Russian Resurgence

There has been an extensive debate in the international community on Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict. The Syrian conflict has been raging since 2010 and has become the breeding ground for terrorist organizations like ISIS, Jabhat Ul Nusra, Hezbollah, etc. The conflict in Syria and Iraq presents a new security challenge for the regional as well as global powers. Countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and EU have been the recipients of the refugees pouring out from the conflict zones. The sectarian battle lines in the region are drawn between the Assad regime backed by Russia and Iran; and Sunni rebel opposition groups backed by the GCC and the Western powers, which were in the position of overpowering the Syrian regime in its last bastions till Russia entered the conflict in September 2015. Just like the backing of Egypt in the Egypt-Israeli War of Attrition in 1969-70, the Kremlin has once again been instrumental in tilting the balance in favour of its allies in the Middle East. 

The western media and strategic think tanks were caught napping by Russia’s strategic surgical forays which depict that the Russian military still has the prowess to stall the designs of the American Deep state of overthrowing governments in critical states like Syria, which are its allies.  The US establishment exulted that the Russian intervention on the side of the Syrian regime would only prolong the conflict and complicate matters. Some neo-cons in Washington went to great lengths to draw parallels between Afghanistan and Syria, saying that the Syrian conflict will be Russia’s Vietnam as it will get stuck in the Syrian Quagmire. All these strategic thinkers have been made to bite the dust with the Russian intervention significantly altering the geopolitical dynamics in the region. 

The Russian military intervention in Syria began in September 2015 when the Assad regime was attacked in Idlib province after it lost substantial territory. The consolidation of the Syrian Rebels in the Idlib province in Northwest Syria in early 2015 directly threatened the regime's supply lines and routes leading up to the west coast city of Lattakia and Tartus where Russia has a naval base. The loss of Palmyra by the regime to ISIS in May 2015 further highlighted the fragility of Syrian Arab Army (SAA). Russia was faced with the prospect of Western-backed rebels and Jihadists like ISIS toppling a friendly regime and threatening its strategic assets in Syria. The Syrian government forces, post the loss of about a third of their men and several military bases, required active backups from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, to hold the fort. The failure of Iranian-backed operations against the Syrian Rebels was pivotal in prompting Russia’s calculated decision to intervene in Syria and secure its strategic assets.

Russia’s military campaign in Syria began in September 2015 with one Cruiser, one Destroyer and two Frigates in the Black Sea fleet.  Its assets in the Lattakia Airbase included 4 SU-34 fullback Fighter Bombers, 12 SU 24 Fencer attack aircraft, 12 SU 25 Frogfoot close air support, 4 SU 30 Sukhoi Flanker jets and 12 MI-24 Attack Helicopters. The Russian airstrikes map of Syria primarily targeted the Rebel-held areas in the Hama and Idlib provinces erasing the gains made by the Rebels and bolstering the Assad regime. The bombing patterns of the Russians till very late in their short campaign focused on the Alawite minority-dominated regions of Hama, Idlib and later Aleppo. The pattern clearly showed that Russia’s primary aim was not to defeat ISIS, but to strengthen the Assad regime and secure its assets like the naval base at Tartus on the Syrian Coast. The United States and its Sunni Arab coalition was incensed with the Russian intervention as it spoilt a likely victory in Syria. Russia in the meanwhile, set up a coordination centre with Israel, allowing the Israeli Air force to strike a transfer of arms to Hezbollah, a sworn enemy of Israel in return for better logistical support from an unlikely US ally in the Middle East. This co-ordination with Israel was however limited as Russia is also supplying weapon systems to Israel's nemesis Iran.

The bombing of a Russian jetliner by ISIS in Sinai over Egypt killed nearly 226 people on 31st October 2015, provided a new challenge to the Russian leadership over its campaign in Syria. The Russian leadership remaining steadfast over its military intervention suspended its flights to Sinai to mitigate such risks. Nearly a month after the deadly bombing of the  Russian jetliner in Egypt, Russia faced another military challenge on  24th November 2015 when the Turkish Air force shot down a Russian Air force jet SU 24 on its border with Syria. The shooting down of a Russian jet by a NATO country was a first in many decades and had the potential to escalate the Syrian conflict globally. Turkey justified its shoot down of the Russian jet claiming it violated its airspace despite warnings; while Russia categorically denied the same and countered with economic sanctions against Turkey. Russia in response also deployed its S-400 Missile Defence system to securing the Syrian airspace for its missions and Turkey responded by deploying the KOLAR electronic jamming system on its southern border with Syria. 

