KARACHI, Pakistan / NEW DELHI, India
Weeks of tensions between Pakistan and India triggered by a militant attack in Indian-administered Kashmir appear to have finally faded, but now an irate New Delhi has opened a new front, this time concerning water.
India on Sunday said it stopped more than a half-a-million acre-feet of water of three eastern rivers from flowing into Pakistan, a move experts reckon is unlikely to affect India’s neighbor.
Arjun Meghwal, the union minister of state for water resources, confirmed the latest development Sunday, that water from the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers had been stopped.
“Some 0.53 million acre-feet of water has been stopped from going to Pakistan and has been stored. Whenever Rajasthan or Punjab state needs it, that water can be used for drinking and irrigation purposes,” Meghwal told reporters in his home town of Bikaner.
The waters of the three eastern rivers — allocated to India — average 33 million acre-feet.
“This has nothing to do with Pakistan, as India has not stopped our share,” Syed Jamat Ali Shah, Pakistan’s former water commissioner, told Anadolu Agency.
“Instead, India has stopped the additional water that flows into Pakistan due to spillover or leakages in the dams on the three eastern rivers.”
Under the 1960 water treaty between the two countries, he noted, Pakistan has no claim on the three eastern rivers.
“This is actually India’s own water that it has stopped from flowing into Pakistan. We have never accounted for this additional water. If it is available, we use it. And if not, we don’t have to bother about that,” he said.
Shah said Pakistan could only object if India stopped water from the three western rivers, which, he claimed, it cannot do.
The two longtime rivals share the water of six rivers under the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), a water-sharing agreement brokered by the World Bank in 1960.
Under the agreement, the waters of the eastern rivers — the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi — have been allocated to India, while the three western rivers — the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — go to Pakistan.
Pakistan accuses India of “continuously” violating the treaty by building dams on the western rivers, whereas New Delhi thinks Islamabad controls more water than New Delhi as a result of the treaty.
India is also locked in a water dispute with China on Beijing’s construction of dams and proposed diversion of the Brahmaputra River, which originates in Tibet and provides a third of India’s needs for irrigation.
Already volatile relations between Islamabad and New Delhi were further strained after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while suspending talks on the water-sharing dispute, threatened to scrap the treaty after a 2016 attack on a military base that killed 19 Indian soldiers.
The threat led Pakistan to warn such a move would equate to a declaration of war.
The two sides resumed stalled talks in 2017.
– No capability
Indian and Pakistani analysts believe New Delhi is not capable of stopping water from flowing into Pakistan without building the required infrastructure.
“India wasn’t doing us any favors by releasing water to Pakistan. According to the treaty, the eastern rivers were allocated to India, so it was our right to use that water,” Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, told Anadolu Agency.
He said India was unable to fully use the water due to absence of infrastructure to properly store and divert it.
Shah, the former Pakistani water commissioner, voiced a similar view. “Though New Delhi has time and again shown its intention to dissolve the Indus water treaty, it is still not capable of stopping the waters of the western rivers.
“It will take a decade or so if India starts construction of dams and other water reservoirs on the western rivers,” he said, stressing that such a move would be “tantamount to waging a water war” and invite a strong reaction from Pakistan.
– ‘Campaign stunt’
Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political analyst, said the move by the Modi administration was a stunt meant to win voters for the upcoming general ballot.
“This [decision] is for local consumption, as the elections are just around the corner,” Ali told Anadolu Agency.
“You can expect such moves until election day,” he added, citing a number of local surveys showing a spike in the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party’s popularity following the escalation with Pakistan.
Tensions between the two neighbors escalated following a suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir in February that left more than 40 Indian troops dead.
The escalations were further fueled by dogfights between the two air forces, which resulted in the downing of two Indian jets and capture of one of its pilots who was later released earlier this month.
The two South Asian nations have fought three wars in 1948, 1965 and 1971 — two of them over Kashmir — since they were partitioned in 1947.