Losing the dam argument
There’s nothing about the Pakistani delegation’s argument, to be officially put forward today, that the World Bank hasn’t heard before. Yet India has been able to wriggle its way through not just the Bank’s arbitration, but also a three-year stay ordered and then revoked by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. Still, once again we’ll try to convince them that the Krishanganga hydropower station is not a run-of-the-river project but changes the course of the river and depletes the water level downstream. And it won’t be long before the effects start showing in Pakistan’s agriculture sector, which counts a good 80pc on Indus and its tributaries for water.
One reason Modi was able to inaugurate the fast-tracked project on Saturday is that Pakistan has always been behind the curve in this matter. It took Islamabad three years, for example, to approach The Hague after India started work on the project in 2007. Another is an embarrassing lack of legal expertise to deal with such areas of international law, a problem India clearly does not suffer from. There have also been occasions, if the press is to be trusted, of certain favourites being assigned aspects of this case now and then just for ‘exposure’.
Unless there is a well thought out change of strategy, or a pure change of fortune, India will soon begin transferring water from the Gurez Valley back into mainland Kashmir, instead of allowing the free-flow into Pakistan. That this comes at a time when we are already beginning to suffer from serious water shortage – another serious concern the government is guilty of overlooking – only makes the wider economic picture much more grim. Less water will mean less agriculture output which, in turn, will lower living standards in the periphery and pull the floor from under the agri-export industry. This argument is not just about a dam, but about Pakistan’s economic survival. Whether or not Islamabad is up to the challenge will become clear very soon.