June 28, 2010

The Name of the Game

India closes the downstream flow of water on the Chenab because it has to fill up the reservoir of the Baglihar dam. Pakistan cries foul and says India has to provide 25 MAF of water down the Chenab no matter what. India asks the question: How do we fill up our reservoir if we don't stop the flow of water? The Pakistani side has no answer because they're too busy fighting to decide who will be their representative to give their answer. Meanwhile India acknowledges Pakistan's inability to answer and continues to block the supply of water downstream whenever it wills. Paradox.

We are the victims of our own created monsters. I refer to the Indus Water Treaty of 1960, duly signed at the behest of Ayub Khan on the sensational advice of the World Bank. We sold three rivers outright to India. We sold our rivers! That's like saying you can have half of my blood, I'll just survive on the half that's left. That was blunder number one. The second blunder was that we also sold to India the rights to use up to 4 MAF of water on the remaining three rivers. Now the majority of Pakistanis don't know that, but this is indeed a fact. And that is precisely what's happening, and that is precisely why we dare not go to the World Bank to arbitrate this matter. And that incidentally, also has two reasons. One, it would shut our mouths and then we won't be able to diss India anymore regarding the blockage of our water, and two, the political forces in the country will lose their face because they claimed to be right and then turned out to be wrong. 

Now this is not to say that India is a saint and it has done nothing wrong. The fact of the matter is that the crops on the Pakistani side aren't going to wait for the water that will reach them late. They will already be destroyed by that time leading to food shortage and loss of livelihood, not to mention the massive degradation of the land lying in the Indus delta. The Pakistani state reserves the right to demand the agreed amount of water in its river system regardless of whatever India says is the reason; but realistically, that simply isn't possible. Paradox.

So now you'll appreciate the quandary the current government is in. Its loyalists must be cursing their luck that India had to play the water card in their tenure; it would've been so much easier to blame it all on the dictator. In fact, I'm not sure but I think Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has already done that...

But coming back to the predicament of Pakistan, what can we do? The simple answer is not much. The World Bank already ruled in favor of India once and it will do so again because there simply is no other way around the water blockage by India regardless of what legal precedent we might quote, and what approach we might take. The only option left is to start rationing water until India gets done with filling its reservoirs; but I guess that's too much to ask from our egotistical rulers who will in fact shout themselves hoarse to keep their supporters rather than solve their actual problems.

NOTE: To view the Indus Water Treaty as it is, please click here.