The bombing of the Russian jetliner and the killing of its pilot by the Syrian rebels by Turkey further aggravated the Russian response to the Rebels in Northwest Syria. The Russian leadership under Vladimir Putin displayed its resolve by intensifying its air campaign in Syria in Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo, which was countered by the western media as high human casualties due to the bombings of schools, bakery’s, hospitals, etc. The continuous bombing raids by the Russian Air force and the coordinated ground assault by Regime forces along with the Shia militias further choked the Syrian Rebels, pushing them back. The offensive started to show results.  The events in early 2016 (January-February) started tilting the balance on the ground towards the Assad regime as the Rebels started to lose their earlier territorial gains. The Aleppo offensive in February 2016 was another decisive manoeuvre by Russia where the supply lines to Turkey were cut off. This put the city under siege leading millions to flee towards the Turkish border as refugees. The battle for Aleppo, the centre of the Syrian Revolution was a defining moment. 

Russia’s military offensive against the Syrian Rebels was followed by swift diplomatic manoeuvres like the talks in Geneva with the US and the Saudi Arabia led GCC states to help achieve a political solution. Russia’s forceful intervention and the pushback of the Syrian Rebels strengthened its diplomatic hand at the negotiating table. Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the 2015 Riyadh Conference gathered all the Rebels groups, but Russia refused to accept their say in the peace process and demanded that the Syrian Kurds who were actively fighting against ISIS, should also be made a part of the political process. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, however, rejected this demand. Meanwhile, the US-backed and trained SDF, a group of Syrian Arab and Kurdish groups who were leading the charge on ISIS; opened its office in Moscow. After Russia’s acceptance, the UNSC; post five years of the Syrian Civil War finally passed a Resolution No. 2254 on 18th December 2015. The UNSC Resolution called for a ceasefire between the Syrian Regime and the Rebels while declaring ISIS and Nusra as terrorist organizations. The Resolution also laid down the conditions of dialogue under UN Leadership leading to a political transition in Syria by way of a New Constitution leading up to 2016-2017.

Russia, cashing upon the gains made in the short military campaign took advantage of America’s dithering of fighting against the Jihadists; backed the Syrian Kurds by proposing a Federal Structure for new Syrian Constitution. After years of opposition, the Syrian rebel groups finally seem to be embracing the Russian idea of sharing power with the Assad regime in Syria as a part of a political transition. Russia was instrumental in not only suppressing the Western-backed rebels but also getting them to drop any preconditions of the removal of Assad. Russia followed this up with Cessation of Hostilities Agreement which was announced by the Foreign Ministers of the US and Russia on 22nd February 2016.  This stated that a nationwide ceasefire would go into effect between the Syrian regime and the recognised Syrian Rebel groups while the fight against ISIS and Nusra jihadists will continue. The ISSG Taskforce will monitor the ceasefire under the UN. This ceasefire came into operation on 27th February 2016. Contrary to various western experts and strategists, the Russian leadership quickly de-escalated its military campaign while maintaining sufficient strength on the ground to deter any change of status quo. Russia withdrew some of its forces in March 2016 surprising the Western experts who prophesized a quagmire like Afghanistan for Russia. The Russian leadership taking a leaf out of its Afghan disaster in the 80's minimized the risks while achieving its strategic objectives. As the ceasefire precariously holds on, the Russian-backed offensive of Syrian regime achieved another success by liberating Palmyra from ISIS. 

