Over the last week or so, there is an increasingly shrill demand coming from the hawkish ‘foreign policy advocates’ and the right wing war mongers that as a “fitting reply” to the tragic killing of 18 of our soldiers in the condemnable Uri attack on Sept.18, India should abrogate the 1960 Indus Water Treaty between the two countries, thereby ‘choking Pakistan’ of its life giving water.
The Indus treaty gives Pakistan a major share of the three Himalayan far ‘western rivers’ Indus, Chenub and Jhelum (with some rights for limited irrigation, power generation & transport to India), while giving India full rights over the three ‘eastern rivers’ – Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. Hawks have ‘discovered’ this ‘unique possible punishment’ that can be meted out to the multiple millions of Pakistani farmers, water-stressed urban communities in Pakistani Punjab and Sindh provinces and the food security of Pakistan itself. As if “Pakistan” is not a country full of people-just-like-us, often speaking very similar languages, eating very similar foods and wearing very similar clothes, but an ugly, dangerous mythical monster that needs to be killed by any means, howsoever immoral !
What does the water of the Indus (or the Sindhu) mean to Pakistan (that land was called ‘sapta-sindhu’ in ancient times – mean anything to raging war mongers ?). This is a dry country, with average annual rainfall of less than 250 mm, less than our desert district of Bikaner and just a little over the Thar desert lands of Jaisalmer. Thus the drinking and agricultural water needs of major parts of the country is dependent on its main river system – the Indus, which irrigates around 70% of Pakistans food-basket farmlands in Punjab & Sindh. For India, the Himalayan states of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh – through which the Indus flows, have many other water sources. Thus the Indus is literally the life line for the people of Pakistan.
The critical questions are many.
- Do we have the moral right to create – assuming that it can be done – famine and starvation in a large and poor agrarian country, just to avenge a military loss or covert support to terrorism by its military/state ? Over 70% of Pakistan’s agriculture depends on the augmented Indus. What will be the Indian government’s response to the assured & subsequent global condemnation? Will Bangladesh, our friendly neighbor, ever trust India after that ?
Lets look at the ‘feasibility’ of this abominable act. To do this, Indian authorities will have to divert the largest river-flow in the western Indian Himalayas.
To ‘evacuate’ a river, you need to create another river. How do the war mongers propose to do this in high mountain territory ? By blasting through hundreds of kilometers of the high Himalayas ? Where do you divert this massive flow (several thousand cumecs at peak flow) ?
One look at the topography of the region will show you the massively mountain damaging, multi-decade ‘engineering project’ needed, to ‘divert’ Indus on to the nearest Jhelum or the next nearest Chenub This will be a massive, decades long project and will regularly cause big flood-events in Kashmir. The innumerable blasts to be used for “crating a big new river channel” will loosen the already fragile mountains, in a region that is also the most earthquake prone zone. What a grand invitation to mega disasters in our own lands ! And just recollect that the 2010 Indus floods killed 2000 in Pakistan, and displaced nearly two crores people ! Neither the Jhelum nor the Chenub possesses anywhere near the carrying capacity for this huge extra flow. Do we want to bring that kind of misery, the 2010 Indus floods – magnified by massive mountain-shaking, to Indian Kashmir, year after year ? Just to avenge a small military humiliation?
- And do take another look at the map – all the six western Himalayan rivers subject to the Indus Water Treaty – including India’s share of Ravi-Beas-Sutlej, ultimately drain into the Indus inside Pakistan. Do our Pakistan-killers plan to divert all six of them !! Madness -howsoever malignant – also has its limits.
Last but very crucial – we must not forget that as Pakistan is the lower riparian state in case of Indus and the five other rivers subject to the treaty, India is a lower riparian state for multiple rivers, from the entire Brahmaputra system in the Northeast to many lifeline rivers of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. What if China retaliates by accelerating Brahmaputra diversions ? Which country is going to support our hollow pleadings then ? China has much larger financial &
engineering capacity to do these kinds of destructive mega projects. What if China & Nepal collaborates – as India loses all moral arguments – in mega engineering on Kosi, Sharda and other rivers in Nepal territory, and teach India lessons ‘at a time and place of its own choice’ , with selective sudden flooding and choking ? Will the 300 million people in UP and Bihar take this happily for the sake of ‘revenge’ ?
Can we imagine a South Asia after this – even if it is possible at great human cost on both sides of the political border ?
The drumbeats of a crooked war are on the rise / Millions will be deprived water, as ultimate price/ Blood-thirsty war hounds know no morals / Lives, kinships, shared identities – all for sacrifice.
Soumya Dutta is a founder member of India Climate Justice platform. He is the founder national secretary of Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha (India people’s science campaign) and presently – National Convenor of BJVJ