Dr. Shastra Dutta Pant
Water Resource Expert, Nepal
Indo-Pak Relations and Perceived Threats:
In South Asia, the Indo-Pak issues regarding fresh water problems are like hot cakes. During the last two-three decades, India and Pakistan have had hot disputes regarding the Indian water projects in J&K. It has gained momentum. Pakistani leaders have begun to describe India as their eternal enemy and accuse India of trying to suffocate the Pakistani economy. Pakistani leaders have often been seen as carrying an element of anti-Semitism, blaming India for acting through national and international conspiracies. Pakistanis intellectuals say that India is planning a water bomb, “what it could not achieve through three wars wage over the past decades”.
The intellectuals and experts have warned that if India’s planning of 52 new dams over the rivers is achieved, Pakistan will face the worst famine and economic disaster it has ever seen till date. Pakistan may soon face a severe water crisis. India’s strategic wanting is making Pakistan another Somalia, economically feeble, so that its control over south Asia will be unquestionable. Regarding Baglihar dam, Pakistani General Athar Abbas has described the same as a defense security concern.
Thus India has been using water as a weapon in South Asia. It also has achieved military-economic and political supremacy due to sheer pressure on its weaker and poorer neighbors. Not only Pakistani intellectuals and politicians, but also other throughout the world have warned that the water issues between the two nations may incite a nuclear war: ‘Water is as much a nuclear flash point as is Kashmir now. Unfortunately if such a war happens naturally, it will be the direct concern/effects of problems between the neighboring nations and thus it should be the concern of all the members of the UNO.
What I can suggest to India and Pakistan is that the interests of both the countries are so closely linked, that they can be protected only by establishing closer ties on morality based and humanitarian grounds. Failure to do so, will of course, bring more episodes; the episodes on discord of river waters, over toxic dumping in drains, over illegal border crossings and even declaring a war.
India after constructing over 62 dams in the India Occupied Kashmir area alone, has contributed in making the situation critical in the region. For, India considers Pakistan as a great hurdle against its hegemony against the countries in the region. Even after 131 rounds of talks over the correct implementation of the 1960 Treaty which bore no fruit so far, India has been constructing dams illegally and violating the Treaty. So there is no way out than to go for war. For this reason Pakistan will try to liberate Kashmir first. China may come in support of Pakistan. Bangladesh and Nepal will provide moral support in this effort of Pakistan.
A potential way out of the prevailing water crisis between the two countries is to address all issues that cause all misunderstandings including the Kashmir issue bilaterally, regionally or through the UNO.
India has an attitude of being a big brother/bully in the region, this attitude it seems, it has borrowed from the British, since it was colonized by Britain for hundreds of years. Therefore, it has been unable to resolve any of her boundary disputes with her neighbors. Its northern border is in a state of constant hot and cold war with China. India has fought wars with China. China at present is busy just to upgrade the economic standards of its people. The Indo-Nepal border disputes and the issue of Greater Nepal are in a state of never ending situation. India’s disputes with Bangladesh pre-dates the birth of the country. Her attempts to bifurcate Sri Lanka were defeated when its agent was killed. It has already fought three wars with Pakistan and this has not ended the problems, rather they have been added. India aims to turn Pakistan into a desert and Nepal into an entity having no rights upon its own water resources. Moreover India has disputes with Bangladesh over the Farrakha Barrage, with Nepal over the Mahakali River, with Pakistan over the violation of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. In this way, India has been escalating its water terrorism as in Iran and Afghanistan through the Salma dam on Hari Rud
River, which flows into Iran and which help to appease the USA. After expelling the nationalistic sides from power, it has now become easy for the Indians to handle Nepal through its agents in political power. The upper Karnali, the Arun 3 and the West Seti are its glaring examples.
The Asian region has surpassed the rest of the world due to Indian expansionist agenda. India has also persuaded Afghanistan to create a water reservoir on the river Kabul, a tributary of the Indus basin.
The Chinese Scenario:
(a) The massive Three Gorges project is expected to be completed in 2030. This multi-purpose project will produce 18,500 MW of electricity and will contribute to flood control through the construction of a 39 billion cubic meter capacity pond and water transportation facilities. This is an inspiration to all on how to produce cheaper electricity. The NRs 1.9 per unit cost to farmers and NRs 2.25 per unit cost to non-farmers is indeed a great achievement. India’s river linking project is also inspired by this project.
(b) Should Nepal become free from corruption, it could sell electricity at a cost not exceeding NRs 3 per unit at the current price index.
