Indus: don't use water as weapon

Indus: don't use water as weapon

The government has given indications of some elements of its strategy to put diplomatic and other kinds of pressure on Pakistan in response to the terrorist attack in Uri. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that India would give a suitable reply to Pakistan, and a punitive and deterrent strategy should be part of that. The government has announced that India would not participate in the proposed Saarc summit in Islamabad in November and that it would review the granting of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan. India has also initiated a move to review the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) of 1960 between the countries, which apportions the waters of the Indus and its tributaries between the two countries. The prime minister has said that blood and water cannot flow together. While India has the right to respond effectively to Pakistan’s hostile actions, the merit of every measure and its consequences should be studied before going ahead with it.

The decision to boycott the Saarc summit is a diplomatic measure which will show India’s disapproval of Pakistan’s policies towards India. The bilateral relations are so vitiated now that a summit cannot be held in the right environment. India’s decision has been endorsed by Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan too, and they will also keep away from the summit. It will send a message to the international community about how strongly other countries in the region feel about Pakistan’s
conduct. If India revokes the MFN status which was unilaterally granted to Pakistan, that will be another sign of displeasure. But it will not have any significant impact on Pakistan, as there is little direct trade between the two countries.

But it will be wrong and unwise to use water as a weapon by suspending the Indus Water Commission formed under the treaty or otherwise unilaterally tinkering with the treaty. The IWT is an international treaty worked out under the auspices of the World Bank. It has held through three wars and worse bilateral situations between the two countries. It will bring international opprobrium and affect India’s standing if it violated the treaty in any way. The grievances of the treaty participants should be settled within the framework provided by it. If the plan is to use India’s underutilised share of water, it will take a long time to create the infrastructure and facilities for that. It will also be wrong to punish the people of Pakistan, who depend on the water, for the policies of its government. Tensions over water can easily escalate to major confrontations with unpredictable conseque-nces. India should not take any rash decision on the IWT.


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