To understand the Russian military campaign, one needs to decipher the strategic goals; the Russian policy makers had in Syria. After carefully examining the pattern of Russian air strikes in Rebel-held areas, it can be stated that the Russian strategic objectives in Syria were multi fold. They were (a) To protect its naval assets in Tartus Port and push back the rebel forces to a safe limit; (b) Ensure the stability of the fragile Syrian regime which was on the verge of collapse, (c) Increase the regime depth in the Northwest provinces of Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo by air strikes, (d) Secure the Alawite, and Druze minority dominated enclaves in the North and West of Syria.  Last but not the least; secure a place for itself at the negotiating table when the talks for the Syrian Political transition mandated by the UN get underway. It was a strategic and a diplomatic victory which Russia sought to underscore by a short and swift military campaign. 

Russia’s military scale down just when the battle of Aleppo was nearing a crescendo and its acceptance to coordinate with the United States on the Political Transition in Syria and the fight against ISIS underscores the strategies of the Russian leadership. The Russian military campaign was never aimed at securing a military victory for Assad or to wipe out the ISIS.  Russia outsmarted the West in the Syrian conflict while securing its strategic interest and also sent a global message that Russia is a dependable ally. The Syrian conflict also provided the Russian military industrial complex to showcase that its men and machines still have the power to roll over and stall hegemons across the world.

Foundational Agreements and the Growing Indo-US Partnership

Photo Credit: AFP
Since the time Narendra Modi has been elected as the Prime Minister of India in May 2014, his foreign policy has been dynamic and innovative, to say the least. Unlike the previous administrations, which continued to be ambivalent on India’s attitude towards the world, the Modi Government has taken steps to break traditional barriers with innovative yet strategic decision-making. One of the prime focuses of PM Modi’s foreign policy has been the defence and military engagements with the US and its allies in Asia-Pacific. In addition to military exercises like Malabar with Japan and US, nuclear deal with Australia, India in January 2015 concluded a 10-year Defence Partnership agreement during President Obama’s visit to India. India and US in the Defence Agreement signed in January 2015 agreed on incorporating DTTI (Defense Technology and Trade Initiative) as part of bilateral cooperation in exchange of technologies and arms. DTTI’s incorporation in the bilateral defence agreement with the US marked a new phase and a stark departure from the previous UPA regime, which hedged on signing DTTI.

The incorporation of DTTI and the US proposals to share technologies in critical sectors like aircraft carriers and jet engines set the ball rolling for future military co-operation between the two countries. The US has been prodding India to sign three further foundational military agreements namely the LSA, CISMOA, and BECA as an enabler for transfer of critical technologies that India desires. On April 12, 2016, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter visited India to conclude these Foundational Agreements.  India and the US announced that they have principally agreed on the terms of one agreement i.e. Logistical Support Agreement (LSA) and expect it to be signed in the coming months. There has been much skepticism over the nature of these foundational agreements, on what they mean in practical terms and what the geopolitical impact of the same is. Let's look into the facts of these agreements and likely effects of its signing in the near future.

LSA, the first of the agreements, which India has agreed to sign, generally entails the sharing of military logistics like bases and refueling and providing facilities to armed forces, aircrafts and maritime vessels. The purpose of LSA is better coordination between the two militaries on the ground in the theater of war, peace, natural disasters, relief and rescue efforts, military training and exercises. However, unlike the other US allies, India placed some concerns with the US on hosting US military bases on Indian Territory. The objection raised by India on US military bases is valid given its sovereign autonomy. After intense negotiations, India has been able to gain concessions from the US on an India-specific LSA, which addresses India’s concerns. Under the proposed terms of the agreement, India will share its military facilities with the US on reciprocal basis only for refueling, relief, rescue and other logistical support. India has categorically stated that this agreement does not mean that US Forces will be permanently stationed on Indian military bases. India has further stated that coordination with the US under the proposed LSA will be on a case-to-case basis.

It is worth mentioning that even Philippines in 2002 signed a similar agreement MLSA (Mutual Logistical Support Agreement) with the US, whereby the Philippines and the US military agreed to share logistics and coordinate military activities. The said agreement explicitly laid out terms of the activities covered in MLSA i.e. supplies like food, Oil, water, lubricants, ammunition, etc as agreed between the parties. The MLSA further included repair, maintenance, training, transport and medical services. However it specifically stated that “No United States military base, facility or permanent structure shall be constructed, established, or allowed under this Agreement.” The proposed agreement of LSA which India has agreed to sign is on similar lines with India’s sovereignty not being diluted.  The LSA reaffirms that the storage units and other facilities shall always remain under the control and supervision of the host state. India has agreed to LSA given that the extent of military cooperation between India and the US has increased multifold in the last decade from anti-piracy efforts, Nepal earthquake rescue, and military exercises.

