ISLAMABAD // Water is emerging as the latest issue fuelling tensions between India and Pakistan as Pakistani farmers are accusing India of stealing their water and India plans to construct hydroelectric power projects on the Indus River.
Pakistani officials say that India is violating the Indus Waters Treaty, a World Bank-brokered agreement signed by both countries in 1960. Rivers flow into Pakistan after originating in the Himalyan Indus Basin in the Indian-controlled part of the disputed Kashmir region. According to the treaty, India was given exclusive use of the eastern rivers - Ravi, Sutlej and Bayas - while Pakistan was given the western rivers - Jehlum, Chenab and Indus.
Under the terms of the treaty, India can generate hydroelectricity but cannot store water on the western rivers, as now being claimed by Pakistan. India is constructing the Nemobaaz Go and Chutak hydroelectric power plants on the River Indus as well as a plant called Kishenganga on theGanges River, which becomes the Neelum in Pakistan. Indian and Pakistani officials held three-day talks that concluded last Tuesday in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore to try to resolve some of the water issues.
Syed Jamaat Ali Shah, the Pakistani water commissioner, said in an interview that his side had raised technical objections to Indian dam designs. "India says its designs are treaty compliant. We say let our engineers study the model. Only then can there be a determination of their claims," Mr Shah said. "Both sides have different interpretations. As Pakistan is downstream, all [the] worry is on our side."
Indian officials, on the other hand, maintain that they remain committed to the Indus Waters Treaty and deny Pakistani charges of not sharing accurate water and design data. "India is not at fault just because it is an upper riparian," said G Aranga Nath, who led the nine-member Indian delegations at the talks. "We are fully complying with the Indus Waters Treaty," he added. Speaking at an event in Karachi on Saturday, Sharat Sabharwal, the Indian high commissioner in Pakistan, said that "preposterous and completely unwarranted allegations of stealing water and waging a water war are being made against India". He said India itself suffered from drought conditions last year.
Officials from both sides will meet again in India next month for the next round of talks. The meetings, however, have done little to alleviate the concerns of Pakistani farmers. "India is stealing our water," Ayub Meyo, the chief of Pakistan Muttahida Kissan Mahaz, or Pakistani United Farmers Front, said in an interview. "First India snatched three rivers from us through the Indus treaty, and now it is eyeing the remaining three."
Mr Meyo, a vocal opponent of India's power generation plans in Kashmir, said the biggest concern in Pakistan is over the Chenab River in Punjab province, which is the most populous of the country's four provinces. India constructed the Baglihar hydroelectric power plant in 2008 on the Chenab, which flows from the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir into Pakistan. Pakistani officials and farmers say Baglihar has severely reduced the water flow of the Chenab. According to the officials, Chenab water inflow has been reduced from 21 million acre-feet to 14 million in the past three years and they blame the Baglihar project for the decrease.
"Chenab is the lifeline of Punjabi farmers," Mr Meyo said. "It irrigates 65 to 70 per cent of the land here." "Why is India stopping our water?" he asked while stressing that Indian hydropower generation designs did not comply with the Indus Waters Treaty. "There is a big conspiracy to starve the Pakistani population to death." Some water experts point out that Pakistan's worsening water woes are also in part due to climate change and dramatic decreases in rainfall. Pakistan's per capita availability of water stood at 5,300 cubic metres per person in 1951. In 2006, it shrank to 1,105 cubic metres.
Despite those figures, Pakistani farmers seem convinced that India is the main cause of water scarcity. In February, local news media outlets quoted Nazar Muhammad Gondal, the Pakistani minister for agriculture, as saying that Pakistan could go to war with India over water. Last month, Mr Meyo's group staged a rally in which thousands of farmers gathered at the Wagah border with India near Lahore, chanting slogans against the neighbouring country and accused it of stealing their water.
He said farmers were planning another protest rally at the Indian border this month. "We are the biggest stakeholders. We will keep on raising our voices. We will not relent," Mr Meyo said. "This is a matter of life and death for us." email@example.com