Should India hold elections at the same time

India threatens Pakistan with diversion of rivers

The Indian government wants to make greater use of the Indus River - with consequences for Pakistan. The aim is to punish the arch-rival for the terrorist attack in Kashmir.

On Thursday, the Indian Minister of Transport and Water Resources, Nitin Gadkari, caused quite a stir with a tweet. The government of Narendra Modi has decided to divert three tributaries of the Indus. Instead of going to Pakistan, water, which India is entitled to anyway, should be diverted to "our people" in the states of Punjab as well as Jammu and Kashmir. Later, senior government officials put into perspective that the minister had merely referred to a decision that had been made earlier. There is no immediate change in policy.

Under the leadership of Hon'ble PM Sri @narendramodi ji, Our Govt. has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan. We will divert water from Eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.

- Nitin Gadkari (@nitin_gadkari) February 21, 2019

After the devastating suicide attack in the Indian part of Kashmir with over 40 dead members of the security forces, Delhi is looking for effective means to punish Pakistan. India accuses the neighboring country of having provided the bomber with logistical support. Islamabad denies indignantly and accuses the Indians of suppressing the people of Kashmir and thereby breeding terrorists themselves.

Given the agitated mood in India and the call for revenge, the discussion about military options continues. At the same time, level-headed voices warn of the potential for escalation of a war between the two nuclear powers. With the use of the Indus tributaries Sutlej, Ravi and Beas, India would meet its arch rivals at a delicate point without violating the so-called Indus Treaty of 1960.

Two fighters, one river

India and Pakistan share the Indus

Controversial stowage projects

The agreement brokered by the World Bank gives Pakistan control of the western tributaries Jhelum and Chenab. India has a free right of disposal over the eastern tributaries. The main river runs mostly on Pakistani territory. Both nations complain that the agreement favors the other country. In the judgment of the South Asia specialist at the Wilson Center, Michael Kugelman, Pakistan got more out of it. The then President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, praised the treaty as a ray of hope in a gloomy world.

It is undisputed that India has not yet exhausted its rights of use. The right-wing nationalist government of Narendra Modi, which has to hold elections until May and is simmering anger against Pakistan, now wants to push ahead with the construction of power stations and dams. But there is no reliable time frame. According to international experts, such buildings are also permitted if they touch the western tributaries, which actually fall under Pakistani suzerainty. The prerequisite is that they continue to have sufficient water after construction work has been carried out.

Pakistan has opposed various congestion projects in recent years because they violated the Indus Treaty. Meanwhile, India is talking about obstruction on the other side. It is difficult to imagine that the two adversaries will find consensus solutions in the current environment.

"Water and blood do not get along"

The 200 million Pakistanis only have around 1000 cubic meters of water per capita. There is an acute lack of water. At the same time, Pakistan stands out with a very unfavorable balance of use. 90 percent of the available water flows into the agricultural sector, the most important economic sector. Canal systems from the Indus irrigate a large part of the arable land.

In response to an Islamist terrorist attack three years ago, Delhi suspended the consultations provided for in the Indus Treaty and indirectly threatened to terminate the agreement. Water and blood don't get along, Modi said at the time. Meanwhile, the leadership in Islamabad issued a warning that dissolving the agreement would amount to an act of war.

Delhi has more leverage insofar as the Indus flows from India to Pakistan. In theory, India could virtually dry out its arch rivals by building reservoirs. However, a complete rift with Pakistan and a dissolution of the treaty would probably be counterproductive for India. Pakistan could pose as the victim of an aggressive neighbor and seek help from its ally, China. The People's Republic could also build dams and thereby affect the Indian river Brahmaputra. India also suffers from a lack of water. Around a fifth of the world's population lives on its territory. But it only has access to four percent of the world's water supply.