INDIA USING WATER AS A TOOL OF COERCION AGAINST ITS NEIGHBOURS AS A REGIONAL BULLY?
By: Sana Shahid
India in utter disregard to internationally arbitrated Indus Water Treaty (IWT) has recently announced on 27 January 2023 that it wants to modify the 62 years old IWT. Unsurprisingly, this happens at a time when the proceedings of Court of Arbitration are underway at Hague on Pakistan’s formal request to World Bank on 19 August 2016 raising multiple genuine observations over Indian Kishan Ganga & Ratle Hydropower projects. Seeing the impending defeat at the Court due to absence of concrete defence, India has shrewdly attempted to scuttle due legal process by doing this malicious act. It is obvious that Indian reckless step of raising the already settled issue at this time is ill intended and meant to harm Pakistan rather than fulfilling any of its own water needs. This is not the first time India has attempted to coerce her neighbours using water as a tool of coercion. Lets take a look at how India continues to bully its neighbours while abusing the agreed bilateral water sharing agreements with Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Pakistan.
Sharing the waters of the Teesta river in Bangladesh, which originates in the Himalayas and flows through Sikkim and West Bengal to merge with the Brahmaputra in Assam and (Jamuna in Bangladesh), is one of the most contentious issue between India and Bangladesh primarily due to Indian obstinacy. The river covers nearly entire floodplains of Sikkim, while draining 2,800 sq kms of Bangladesh, governing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Bangladesh has sought an “equitable” distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty of 1996 (an agreement to share surface waters at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border), but India has never respected the agreement thusfar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government despite giving verbal assurances has done nothing to respect the clauses of the agreement and continues to coerce Bangladesh if it ever endeavoured to raise the issue internationally.
With Nepal despite numerous agreements signed by India on major rivers like Kosi, Gandaki, Karnali or Mahakali, essentially for large hydroelectric and irrigation projects by building dams or barrages, no project except the Kosi barrage has been completed yet and all other projects on smaller rivers have been ignored due to Indian intransigence. Since 1954, when the Kosi Agreement was signed between India and Nepal, talks between the two governments have stalled and water rights issues have not been addressed as India continues to coerce Nepalese governments to keep the issues buried in order to maintain normal bi-lateral relations. Moreover, there have been various disputes over this agreement fuelled by floods in the Kosi region and India and Nepal have also had disputes over the issue of compensation of the Kosi dam. Nepal had also considered India’s construction as an encroachment on Nepal’s territorial sovereignty and has repeatedly logged protests with the Indian government over the issue.
India and Bhutan hydro-electric power cooperation started more than five decades ago. Initially, the cooperation was based on the development of small-scale hydro projects such as Tala, Chukha and Kurichu. Bhutan had the potential to generate 30,000 MW of hydro-power. In 2006, both countries inked a Power Purchase Agreement for thirty five years that would allow India to generate and import 5000 MW of hydro-power from Bhutan, the quantum of which increased to 10,000 MW in 2008 while seriously hampering Bhutan’s own growing electricity needs. On the other hand, people of Bhutan raised objections to such projects on their long run effects in the country. After the agreement, Bhutan has been raising the issue of constructing storage projects over its own rivers inside its own geographical boundaries to which India has been showing concerns and coercing Bhutan for serious ramifications if it goes ahead with building storage projects without Indian connivance.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, India continues to view it as its eternal enemy and skips no opportunity to target it politically, economically or diplomatically. What India is achieving by trying to scuttle the due legal process by proposing to engage bilaterally on the IWT provisions which indeed is with mala fide intent to coerce Pakistan. It clearly shows India is yet again running away from its international obligations by trying to spoil the legal process at the World Bank at Hague. Being a upper-riparian bully, it is using water coercion as a policy tool to coerce and damage Pakistan. This dangerous and shrewd Indian move has the full potential to escalate to war between the two South Asian nuclear powers. World community and international organizations such as World Bank and UN need to take stock of the situation and arrest growing ultra-hindu nationalist Indian bellicosity and bullying to maintain peace and stability in the region and beyond.