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Indus Water Treaty: Should India Turn The Tap Tight? – Analysis

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By Brig Anil Gupta*

Ever since the Uri misadventure carried out by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists, India has put in cold storage the policy of “strategic restraint” and declared an all-out offensive against Pakistani deep state encompassing the political, diplomatic and economic offensives. In the words of Shekhar Gupta, “a new history takes shape now”. India has also displayed its resolve to use the military option by carrying out punitive surgical strikes against the terrorist launch pads across the Line of control (LoC). India has also exposed the bluff of nuclear black mail of Pakistan.

Pakistan has not only been exposed globally as an epi-centre of terror but also projected as an irresponsible nation, a “rogue state”. It has been isolated beyond redemption and is on the verge of being declared a “terror state” thus leading to its global economic isolation. As it is Pakistan is a cash-starved nation with its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) bordering around 2.5% and largely dependent on the doles it receives from US and other countries ironically for fighting against terror. India, therefore, has many options of causing grave damage to Pakistan other than the ultimate military option. The review of Indus Water Treaty (IWT) is one such option but many politicians and analysts in India are raising the China bogey to deter India. But the optimists are of a contrary view and feel that China is unlikely to retaliate by stopping flow of Indus/Sutlej if India decides to tighten the Indus tap that would result in a famine like situation in Pakistan.

A lot has been written and discussed in the media about IWT. One truth is non-negotiable and that is the treaty is very unfair and unjust to the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). J&K is allowed to use only 20% of the western tributaries of Indus namely Jhelum and Chenab that flow through the state into Pakistan. Pakistan has been granted exclusive use rights of these rivers and Pakistan’s economy and livelihood of its vast majority of population is dependent on the water of these rivers. The use of water in J&K is restricted to non-consumptive, domestic use.

Restrictive conditions have been laid down for construction of hydro-electric projects, generation of electricity and navigation. J&K is a power deficit state despite huge hydro-electric potential as well as lacks adequate drinking water. The irrigation facilities are also minimal and inadequate. Why should the people of J&K suffer due to faulty provisions in the IWT? The preamble of the treaty states that both nations want to limit and fix the utilisation of the waters of Indus system “in a spirit of goodwill and friendship.” In an environment, perpetrated by Pakistan, where there is neither goodwill nor friendship India is well within its rights to review the treaty.

According to Maharaj K Pandit, a prominent journalist, “India should let Pakistan know that Pakistanis, over the years, have got their geography wrong- Kashmir is not its jugular vein, the Indus surely is”. Pandit is partly right because the Pakistanis are claiming Kashmir to be their jugular vein as a mere rhetoric but the fact is that they fully understand the importance of Indus waters and their concern for Kashmir and Kashmiris is only theatrics. Their interest lies purely and solely in controlling the Indus Waters.

More than 70% of water used for irrigation of cultivable lands in Pakistan which produce 90% food grains and contribute 1/4th to its national GDP, flows into Pakistan from J&K. More than 60% of foreign exchange earnings of Pakistan are attributable to the Indus basin agriculture. Why it is that mere mention of IWT sends shivers across the border and their leadership starts terming it as an ‘act of war’? India is in a position to create famine like conditions in Pakistan if she decides to regulate the water of these rivers in her own territory, i.e., J&K.

Apart from agriculture it would also have an adverse effect on the domestic water supply in Pakistan. With empty granaries, no water and failed economy the deep state of Pakistan will be forced to come on its knees. To complicate the matters further Pakistan’s fresh water resources are declining rapidly. Therefore, Pakistan is almost totally dependent on the Indus water flowing from India, a major strategic vulnerability. India is thus in a position to cause a major catastrophe in Pakistan, without use of force, by squeezing Indus river waters. Even ‘maximising exploitation’ of our own share of water can create unbearable problems for Pakistan. The preceding analogy does not take into consideration the climate change and global warming leading to rapid depletion of Himalayan glaciers which will also add to Pakistan’s woes since the Indus is most vulnerable to global warming.

Now let us examine the China bogey being raised by some to caution India to go slow. The newspaper headlines announce, “Brahmaputra tributary blocked by China for dam, may hit water flow”. The pessimists are terming it as a warning to India since the blockade has come at the time when India has renewed the focus on IWT. It is important to get a few facts clear to put the apprehensions to rest. Firstly, the proposed dam on Yarlung-Tsangpo is not new but an old project and it is run of the river project meaning flow of the water cannot be stopped. Secondly, this is not the only project on this river, there are five other projects also underway which are also run of the river projects. Thirdly and the most important, about 67% catchment area of Brahmaputra that contributes to its waters is in the Indian Territory. Fourthly, not only Tsangpo but other major rivers like Lohit, Subhansiri, Siyom and hundreds of other small tributaries merge into Brahmaputra, immediately after entering India in Arunachal Pradesh. India has satellite imagery of all these barrages. The ultimate fact is that even if China wants it cannot divert water from these rivers to main land China because there are too many mountain ranges in between and cannot be passed through. China’s effort at channelizing these waters northwards by constructing U-bend barrages also did not meet success.

So, China can do very little or nothing in retaliation and India need not worry in case it wants to tighten the Indus tap against Pakistan. India should go ahead and review the treaty to undo the injustice done by the treaty to the people of Jammu & Kashmir. There is need for more hydro-electric projects in the state to generate much needed employment and harness the water of these rivers. There is also a need to divert the water of Chenab through a canal network to the barren Kandi belt of Jammu region in order to usher prosperity in the region.

*Brig. Anil Gupta is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: [email protected]


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South Asia Monitor

South Asia Monitor

South Asia Monitor is an independent web journal and online resource dealing with strategic, political, security, cultural and economic issues about, pertaining to and of consequence to South Asia and the whole Indo-Pacific region. Developed for South Asia watchers across the globe or those looking for in-depth knowledge, reliable resource and documentation on this region, the site features exclusive commentaries, insightful analyses, interviews and reviews contributed by strategic experts, diplomats, journalists, analysts, researchers and students from not only this region but all over the world. It also aggregates news and views content related to the region.

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