The other agreements which the US wishes India to sign as a precursor to technology transfers are CISMOA (Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement). These agreements are contentious in nature as CISMOA primarily will enable the US and India to share encrypted technologies on critical weapon systems with each other. The US argument is that it requires this agreement to be signed to provide India with encrypted technologies like on the P8I and C-130 Hercules which the Indian Air Force operates. The US, in the past, has removed the critical encryption technologies while supplying these aircraft manufactured by Boeing to the Indian Air Force. Other arguments put forward in favour of CISMOA are that it entails the sharing of encryption and communications like radio frequency which would make the coordination between the two militaries easier in a war zone for calling for a military strike or missile defence system like the Patriot which works on certain US spectrum frequencies. CISMOA also means the greater exchange of command operations between the two countries with Indian and US commanders operating on each other’s facilities, technologies, etc. India and specifically its Air Force have steadfastly objected to this agreement as India uses various encrypted technologies of Russian and French origin on some of its weapon systems which it would not like to share with the US. The objections of India on sharing encrypted technologies of critical weapons systems seem valid, and it remains to be seen how the two negotiate on these contentious issues.

The third foundational agreement between India and the US is BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement).  This agreement proposes to share geospatial data or sharing numerical data on target locations as well as forces stationed in the area. It also talks about sharing GPS coordinates between the two sides in the theatres of war as well as rescue and relief missions. India’s objection to this agreement is that it is on the verge of developing its own GPS System to map digital data of the Subcontinent and that it may not need this agreement. On the flip side, this agreement could provide India with the US’s GPS facilities outside of the Subcontinent especially in the Indian Ocean region and South East Asia as the military coordination between both the parties increases. Hence like LSA (agreed upon), both CISMOA and BECA need careful considerations and deliberations to resolve any clauses that could hamper India’s sovereign rights and its defence relationship with any other world power.

The conclusion of LSA between India and the US offers an entirely new prospect of military and defence cooperation between the two largest democracies on the planet. The signing of LSA would send a larger geopolitical signal to India’s regional competitors especially China, who is trying to create a Global Order-oriented from Shanghai. China’s rise and its creeping takeover of Pakistan has added a totally a new dimension to the geopolitics in Asia. China has recently even outpaced the US in aiding and arming Pakistan with $49 billion for the CPEC, JF-17 Fighter Jets (with RD 93 engines provided by Russia), submarines and missile and nuclear technologies. China also recently vetoed India’s attempt to get Pakistan-based terrorist Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar banned for the Pathankot attack. The creeping Chinese colonisation of Pakistan presents a whole new set of challenges to India’s security doctrine with a prospect of a two-front war in the future. It is in this context that India needs to prepare a comprehensive strategic doctrine to augment its military and economic strength which will require the aid of countries like the US, Japan and even its old friend Russia to contain the Chinese dragon.

While the prospect of an Indo-US military partnership seems lucrative in the wake of a rising China; yet the agreements have some genuine apprehensions. India has reportedly asked the United States to stand guarantee for Transfer of Technologies by its military industrial complex. Earlier assurances of India’s entry into NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) for The Nuclear Deal in 2009-10 have yielded no results thus far. India’s entry into MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) was also recently blocked by Italy. When it comes to the US, the lucrative deals being made on offer like F-18 Super Hornets, aircraft carriers, etc in Make in India have so far turned out to be mere lip service. The apprehension in India about the US’s willingness to transfer technologies to India and its arms supplies to Pakistan is genuine. It is this trust deficit that the two powers will have to bridge if they are to work together in the Asia-Pacific. The United States will have to stand the test of time and deliver; for which it has repeatedly proved to be fickle and unreliable.Only time will judge whether Indo-US military agreements like LSA will prove to be a game-changer in the Asia Pacific Region.