The Indian Scenario:
(a) The constant flip-flop policy of India, though justified, is particularly detrimental to Nepal. Its ill-informed reactions to Nepal start since 2007 BS. But the South Block’s original flop reaction is understandable: it was naturally reluctant to write-off its political investments made by it in various political party bosses here. Examples include the Mahakali and the Bhutani refugee imbroglio, the trade and transit treaty, the so-called development aid to Nepal, citizenship issues and the 12 point political pact made between the then terrorist Maoist party and the Seven agitating parties in the mediation of India.
(b) The rosy dreams seen by Nepali intellectuals as generating millions of dollars of revenues to Nepal through the export of hydroelectricity, irrigation and potable water to India has been an unfulfilled vision because of India’s game of water politics. Instead such Indian tactics have adversely affected Nepal’s politics and economics, making Nepal only a de jure sovereign country. Regrettably, Nepal’s water resources appear to be the inherent cause for the country’s problems associated with foreign interference.
(c) In early May 2008, the Policy Planning Division of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a meeting in Patna, in which 40 Nepali delegates led by the CPN-Maoist participated. Along the emerging new trends of Indo-Nepal relations, the meeting focused on Nepal’s water resources. Some participants voiced that Bihar would only require 10, 000 MW of electricity within the next few years. Nepal could export hydropower and have revenues of around Rs 250 billion annually. This argument was made by a member of the Nepali contingent who also participated in a similar dialogue in Gangtok in April 2008. In his inaugural speech, the Bihar Chief Minister, proclaimed — “... the economy of Nepal will increase manifold as Nepal has the potential of producing 85,000 MW hydro-energy which it could sell to India”. Coincidentally, the generation target of the CPN-Maoist is also the same. How the Maoist would mobilize the required funds to achieve this goal is a difficult question, but of no particular importance; the crucial question is how they can get rid of the Indian grip on Nepal’s resources. The Karnali project had failed during King Birendra’s regime mainly because of Nepal’s denial to put the main grid in Indian territory.
(d) On 1 April 1990, at the time Indian Foreign Secretary put a draft proposal to late King Birendra to have similar powers like the king of Bhutan. King Birendra rejected the proposal arguing that it was preferable to be a powerless King of a sovereign and independent country than a powerful King under foreign domination. The main concerns underpinning the Indian proposal were water resources and defense.
Nepali Scenario: a question to the Nepali political leaders:
(a) Whether it was the Mahakali Treaty or the Bhutani refugee imbroglio, the West stood in phalanx behind the South Block. Why would the self-styled paragons of liberal democracy and good governance so unequivocally allow the resumption of power by plutocrats without forcing them to face the popular vote? In the Enron-like Dhabol deals of Bhote Kosi/Khimti, Nepali consumers have been forced to pay double the electricity rates while European and American investors and contractors walk away with the windfall. In the Kali Gandaki scam, Rs 12 billion was doled out for a Rs. 7 billion civil contract, with the major beneficiary being European and American contractors instead of the Nepali electricity consumers. Interestingly, in Middle Marsyangdi, the story has been repeated. In the partnership between Western aid agencies and party-led NGOs in Nepal, the details are normally overlooked. The crucial question is: would Nepali cognoscenti be wrong in explaining this anomaly to the hypothesis that Europeans and Americans, too, have benefited from the plutocracy of the 1990s.”
(b) Nowadays colonialism has taken the form of a virus, changing its shapes according to each situation. The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship and the Koshi and Gandak Agreements signed thereafter represent these forms of colonialism. This attitude is guided by power and money instead of the democratic principle promoting the will of the majority of the people.
(c) The Chinese Three Gorges project reveals that the production cost of electricity can differ up to 10 times due to corruption.
(d) It has been long time since India has shown great interest in Nepal’s water resources in order to meet its own demand for potable water, irrigation facilities, and electricity, given that the electricity generated from coal and uranium cannot last India for more than half a century. Moreover, India does not want Nepal to utilize its water resources on its own or with the financial and technical support from other countries and, thus, India plays a big role in sabotaging some major hydro-projects initiated by Nepal. In short, RAW and Indian bureaucrats are planning to grasp Nepal’s water resources at any cost.
(e) Nepal’s hydropower is the driver of India’s development projects. India is also interested in small and medium projects and would like to obtain the Karnali, Upper Tamakosi and Upper Karnali hydro-power projects at the earliest.
(f) As the amount of farmlands that Nepal possesses is limited, India contends that Nepal does not require water for irrigation and that it is only India which needs water for consumption purposes. This argument is also linked to the Bhutan model and India’s river-linking project. India has strategic plans to ensure its access to river water in order to meet the needs of the vast, yet not irrigated, agricultural lands in the northern and southern provinces. India purposefully displays ignorance so that it may achieve its goals without fulfilling its commitments made at international forums and towards the South Asian Region. It has also left issues un-discussed relating to climate, environment and natural disasters. Indian still claims that “We still do not fully understand the ecosystem and river systems of the region”.
