Warring over water

Future Indo-Pak conflicts would still be over Kashmir, but this time over its river watersIftikhar Gilani DelhiA serious confrontation between India and Pakistan is on the cards, and this time it is over river water. The two countries are following divergent courses, evident from the fact that while Pakistan has already requested the World Bank to intervene and appoint a neutral expert to stop the construction of the Baglihar Project on the Chenab river in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office has approved four more hydel power projects that will be constructed on the western rivers in J&K.A Mumbai-based think tank has already predicted a water war between the two countries. A book published by the Strategic Foresight Group of the International Centre for Peace Initiatives (ICPI) says Pakistan's interest is in conflict with the people of Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control.  "A conflict over land between the people of Kashmir and the government of India will soon become a thing of the past. On the other hand, a water war between Kashmir and Pakistan is inevitable in the future," it observes.According to Sundeep Waslekar and his team at the ICPI, Pakistan's per capita water availability has plummeted from 5,600 cubic metres in 1947 to 1,200 cubic metres in 2005. It is predicted that as early as 2007, Pakistan's water availability might touch the threshold level of 1,000 cubic metres, with the worst affected areas being the Sindh and Punjab provinces.Therefore, Pakistan's primary strategic interest in Kashmir is regulating the flow of water from the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum, which flow into Pakistan from J&K. The book has quoted Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who, while taking part in a training programme at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London 1990, had concluded in a research paper that the Indus waters contained the germs of future conflict in South Asia.Therefore, the recent unveiling of a Rs 240 billion reconstruction plan for J&K by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has further compounded water problems with Pakistan. The plan has earmarked funds for four projects — Kishanganga, Uri-II, Pakul Dul and Bursar. Kishanganga, which Pakistan calls Neelam river, will be constructed on Kishanganga in the Gurez Valley of Baramulla district, Uri-II will be constructed on the Jhelum river across Chakothi, while Pakul Dul and Burser will be built on the Marusundar stream, a tributary of River Chenab in tehsil Kishtwar of Doda district.New Delhi will provide Rs 148.85 billion while the state government will have to raise Rs 271.8 billion for the proposed projects. Officials believe that some Rs 537 billion will come in the form of Externally Assisted Projects.Keeping in view the acute power crisis in J&K, a senior official in Srinagar said the prime minister's plan was focused on the power sector. "The government believes that the availability of power will accentuate the industrialisation of the region and help overcome problems of unemployment," he said. "Among these projects, Kishanganga will be accorded the most priority because just across the Line of Control, Pakistan plans to go ahead with a 960-MW hydel power project in the Neelam Valley. It is now a question of who will start construction first," says an analyst.Pakistan has already raised objections to this project and is threatening to take it to the World Bank. Officials here, however, reject Pakistan's objections, saying that the Indus Waters Treaty allows India to build specified storage up to 3.6 million acre feet (MAF) on western rivers. "India has not built that storage capacity so far," they claim. Experts say the annual water flow in the western rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — is an estimated 135.6 MAF.The Dard-Shena population in the Gurez Valley is also opposed to the project, which in the first phase alone is inundating 25 of their villages, six summer high altitude habitats for shepherds and eight camping sites. By the end of the project, around 25,000 Dard-Shena will be forced out of the Gurez Valley.Environmentalists also believe many animals and plants will become extinct with the building of the dam. The area's forests and meadows are home to a wide range of wildlife, including the endangered snow leopard, hangul deer, barking deer, musk deer, black bear, markhor, ibex, marmot, and other species.Besides the threat of inundation, the high alpine meadows and forests will also be adversely affected by a drop in the mean temperature brought about by the presence of a large water reservoir. Experts also believe that since the region is earthquake-prone, the reservoir could cause great problems if the area was struck by an earthquake.