Analysts are an intriguing lot. They want to analyse, dissect and lay bare all aspects of an issue till the issue pleads for mercy. Indus Waters are one such issue which analysts are very fond of raking up as it attracts eyeballs being an Indo Pak affair. More so, the floods have focused attention of the world on the waters so why not bring it up?
The fact that there is a model for sharing resources of all the six rivers flowing into Pakistan through the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 is known. The fact is that the Indus water Treaty has so far stood the test of time. Few countries in the world have signed and honoured such treaties as the two nations have; a fact often forgotten. India has just accepted the Bagliar Award and Pakistan has accepted publicly India’s assurance of no diversion of Chenab waters. India also has the Ganges Agreement with Bangla Desh that has held in place regardless of ups and downs.
Some perspectives from an award winning essay are here. What at times remains hidden behind the facade of politicking on the issue is the management of these resource. Whether India or Pakistan like it or not the glaciers are melting. Soon, I can’t predict how soon, the flooding will cease to be the problem in favour of droughts causing mayhem of gigantic proportions.What will we share when the source dries out. Steven Solomon, the author of “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization ”has this to say on the issue in The NY Times :
In March, the State Department announced that water scarcity had been upgraded to “a central U.S. foreign policy concern.” Pakistan is at the center of it.
This is because a widespread water shortage in Pakistan would further destabilize the fractious country, hurting its efforts to root out its resident international terrorists. The struggle for water could also become a tipping point for renewed war with India. The jihadists know how important the issue is: in April 2009, Taliban forces launched an offensive that got within 35 miles of the giant Tarbela Dam, the linchpin of Pakistan’s hydroelectric and irrigation system.
The Pakistanis may never come to love us. But as the current spectacle of Islamic jihadists bringing emergency aid to flooded areas warns us, we can’t afford to ignore Pakistan’s looming freshwater crisis.
David Rothkopf writing in Foreign Policy(FP) argues that Obama should use his visit in November as an opportunity to get India and Pakistan to talk water and resolve other vexed issues based on a “Nudge” model by America. Nothing wrong with the argument theoretically. Will it also apply to Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan and terror? In this complex and most dangerous conflict of interests between the two neighbours, reason has seldom had a chance. Some in the West strategic circles argue that the US government is still not doing as much as it should in terms of contributing at a systemic level to helping the Pakistanis and Indians turn this nightmare (floods) into a strategically significant trust-building event. An Indian view is here.
The American media overdrive focusing on water is a clear effort to get India and Pakistan to talk – somehow, in the best American interests. Water is just one such excuse through which the self appointed interlocutors may spur even track two negotiations by highlighting the acute shortage of fresh water in Pakistan.
However the American interests are not as important as putting up a review of water sharing in the region including India, Pakistan, China and Bangladesh. This is a big bite to be taken one at a time but finally the relationship between Indus river system, the Ganges and Tsangpo has to be strengthened to mutually benefit the region.
Of interest to note is that China has signed no treaty and also does not recognise the UN Protocol on water sharing by upper and mid riparians.
It thus has problems with Russia, Vietnam, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Bangla Desh, and Pak on water sharing as all its decisions with respect to water have been unilateral. In light of this discussion, America’s polite intervention may be to score over public opinion in Pakistan. China it may not. Obama knows that the real problem is with the upper riparian, China, which US will not be willing to buck.
“What we need is a trans-boundary water opportunity analysis”. Transcending from “dividing” to “sharing” the resources, as articulated by A Rafay Alam, a respected Pakistani in the “News” in July this year. A bold piece considering the traditional rivalries between India and Pakistan where each side has an attitude focusing on a blame game. Then there is the mistrust that characterises Indo-Pakistani relations, gross mismanagement of water resources within Pakistan, outdated irrigation practices, poorly planned agricultural zoning, a rising population and resultant water scarcity that make “discussion” mandatory beyond Kashmir and terror. Whether the politicians on both sides will agree to such a discussion is a major stumling block towards creating a universally acceptable formula that creates a win-win situation for both the nations – even if it has to be brokered by Obama.
For Obama this may be a necessity borne out of diffusing tensions between the two nuclear neighbours as his “big-ticket” outcome of the Indian visit but for the region it is more a matter of survival. The fact that the West originated debate is being picked up in South Asia is a factor of Western world’s attempt to facilitate some progress on Indo Pakistan relations that have a direct impact on the “India Centric Pakistan”. This according to the West will open the doors for other bilateral issues to be resolved. Some in America see this as a strategic opportunity towards perception management post the floods.
Finally, however, the solution has to be based on an economic resource sharing formula that benefits both sides, as per observations of Elinor Ostrom, the Nobel Memorial Prize winner for Economic Sciences this year for her study of shared resources. This may appear to be a motivated article from a Western world view but as is the case in all the water wars since biblical times, this is as good an opportunity as any other to get a move on the subject. However, the issue of upper and lower riparian meets a dead-end when it comes to China and whether Obama would want to push his luck here is a matter of debate.
Alam suggests a track II channel to discuss this issue till adequate political will is generated on both sides – I differ. The track II channel in an Indo Pakistani environment is prone to sabotage by the establishment as has been the experience in the past. This cat has to be belled despite her ferocity. It would also tilt international opinion in favour of the region – especially Pakistan.
Utopian, but if followed it may end up as a formula with China(??) and Bangladesh too – water for peace! An earlier discussion Water Wars had articulated a similar thought.
The foreign policy experts need to leverage this great resource to harbinger peace in the region.
The question nonetheless is, “Will Obama bite the bait and will hawks in India and Pakistan let him?”