Indian experts have repeatedly argued that India can meet its energy needs from other sources; however, the country has no alternative when it comes to water for irrigation and potable purposes. Nepal is aware of this reality. It wishes to retain on a rational basis its ownership over water resources and subsequent revenues. In contrast, India wishes to obtain ownership through other means, hence the conflict arises due to:
(1) Special agreements; (2) Security measures; (3) Politicizing issues through political parties; (4) Convincing people through the mass media; (5) Patchwork development projects designed through RAW, (6) Limit Nepal’s benefits to just 10 percent. (g) The Indian Interlinking of Rivers Project is mainly concerned with the irrigation, potable and power production purposes. The project has two components; the first one includes 14 Himalayan river links in India’s northern areas, while the second component is to have 16 peninsular river links in India’s southern regions. The Himalayan river links are the Ganga and Brahmaputra components, in which Nepal and the upper riparian country in the Ganga basin are the major contributors. As the perennial providers of water, India cannot ignore or bypass its neighbors.
The project, which is estimated to cost over US $ 118 billion, is primarily expected to provide internal water security to the Indian people living in areas known for water scarcity and water-induced disasters. Additionally, Indian authorities envisage in bringing around 35 to 37 million hectares of farmland under irrigation, to generate 34 billion KW of electricity, control floods in flood-prone states and also enhance the country’s navigational efficiency. India appears to have been inspired by China’s south-north water diversion project, which is being carried out at a cost of US $ 60 billion.
Some analysts argue that the interlinking of rivers is purely a scheme made to benefit various bureaucrats and politicians. The scheme tempering with the natural river systems can pose a threat to the region. Some Indian sections have particular water interests and favor the “garland canal scheme”. Whether India will alter its position and seek a beneficial outcome for all parties concerned, primarily those countries with water resources, is an entirely different matter.
Ever since the commencement of the feasibility studies, India has been in confrontation with environmentalists who oppose the construction of large dams and embankments. As Indian laws provide for the issue of water to be dealt with by individual states, the process of consultations on this through federal initiative is yet unclear. The Hindu daily, a prominent Indian newspaper, recently wrote, “This is an issue of state government and no state government is ready to take up.” If this is the issue of state governments, the neighboring countries will face complications in addressing such issues. However, the task force on the interlinking of rivers may expedite work for the project, which was first mooted in 1982.
The neighboring countries only complain while allowing India to exploit this situation. These include Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Bhutan and Pakistan. They do not think India alone can take a decision on natural resources of other countries but unless they unite and come to a strong conclusion with specific long-term policies, their opposition will only make newspaper headlines.
The Interlinking of Rivers Projects is not in the interest of Nepal and Bangladesh but concentrates only on Indian benefits. In contrast, Nepal proposes the vast water resources to be used for common purposes and to the benefit of regional countries. In order to achieve this goal a solid policy should be formulated with a SAARC team, including China.
(h) Let us ask a question to those who claim to be servers of the nation. “May all Nepalis know Mr. Koiralas, Mr. Dahals, Mr. Khanals, Mr. Yadavs, Mr. Thapas and other leftists, rightists or so called nationalists, do you know much about Nepal, Nepalis and Nepal’s water resources? Of course, you people have traveled all over Nepal like late king Birendra used to do. But there is a lot of difference between you and him. Late king Birendra used to travel to localize the developmental activities and accelerate the pace of development projects. But you so called leaders, we realize, travel in the same fashion just to pray tribute in the demise of your local leaders and cover their corpse with the party flag, or if wounded, to rush them to the hospital in Katmandu or activate them in the nonproductive/destructive jobs such as Banda, Gherao and so on and so forth, or train the local workers in the closed door sessions and how to make money out of forests, local development projects, commissions and other business in the name of levy for smooth running of the party.
“You leaders, do you have any vision regarding the holistic approach of development including the proper use of water resources of Nepal’? Have you drawn any plans as how to produce cheaper hydro power than that of the Kingdom of Bhutan and or The Three Gorges Dam of China? If you are pro Indian, you need to learn from Bhutan, if you are pro Chinese you need to learn from China, if you are a genuine nationalists, you need to present a framed national main policy to the people of Nepal as how you can generate the cheaper electricity through Nepali capital to displace the huge import of the petroleum products; attractions for the revolution of the industrial sectors generating employments In millions and raising the standard of living of the people en masse. Also, how can you use water for agro production and safe drinking water and how you plan to export the remaining water in a well-managed system without destroying the ecological and environmental factors of your own country?”
Failing to manage fresh water right now, sooner or later, a water war will start.