PM Narendra Modi gets tough on Indus treaty: ‘Blood and water can’t flow together’
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PM Narendra Modi gets tough on Indus treaty: ‘Blood and water can’t flow together’

NEW DELHI: Taking the offensive right into the heart of Pakistan, India decided on Monday to suspend the meeting of the Indus Water Commission and explore ways to use its share of water of rivers flowing into Pakistan, besides hinting that it could revive construction of the Tulbul project in Jammu & Kashmir.

"Blood and water cannot flow simultaneously," Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a meeting where the decisions designed to make Pakistan pay for the terrorist attack on the Uri Army camp were taken, extending the retaliation against the strike beyond efforts to isolate Pakistan diplomatically+ .

In fact, sources said, India could even consider walking out of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) if Pakistan does not rein in terrorists, adding that the water-sharing pact is not sacrosanct.

India announced a series of actions on the IWT, seen as "incredibly generous to Pakistan", which would substantially increase its usage of the three rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — which feed Pakistan. Although India is entitled to use 20% of the three rivers, it has not availed of the provision so far, much to the comfort of Pakistan, which is critically dependent on the western rivers of the Indus system. A move by India to use its share will hurt Pakistan, reeling from worsening water scarcity, but without attracting the charge of violation of the treaty.

Significantly, the construction of the Tulbul project will benefit J&K, which has clamoured for a greater share of Indus waters, with the assembly even passing a resolution for the multi-purpose project.

The decisions came after the PM held a review meeting of the treaty.

The government's decision to suspend meetings of the Indus Water Commission — a crucial mechanism for the implementation of the treaty signed in 1960 — clearly brought out its intent to penalise Pakistan for the killing of 18 soldiers by a group of jihadis who had crossed over from across the border.

A review meeting on The Indus Water Treaty was attended by NSA Ajit Doval, foreign secretary S Jaishankar, water resources secretary Shashi Shekhar and other senior officials. Official sources said the Indus commissioners will meet only in the absence of terrorism. These commissioners meet about twice a year and have met every year since the treaty was signed, even during the 1965, 1971 and Kargil wars. They are also the first step for dispute settlement between India and Pakistan, and it's only after they fail to resolve a problem that it is escalated to a neutral expert of the World Bank. India unilaterally suspended the Tulbul project (Islamabad calls it Wullar Barrage) in 1987 after Pakistan objected. The project was part of the composite dialogue, but the dialogue itself was junked in its earlier form by the Manmohan Singh government. The decision to review the suspension signalled the Modi government's intent to revive it irrespective of Pakistan's protests.

The government set up an inter-ministerial task force to look at India's usage of the waters from the western rivers. According to the treaty, India has unrestricted use of the eastern rivers (Ravi, Beas, Sutlej), but only 20% use of the western rivers. However, India is allowed water from these rivers for "domestic and non-consumptive use, hydropower and agriculture, subject to certain limits".


Pakistan will be hurt once these decisions show on the ground. Though primarily an agrarian economy, Pakistan has not invested in many dams over the years and there are studies showing much of Indus water actually flowing into the Arabian Sea. India is similarly wasteful, but, with many more rivers, is relatively better off.

By stopping the Indus commissioners' meetings, India will deny Pakistan the first forum for dispute resolution, making it difficult for it to escalate to the second level. Pakistan wants to take India to the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the Kishenganga project, which India believes is unnecessary. In fact Indian, Pakistani and World Bank officials will be meeting in Washington DC on Tuesday to discuss Pakistan's problems with Kishenganga, sources said. This may not be available to Pakistan later.

The steps show the Modi government will not restrict its offensive against Islamabad to just the diplomatic arena. The show of toughness pleased hawks like former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, who interpreted it as a shift from UPA's policy of "strategic restraint". "I am glad that we are finally moving away from the meek posture," Sinha told The Times of India.
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