Beyond The Kishanganga Dispute
By Zafar Iqbal
The International Court of Arbitration (COA) has directed India to stop construction of Kishanganga Hydroelectric Power Project (KHEP), attesting the Pakistani claim that the project is violation of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty.
Since 2007 the KHEP has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan and remained a major part of Indo-Pak negotiations to resolve the mutual disputes, nonetheless, after failure of bilateral talks Pakistan raised it at the COA where it reiterated that the construction of Indian power project will result into a shortfall of about 21% of the river Neelum’s inflow and it will badly affect the expected usage of the already under construction Neelum Jhelum Hydropower Project (NJHP) in Pakistani Kashmir.
A leading Chinese consortium is working on the NJHP on the same river upon which India has started the KHEP. Due to involvement of Chinese firms in this project Indian government has also expressed concerns over Chinese presence in the region.
Indo- Pak confrontation over water resources is not a new dimension. It has been a chronic source of conflict between India and Pakistan since the partition of British India. Started less than a year after the birth of India and Pakistan, the water war has become fiercer in recent years due to dwindling natural resources and rising demand of energy in the region.
Today, both India and Pakistan are on the verge of an acute water crunch. An American think tank, the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, has warned that India is moving steadily closer to a danger zone in terms of water supply as per capita availability of water has declined by approximately 60 per cent. The experts in water management estimate that by the year 2050 the overall demand for water resources in India would be 1447 cubic kilometres, around 30 per cent higher than assessed water of 1123 cubic kilometres. On the other hand, due to booming economy and improved and modern lifestyle, the energy consumption has grown about 700 per cent in the last four decades in the country. India is the fifth largest consumer economy of energy resources in the world.
The situation of water availability and management of water resources in Pakistan is worse than India. A UN study says Pakistan consumes 75 percent of its water resources as compared to 34 percent of India. Today the availability of water has reduced drastically. At the time of independence 5,000 cubic-meters water was available for each Pakistani, but now it has reduced to 1,000 cubic-meters because of mounting population and poor water management.
At the moment, Pakistan faces great challenges to fulfil the power needs of its 177 million people. As per Pakistan Economic Survey 2010-11, the electricity consumption has increased by 2.8 per cent as compared to the last year. Since last many years Pakistan is facing almost 4,000 megawatts shortfall of electricity, which is hampering country’s economy and has ruined daily public life.
To come up with their water and energy needs, both the neighbouring countries have accelerated their efforts. India has focused on use of nuclear energy as civil purposes. The Manmohan-Obama nuclear deal and other agreements with a number of nuclear energy providers including Canada, the ADB’s huge funding for Indian power firms, the Indo-Korea pact for construction of 40 power generating nuclear reactors and New Delhi’s keen interest in Iran, Pakistan, India (IPI) gas pipeline project, are some of the major reflections of revised Indian energy vision and policy.
Pakistan has also intensified its efforts in energy sector. But the on-going war against terrorism has badly affected its energy exploration campaign. An escalating number of casualties of foreign engineers and workers by Taliban and Baloch separatists have almost halted the developmental work on some of the key energy projects in Pakistan. Despite of the deteriorating law and order situation, Pakistan has been successful in recent years to convince its Chinese friends to make a sizeable contribution to revitalise its dwindling energy sector. Many Chinese firms have poured a fair portion of foreign exchange into the energy sector of the country. President Zardari, after taking oath of his office, has visited China over seven times to persuade Chinese industrial giants to invest in power sector of Pakistan. His last visit was concluded on an agreement of $ 3.5 billion to provide transmission equipment to Pakistan.
Ongoing Indo-Pak water dispute over Kishanganga is artefact of the complex South Asian river system. Fundamentally, the geographical complexity of the region itself is the mother of all battles as most of its major rivers flow across borders where upward countries have abused their natural position, neglecting rights of lower riparian sates. Indo-Nepal dispute over the Mahakali River, Indo-Bangladesh water dispute over the Brahmaputra and Gangses, Teesta and Feni River, Indo -China disputes over Indus, Sutlej, and the Brahmaputra rivers and construction of dams by China over international rivers such as the Mekong, Brahmaputra and Sino–Soviet border conflict over Argun and Amur Rivers; are few examples of this cross-border water war.
This multifaceted situation demands a composite solution of water disputes. This is time to revisit the historical Indus Water Treaty to replace it with a comprehensive regional mechanism of water management and conflict resolution. Surely, a functional regionalism in South Asia can avoid future water wars.
(The writer is an expert on regional security issues and Executive Director of Press for Peace (PFP). He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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