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Is India Planning to Cut Off Pakistan’s Water Supply?

Officials in Islamabad are worried that India might try to reduce the amount of water that flows into Pakistan in response to the death of 18 Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir last month in attacks Delhi is blaming on Islamabad. Reuters reports:

One retaliatory move being considered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is for India to “maximize” the amount of water it uses including by accelerating building of new hydropower plants, along three rivers that flow into Pakistan, a source with knowledge of a meeting attended by Modi on Monday told Reuters.

The source said India does not plan to abrogate the decades-old Indus Water Treaty. But using more of the rivers’ water is still likely to hurt Pakistan as the Islamic Republic depends on snow-fed Himalayan rivers for everything from drinking water to agriculture.

Sartaj Aziz, foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said Islamabad would seek arbitration with the Indus Water Commission which monitors the treaty if India increased the use of water from the Chenab, Jhelum and Indus rivers.

However, if India revoked the treaty, Aziz said Pakistan would treat that as “an act of war or a hostile act against Pakistan.”

The Indus Waters Treaty has been a cornerstone of the India–Pakistan relationship since it was signed in 1960. It regulates the use of the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum rivers so ensure that India won’t exhaust the resources where they flow through its borders before crossing into Pakistan. Both sides think the deal is unfair and there have been many arguments and squabbles over particular elements, but neither has sought to fundamentally alter the accord in 56 years.

Now, India is reviving the issue by taking advantage of a tool it had previously left off the table. The rumors come several years after Pakistan complained that India was violating the agreement by building a hydroelectric dam in Kashmir that would slow the river and thus threaten Pakistan’s own China-built plant further downstream. The two sides set up an arbitration panel to review the dispute. This week, Modi suspended the panel’s meetings.

Whether he’ll be willing to go further remains to be seen. But it’s clear that he’s under a lot of domestic pressure, particularly from nationalists in the BJP, to take tough action. There has been some recent talk that Delhi might revoke Pakistan’s most-favored nation status. Late on Tuesday, Modi pulled out of a regional summit that Pakistan is hosting.

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  • Andrew Allison

    You missed the most important part of the story, namely that the mechanism for resolving, and escalating, complaints is Indus Water Commission, and India has foreclosed that option by declining to participate in the Commission’s next meeting.

  • Proud Skeptic

    Maybe it is time for Pakistan to act like a real, grown up country and develop its own water supplies. Fifty years wasted. It could have been done by now.

    • LarryD

      It would be expensive, Pakistan does have coastline (Arabian Sea), so the alternative source would be desalinization and pipelines. If Pakistan could just get over its paranoia and stop provoking India, maybe the two countries could get along.

      • Proud Skeptic

        I’m not really concerned about how expensive it would be for Pakistan. As you said…time to get over it. When someone controls your water they control you.

      • Kevin

        It would be cheap. All they would have to do is stop being a haven and sponsor for psychopaths waging war on their neighbor. They could divert the money wasted on this to improving their economy and providing for their people.

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