India Pakistan Relations : Can We deal With Pakistan with Water rather than Bullets?

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Pakistan has been the most hostile neighbor for India in South Asia and has fought three major wars with us. It is still continuing its policy of sponsoring terrorism in India even though it has faced the brunt of religious extremist terrorism in its own backyard.

By: Mxshanii via Wikimedia Commons

India Pakistan Relations

The recent spate in ceasefire violations by the Pakistani Army and the Indian decision of calling off the foreign secretarial level talks with Pakistan has brought India Pakistan  relations countries an abysmal low. With Modi as the Prime Minister, India has started taking a proactive role in integrating the economies of South Asia and making the SAARC a tool for achieving greater regional integration and development; but a good and stable relationship between India and Pakistan has become a basic precondition for the success of SAARC and regional co-operation in South Asia.

Given the perpetual antagonism that has existed between India and Pakistan and the unrelenting anti-India activities that the Pakistani state has been patronizing; India needs to find some leverages over Pakistan apart from the Military deterrence that exists. Moreover a proper understanding of the power hierarchy in Pakistan will go a long way in enabling India to use its leverages, if any, in a more effective manner.

Identity and Elites 

Ever since the Partition of 1947, Pakistan has looked for a durable and credible identity that will be inherently Anti-India in nature. This obsession to be presented as a counter to India has over the years been ingrained into the psychic of the Pakistani ruling elites, especially the Army. After the liberation of Bangladesh the two nation theory proved to be false and the idea of Pakistan as a land for Indian Muslim collapsed, and its perceived threat from India is all that remains to bind this Islamic Republic together. As such it is the Anti-India stance that gives legitimacy to the elites in Pakistan and its Army, which still continues to wield significant political clout. These elites in Pakistan thrive on the tensions in India Pakistan relations and have spent enormous amount of resources and energy in confronting India in every arena, instead of using those resources for the economic development of Pakistan.

The Kashmir Million march organized by the Pakistan People Party’s Bilawal Bhutto was one such attempt of getting political support and limelight by being vocally anti-India and inciting Anti-Indian sentiments. As long as tension in India Pakistan relations is sustained, the Pakistani Army will continue to dominate the politics of Pakistan directly or indirectly and receive huge resources from their government. It is these elites in Pakistan on whom India should use its leverages to curb their anti-Indian activities and to bring a thaw in India-Pakistan relations. But the question remains if India really has a good leverage on Pakistan?

The fact that both the countries are nuclear powers doesn’t give much of a military option to both the countries in sorting out their differences. The balance of terror will restrict the countries from participating in an all out military conflict. So India finds itself in such a position that it has to find a good non-military leverage that it can use on Pakistan. The Indus water treaty and the river system, that both the Countries share, can have some answers to that.

Indus Water Treaty and Possible Leverages Against Pakistan

Pakistan is very much depended on the mighty Indus River which flows into Pakistan from India. Indus could have given India leverage over Pakistan as India could control the flow of much required water of Indus into Pakistan. But this leverage was given away when The Indus water treaty was signed by India and Pakistan in 1960.

This was one of the few water sharing treaties in the world where the upper riparian, that is India, has been so generous in sharing water with the lower riparian, that is Pakistan. India’s interests were to ease the tension with Pakistan and an early settlement of the Kashmir issue, as the Indus flows into Pakistan from Jammu and Kashmir. Though India is bound by the agreement to share generous amount of water from Indus with Pakistan, there is no restriction regarding the Eastern Rivers namely Sutlej, Beas and Ravi. India is fully entitled to the entire water resources of these rivers but a significant amount of water from these rivers continues to flow into Pakistan. India can legitimately disrupt the water flows of these rivers to Pakistan as she is not entitled to the water from these rivers. This will give serious leverage to India over Pakistan. There are various planned projects on these eastern rivers like the Indira Gandhi Canal, Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal and the Thien Dam. These projects has to be completed fast so that India can use the water from these rivers which otherwise flows into Pakistan. Moreover additional projects can be planned if some water still continues to flow into Pakistan. Extra water can be diverted through extended canals to other water scarce regions of western India like Gujarat. If these projects are completed then it will create panic in Pakistan as farmers in Pakistan depend  on these very rivers.

A significant reduction in the flow of water from these eastern rivers into Pakistan will result in protestation by the powerful farmers lobby against their ruling elites, who inexorably follow an anti-India Policy. It will not only put pressure on the Pakistani Government to pursue a friendly relation with India but India will be able score a geo-political point by influencing the Pakistani Government without even firing a bullet.

The Indus water treaty should be renegotiated by India. It is not uncommon for sovereign nations calling for a renegotiation of a treaty. Many changes have taken place since the days of the Indus water treaty. The demand for water in Jammu and Kashmir has increased sharply and there is increasing demands from the Kashmiris for more utilization of Indus river water. India needs economic development in Kashmir to reconcile the Kashmiri people into the Indian mainstream.

Moreover since the Pakistani leadership has over the years professed their love for Kashmir, it shouldn’t concern them in letting the people of Jammu and Kashmir use more of Indus water. Even if the Pakistani elites don’t agree to a renegotiation of Indus water treaty, it will give India the diplomatic initiative in its dealings with Pakistan and especially on the Kashmir issue. These rivers and their water resources present a unique opportunity for India to harness its leverages against Pakistan and the political leadership in India shouldn’t shy away from utilizing these to deter Pakistan from confronting India with covert assistance to terrorists.

This leverages, if properly used, can in the long run motivate the Pakistani Leadership to be more interested in developing Pakistan through partnership with India rather than confronting India; which will not only be good for Pakistan but also for India and it will go a long way in improving the stability and development in the whole South Asian region.


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About Avinandan Choudhury 21 Articles
Avinandan Choudhury is a Geopolitical Analyst and Asstt Professor (International Relations) at Amity University. His Interests revolves around Geopolitics, Geostrategy, Indian Ocean, Maritime Strategy and IR Follow @choudhury_avi