AS the tension continues to mount on the Indian government to act on the Uri aggression from Pakistani militants, the attention has now turned to the 56-year old Indus Water Treaty. The Indus Water Treaty covers six northern rivers and their tributaries, namely Ravi, Beas and Sutlej (Eastern rivers) and Indus, Jhelum and Chenab (Western rivers). Out of these, the Western rivers have been attributed to Pakistan and Eastern to India. Out of mutual trust and goodwill, this treaty has largely been kept as it is in all these years. In fact, it also survived unscathed in the three wars between India and Pakistan. But now, in the aftermath of Uri attack and the glaring lack of counter-operations on the Indian side, the treaty has become the focal point of discussions.
The World Bank acted as brokerage in the 1960 treaty and it was anticipated that this would go on to bridge the relations between the two rivals and bring peace to the region. While the treaty survived, the relations are clearly far from peaceful. We can say, in a superficial manner, that India has a huge advantage their. All those rivers flow from India which gives it almost complete control over the flow and use before they enter Pakistan. Under the Treaty, India is under obligation to let flow the waters of the Western Rivers except for the following uses: Domestic Use, Non-consumptive use, Agricultural use as specified and Generation of hydroelectric power as specified. Clearly, India has advantage over Pakistan as it has not made use of these provisions over Western rivers in any great manner. Pakistan, on its part, is quite paranoid about any activity from the Indian side on these rivers.
So, what can be done about it? Let us take a look at the specifics -
Option 1: Constructing a hydroelectric power plant
This is arguably the best option for India. It can kill two birds with one stone. First it will get Pakistan extremely nervous citing more control in the hands of the Indian government and it will help develop Jammu and Kashmir region. This is the arguably the lowest risk option if India presses for some change. The only issue is that the project will take a long time to implement and Pakistan won’t sit quiet while it goes through.
Option 2: Agricultural and domestic use
The northern region is not exactly a rain-starved region but we could still divert waters where the need arises. The scale of this use will not be comparable to that of a hydroelectric plant but the increased use of water could still pose a threat to Pakistan. The water could be diverted elsewhere through a normal dam as well for uses other than agriculture.
Both of the above options are not as easy to implement as one might think. First of all, the treaty was brokered by World Bank and breaking or threatening renegotiations won’t go down well with the international community. Provided we do press for renegotiations, we could in-turn face the same problem with China (where Indus river originates) and Bangladesh (where we already have an established treaty over the Ganges). Secondly, even if India dares to break/renegotiate the treaty, these option are still time and resource consuming. It might take years to actually see an impact on Pakistan and its economy from these alternatives.
How might Pakistan react?
Pakistan has already over-reacted to growing US-India ties and the LEMOA agreement. If we were to gauge the reaction of Pakistan, we have to understand its complete dependence on those waters. About 65% of Pakistan’s irrigation requirement is fulfilled by the Western rivers. The contribution of agricultural produce to Pakistan’s GDP is 21% and employs almost half the population (45%) directly or indirectly.
By any estimate, the devastating economic losses that Pakistan will face if any modification is done to the treaty can bring Pakistan’s already unstable economy to its knees, not to mention the potential loss of fields and lives. Consequently, Pakistan might get even more aggressive and plan more such attacks on the Indian soil.
What India can do?
Due to difficulties in implementing both the options (time, resources etc.), the best option perhaps, is to let Pakistan know that India can hurt them badly if it doesn't act decisively on these attacks and stop the proxy war in Kashmir.
Diplomatic success so far
What some people fail to realise in this case is, India has already gained quite a success in Pakistan. It would be exceptionally naive to assume that India’s intelligence is not helping the Baloch cause. The difference between Pakistan’s operations and India’s operations is that the whole world sees Pakistan using terrorists to attack India but nobody knows about india’s alleged covert success in Baluchistan. This bolsters India’s international image and we saw this at the UNGA that Sharif found no response to his Kashmir plea. On the other hands, in the aftermath of Uri attacks, all major countries released statements supporting India which proves how successful the latter has been in the diplomatic arena.
India cannot always be on the defensive but rather than actually going on to the offensive, it is perhaps better to let Pakistan know that it can go on the offensive through options like renegotiating the Indus Water Treaty. It would help India gain leverage and keep Pakistan in check. India’s diplomacy, contrary to what many presume, has not been a failure but rather a rousing success. Unlike the previous years when the world demanded resolution to Kashmir issue, now there are no takers to Pakistan’s demands and all the major countries side with India.