If there is any possibility of a water war erupting soon, it will have to be between India and Pakistan, according to SAMAA News (International) senior correspondent Ibrahim Malick. Malick reports that at least 20 different UN bodies concur that these are the two likeliest combatants.
A war of this magnitude should send shivers around the world when you consider that the combatants are both nuclear-armed states, making the consequences for the planet we all live in dire, indeed.
The long-standing conflict began when Britain set its East Indian colony free in 1947. Like split bamboo, India and Pakistan came forth claiming the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which was eventually divided between the two. Two of three wars fought by the bitter rivals so far have been about Kashmir. But in the next round of wars, the conflict may well be over water.
If you examine history closer, however, you will find out that the man behind East Indian independence, Mahatma Gandhi, actually triggered the separatist movement on the issue of salt. He would dramatize how the United Kingdom taxed the Far East colony for something as basic as this commodity, which is of course derived from seawater.
Hence, in essence, water has always been at the forefront of conflicts in the Indian peninsula. In Kevin Costner’s futuristic movie Waterworld, sea levels everywhere have risen due to global warming. Thanks to the Walt Disney empire, this message is now enshrined in one of its family entertainment parks.
But the current water war that we are speaking of is driven more by the shortage of water rather than the abundance of it. Consider India’s ongoing Tulbul Navigation project on Wular Lake. Pakistani authorities argue that this dam disrupts the flow of water into the Jhelum River, which flows into Pakistan.
The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 stipulates that both countries share the Indus River and its five tributaries–the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. Pakistan has exclusive use of waters from the Indus and its westward flowing tributaries, the Jhelum and Chenab. The Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers, on the other hand, belong to India alone.
River politics, however, can be very tricky since you’re dealing with water currents which can have shifting patterns at any time. Notice how Pakistan accuses India of withholding millions of cubic feet of water upstream on the Chenab River. Here, India’s Baglihar dam traps the water in order to produce electricity. While the World Bank has itself given the go signal for the project, Pakistan cries foul, arguing that one of its rivers has already turned into a mere puddle! But India would not budge, building yet another source of water conflict with the Wular dam, which it claims will ease the country’s water shortage during summer.
Observers know only too well, however, that the he said-she said scenario does not bode well for peace. It is pretty much a domestic crisis spinning out of control as well as proportions.
Luckily, the two countries have gone back to the negotiation table, after a long hiatus sparked by the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, which killed 166 people in 2008. Yet the talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari are far from cordial. At the moment, they are more like a dispute between two disenchanted lovers in the set of Judge Judy’s television show.
Ask an Indian national or a Pakistan citizen and you’ll feel the drama unfold. What may help or may make it worse is the interference of nuclear-armed big brothers the likes of the United States and Russia. Their growing presence in the region, which has doubled since the Cold War, may yet be another wild card that can stifle the conflict, or spark further disagreement.
For the time being, news analysts around the world can only hope that tempers don’t flare up like the proverbial water in the boiling pot. After all, we are talking not only about the destruction of a continent, but of the whole planet itself.