ISLAMABAD: The strategic rivalry between two atomic powers of South Asia enters into a new phase as India continues to work on half a dozen hydel power projects on Indus river system, setting aside objections raised by Pakistan.
The Indian government approved six hydel power projects on ‘Indus’ water resource, a western river allocated to Pakistan under Indus Water Treaty 1960 guaranteed by World Bank.
Under-construction India’s hydel power projects on river Indus includes 12 Mega Watt (MW) hydro-electric power (HEP) project Tamasha, 19MW Durbek Shyok HEP, 24MW Nimu Chilling, 25MW Kargil Hunderman, 19 MW Mangdum Sangra and 18.5MW Sankoo hydro-electric power project.
Pakistan has raised objections on technical grounds to the design of India’s hydel power projects.
Pakistan opposed some of these projects before, saying India violated World Bank-mediated treaty’s Annexure-D on the sharing of the Indus River and its tributaries upon which 80 percent of Pakistan’s irrigated agriculture depends.
Water-related disputes between India and Pakistan never settled despite intervention of the World Bank as guarantor for the implementation of the Indus Water Treaty in 1960 for smooth water sharing of the Indus Basin between both countries.
The strategic importance of water resources in South Asia can be gauged by the fact that the entire region of South-Asia engulfed in conflicts on water sharing like India and Pakistan on Indus Basin; India and Bangladesh on the Ganges river system; India and China on Brahmaputra Basin; Pakistan and Afghanistan on Kabul river; India and Nepal on Kosi Dam and Maha Kali river and India-Bhutan disagreement on Tala, Chukha and Kurichu hydropower projects prominent among them.
In Pakistan-India’s rivalry on water resources sharing system, the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir holds geographical importance for both atomic powers as the terrane of all western rivers including Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab falls in mountainous ranges and glaciers before entering in Pakistan.
India being upper-riparian holds the influence over water resources. Pakistan as lower-riparian believes that its neighboring country can use the water resources as a tool in a conventional war.
Pakistan and India have already confronted each other in the International Permanent Court of Arbitration over the construction of disputed hydel power projects 330 MW Kishan-Ganga hydropower project and 900 MW Baghliar Dam on western rivers Jhelum and Chenab respectively.
Interestingly, Pakistan always opposed the disputed hydel-power projects constructed by India on western rivers only on the grounds of disagreement on projects design, which makes it clear that Pakistan’s civil and military establishment dealing with cross-border conflicts either lacks knowledge about the facts on water diplomacy or it is their incompetency.
Pakistan’s Indus Water Commissioner, Syed Mehar Ali Shah while speaking to this scribe expressed the hope of tackling India’s hydel power projects on the river Indus amicably.
“We have objections on the design of spillway gates. Pakistan’s Indus Water commissioner office is continuously engaged with Indian water commissioner and conveyed our reservations to design of Indian projects on technical grounds”, Shah maintained.
The annual meeting between the two sides has been pending. Pakistani water commissioner revealed that his Indian counterpart P-K-Sexena and his technical team would visit Pakistan in March 2022.
Pakistan is also closely monitoring confrontation between India and China over cross-border water resources.
The Brahmaputra basin and the glaciers that feed Ganga originate in China, as an upstream riparian region, China maintains an advantageous position and can build infrastructure to intentionally prevent water from flowing downstream.
Owing to previous tendencies where the Chinese have been reluctant to provide details of its hydropower projects, there is a trust deficit between the two countries.
China’s dam-building and water division plans along the Brahmaputra (called Yarlung Zangbo in China) are a source of tension between the two, despite they have signed several MoUs on strengthening communication and trust.