. However, Swami feels that this would come at a significant cost. For one, if India decides to act unilaterally on the Indus Waters Treaty, it may end up weakening its own case on the issue of Kashmir. While the Indus Treaty abrogation may have been marketed as a grand strategy by the hawks, Swami concludes that such a plan would best find its place in a shelf for ‘awful ideas’.