Securing Pakistani waters post-Pulwama tensions

By: Arooj Naveed

While Pakistan was able to defend itself against the Indian misadventure post-Pulwama, will it be able to put a strong defense against future threats emanating from India?

Certainly very few can question Pakistan’s defense capabilities. The country has fought hard and fought well. Now, Pakistan needs to be prepared to fight another battle, and that is with respect to “water wars” with India. Pakistan needs to establish water as an “issue of national security”.

A week after the Pulwama terror attack (14th February) in Indian-held Kashmir, India alleged that it had taken initiatives for stopping Pakistan’s share of water. This was one of the immediate consequences of the deadly terrorist attack in south Kashmir which killed 40 soldiers. Nitin Gadkhari, the resource minister of water tweeted,

Furthermore, the talks between the Indus Water Commission, which had just begun a few months before the Uri attack, had been suspended.

However, officials have stated that this Indian decision of stopping water would take up to six years in full implementation, since dams as high as 100 meters would be required to stop the flow and in no manner would this decision be a violation of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT). Work on purification of River Yamuna has started. India and Pakistan’s independence allowed both the countries to get three rivers. India’s rightful water flew into Pakistan and now three projects on these rivers are being built, which will divert the water towards River Yamuna. During December, the Union Cabinet made an approval for building of the Shahpurkandi Dam on Punjab’s River Ravi. This move is intended to assist India in arresting its water share which flows into Pakistan.

The head of geophysics, geology and department of Earth Science, Dr. Shakil Ahmed Romshoo explains that scrapping of the Indus Water Treaty is not a possibility. According to him, people who talk about scrapping the treaty do not have the technical know-how. While India is an emerging power trying to become United Nation’s Security Permanent Member, scrapping of a bilaterally established treaty involving the World Bank seems difficult. Scrapping the treaty would hurt both the countries. Those who say this are ‘military generals or hawks.’ India’s official position might be different. If one thinks that scrapping the treaty would ‘teach Pakistan a lesson,’ technically, it is not a possibility. Water diversions through canals and infrastructure will take around 10 to 15 years.

For now, as of 2019, Pakistan is safe. However, with every passing year, the index of becoming a water-stressed country, for Pakistan is becoming higher, and so is the possibility of this resource being used as a weapon of warfare. In an interview, Sunil Amrith, author of Unruly Warfare states the seriousness of water diversion for Pakistan. He says, ‘It is an established fact that by 2025, water shortage in Pakistan will amount to 31 million acre-feet’. There is depletion of groundwater and Tarbela and Mangla dams, country’s two biggest dams, are seeing a decline in their storage capacity. In these circumstance, even a slight diminution of water flowing into Pakistan is to have severe livelihood consequences for the farmers of Pakistan.

Further, when one analyzes this situation in context of the Kashmir issue, one will understand the likelihood of water conflict between the two countries. Waters of the two rivers, Chenab and Jhelum, which under the IWT were awarded to Pakistan, before flowing into Pakistan goes through Indian-held Kashmir. Henceforth, the quick flow of escalation over water emerges.

One clear message that does become ‘loud’ is that water politics between India and Pakistan is uncertain. While implications of scraping the Indus Water Treaty might not have materialized and fears of water wars between India and Pakistan might be overstated, it is about time to take this matter seriously. Pakistan needs to make internal efforts for drafting and implementing its ‘water security policy.’ Along with safeguarding of water for the country and its citizens – through the buildup of water infrastructure (dams) – programs of water conservation, which will change our attitudes towards the way we need to utilize and not waste water, should also be considered.

A three-case scenario emerges out of the whole situation; Firstly, threat of water wars will always remain, until of course, the Kashmir conflict itself is resolved and Pakistan and India might take on a different approach to resolve their bilateral water issues. Secondly, Pakistan keeps approaching the World Bank or the International Court of Arbitration for resolving matters of bilateral water disputes. Nevertheless, what needs not to be forgotten is that the experience which Pakistan has had at both of the international forums has remained unsatisfactory. Partly because of its own domestic weaknesses, which has included delays in the process of decision making. Thirdly, and finally, considering the intensity of the water crisis, take on an approach of ‘water securitization.’

The writer is an author and a blogger. She can be contacted at

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