Pakistan Steps Up Water Dispute29 March 2010
New Delhi: Pakistani leaders have elevated a dispute over water resources to the top of Islamabad’s points of contention with India, a move that could politicise a highly sensitive issue in the drought-prone region. New Delhi fears that water from the Himalayas could emerge as a new populist dispute, on a par with the contested territory of Kashmir, between the two nuclear-armed rivals that have fought three wars over the past 63 years. “There is a co-ordinated effort in Pakistan to create another anti-India issue that can capture the popular imagination in Pakistan,” said a top Indian official. “The ‘India bogey’ is being created” with a scare over water shortages, said another. Pakistan alleges that India has failed to honour a 1960 treaty brokered by the World Bank governing the use of shared river systems, claiming that Indian hydro-electric power projects are lessening the agreed flow of water into its river systems. Indian officials insist that New Delhi has not violated the treaty and blame water shortages in Pakistan on mismanagement and inequitable sharing among the country’s provinces. “The issue of water ... is a spurious issue meant only to perpetuate animosity of the Pakistani population towards India,” said K. Subrahmanyam, an Indian defence analyst. “Jihadi terrorism will seem to be more justifiable for a Pakistani on the water issue than Kashmir.” Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, put water on a par with Kashmir in an interview with the Financial Times this month. “We want the world to concentrate so that with India we resolve all our core issues including Jammu and Kashmir and water,” he said. General Ashfaq Kiyani, commander of the Pakistani army, made similar remarks in a speech last month, and was part of a delegation to Washington that raised the issued with US officials last week. Indian officials are particularly alarmed that leaders of militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliate, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, have taken up the water issue. Jamaat-ud-Dawa claims that Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces are faced with desertification because of Indian dams and the diversion of water. At a farmers’ rally in Lahore this month, the group accused India of declaring a water war. “India is trying to hatch a deep conspiracy of making Pakistan’s agricultural lands barren and economically annihilating us,” it said. Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, said: “The government must take practical steps to secure Pakistani water. It is a matter of life and death for Pakistan.” Some analysts say that climate change justifies the modernisation of river treaties across south Asia. They warn that water stress threatens to cause conflict among populations relying on rain-fed water systems. Already mountain hydrologists can pinpoint where water stress will be greatest in the years to come. As the availability of water in Himalayan-fed river systems that support 1.3bn people drops, researchers expect increased friction between India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in a battle for resources.