THE canal based irrigation system of Pakistan is considered as one of the oldest and the largest integrated water network in the world. The historical record shows that, the Upper Bari Doab Canal (UBDC) was originally built by famous Muslim Emperor of India, Shah Jehan in 1693. This canal system was used to carry water of River Ravi from Madhopur to Lahore. Later in the history, improvements were made in the canals system under Sikh Rule in Punjab under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharaja Ranjit was the popular leader of the Sikh Empire in first half of the 19th century. The Sirhind Canal is yet another large irrigation canal that carried water from the Sutlej River was inaugurated in 1882, during British era. During the British rule, the canal based irrigational was further improved and expanded. Under British India, Punjab became the largest canal based irrigation state and fruit basket, providing food to entire Subcontinent. During the British era, the areas forming part of west Punjab (Pakistani Punjab) had extensive and well-built canal network, thus used to produce maximum agricultural products. These canals were fed by the river water, channelled through several water head works. As a result of manipulated division of Punjab by Boundary Commission under Radcliff Award, all these water head works came under Indian control.
Immediately after independence of Pakistan, India stopped water from flowing into the canals which were irrigating the vast land of Punjab. It created a crises situation in Pakistan and for some time, Pakistan had to pay for the water, it received from Indian controlled water head works. This was the first strategic usage of water by India as a weapon against Pakistan. Later on as a result of bilateral meetings between Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and Indian Premier Nehru, temporary arrangements were made to resume water supply to Pakistan. Nevertheless, the control of head works remained under India for years until World Bank brokered the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) in 1960. Thereafter, Pakistan delinked its canals from eastern rivers and devised a new water feeding system from western rivers. IWT-1960 gave exclusive rights over water of western rivers to Pakistan, which apparently was the best arrangement in the era of cold war. It was a unique agreement over water distribution, since world-wide there have been precedence of division of water, rather division of rivers between upper and lower riparian states. In order to manage the IWT, both states established Indus Commission which worked well till 1980s. Nevertheless, since India is the upper riparian state and also an illegal occupant of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, who inhabitants wanted to join Pakistan. In the late 1980s, India started manipulated with the water of western rivers, whose water was dedicated exclusively for Pakistan. It started planning and constructing dams, water storages and hydroelectric projects over these rives.
In a way, India started manipulating with the water of Indus, Jhelum and Chenab against the essence of IWT-1960. It constructed over a dozen large and small dams on all three rivers and water diversion of twenty kilometres on Neelum River a tributary of Jhelum River. It constructed two major dams and hydroelectric projects; Bagliar dam on Chenab River and Kishanganga at Neelum River. Construction of dams, hydroelectric projects and water storages, reduced the down-stream flow of water, which is a serious violation of IWT-1960. This all is being done by India through a well-planned strategy, which aims to exploit Pakistan, desertification of its huge agricultural land. The strategy will constrain and starve the agrarian economy of Pakistan. As an upper riparian, India is using the water as a strategic weapon to coerce its agrarian economy. Since last few years, there is change in framing the water issue by New Delhi. In 2016, Indian Prime Minister Modi said “Blood and Water cannot flow at the same time”. This statement came immediately after the Uri terror attack, which Indian RAW planned to defame Pakistan, once Islamabad was planning to refer the massive human rights violations in IIOJK to United Nations, Human Rights Council. In order to subvert the Pakistani plan, the terror attack was planned on a military headquarters in occupied Uri area to blame Pakistan. Later on, it was revealed that, it was a fake attack by Indian spying network to stop Pakistan from making a reference at UN.It is worth mentioning that, sequel to the Shahadat of BurhanWani, India massively used pellet guns and weapons of prohibited bore against the innocent Kashmiri youth in IIOJK. Pakistan wanted to make a strong case against Indian violation of human rights in IIOJK.
Once again in 2017, PM Modi while addressing the peasants in Haryana state said, all water from Indus River System belongs to India thus, not a drop of it should flow to Pakistan. This was a clear threat to Pakistan, which can be inferred as a future Indian strategy to stop water of western rivers. All-together India has formulated an offensive strategy over the water of western rivers. India is using the IWT treaty as a bargaining chip against Pakistan for the consolidation of its illegal occupation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian leadership has threatened many a times to abrogate the Indus Water Treaty. In summary, the Indian strategy is to use water as a strategic weapon against Pakistan. There is an immediate need to counter this Indian hegemonic design against Pakistan. Pakistan must formulate a long-term strategy to secure the water of three western rivers. There should not be any renegotiations over IWT-1960, as stated by Indian leadership in recent years. Besides, Pakistan must make arrangements for the security of water catchment areas and water sources within its geographical territories.
— The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.