India’s Karakoram Conundrum: A Legacy of the Great Game

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The Karakoram Range lies on the northernmost borders of Pakistan and India, further extending into the western border of China. The range houses a huge concentration of peaks over 8000 metres in height including Mount K2, the world’s second highest peak.

By late 19th century, the region got incorporated into the British India’s princely state of Kashmir. It consists of the Ladakh region in India, Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and touches the Aksai Chin region occupied by China. 

The post-Second World War era, when India was partitioned and China saw a Communist takeover brought the region into the limelight. Immediately after its inception, Pakistan occupied the Gilgit-Baltistan region. To find a solution to the conflict, the then Prime Minister Nehru appealed to the UN, which facilitated for a ceasefire line in 1949. The ceasefire agreement gave a vague border demarcation in the high reaches of Karakoram(the Siachen Glacier) as it consisted of uninhabitable terrain. This ambiguity led to ‘Operation Meghdoot’ by the Indian Army in 1984 to capture the Siachen Glacier, which added another dimension to the Kashmir conflict. Since the northern borders of Siachen touch China, the glacier is the world’s only trilateral border junction of three nuclear powers.  

In 1999, India and Pakistan fought a war in Kargil, which also lies in the Karakoram region. The Pakistani army occupied strategic peaks lying in the Indian Territory overlooking the Leh-Srinagar highway. The control over these peaks threatened to disconnect the Ladakh region from rest of Kashmir. In the end, the Indian Army was successful in recapturing these peaks.

With regard to China, the dispute started in Eastern Karakoram over the conflicting demarcation of the Aksai Chin region which led to a Sino-Indian war in 1962, following which China occupied Aksai Chin. China’s ‘National Highway 219’ linking Xinjiang with Tibet passes through Aksai Chin and hence is supreme to China’s strategic interests. It was the construction of this highway in the 1950s which gave rise to the Sino-Indian hostilities.

The dispute over Karakorams can be summarised as follows:
  1. Pakistani Occupation of Kashmir in 1947, through which Gilgit-Baltistan came under Pakistani control.
  2. The war between India and China in 1962 which resulted in the Chinese Occupation of Aksai Chin.
  3. The China-Pakistan boundary agreement in 1963 which demarcated borders of both nations in the Karakoram region and the subsequent cession Trans-Karakoram Tract by Pakistan to China.
  4. The construction of Karakoram Highway (beginning in 1967) which links Pakistan to China which was the starting point of strategic cooperation between China and Pakistan
  5. The dispute over Siachen glacier which led to Indian Army capturing the glacier in 1984 making it world’s highest battlefield.
  6. The Kargil crisis of 1999. 
The Karakoram Highway:  Sino-Pak Geopolitical Alliance 

India’s border disputes with both Pakistan and China in the Karakoram region brought these nations together and their alliance manifested in the form of the construction of Karakoram Highway in the 1960s, which is the sole overland link between Pakistan and China through the Gilgit-Baltistan region. India still claims Gilgit-Baltistan as a part of Kashmiri territory occupied by Pakistan.

Recently, Sino-Pak ties reached a new level when China unveiled the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a southward extension of China’s Silk Road economic belt initiative, which will extend the highway southwards to the Pakistan’s port city of Gwadar in Balochistan. The CPEC will drastically shorten the tedious maritime route which China currently uses. In the current maritime route, ships destined for China have to pass through the waters surrounding the Indian Peninsula and the US Navy controlled Malacca straits before docking at Chinese ports. With the completion of CPEC, the imports will be docked at Gwadar port, From Gwardar, these goods will be transported to China via the Karakoram highway. This circumvention of this lengthy trade route is not only aimed at cutting the transportation costs but also has a strategic dimension as any possible threat from Indian or US naval presence will be evaded once Gwadar port is connected to the Karakoram Highway through the CPEC.

Roots of Contested Geopolitics: The Great Game

To understand the complexity of the Karakorams, it is quintessential to take a larger picture of the legacy of the ‘Great Game’, which was a 19th century scramble for Central Asian territory between the Great Britain and Russia. The period was marked with both the nations sending their army and spy expeditions to map this hitherto unmapped region. The whole of 19th century was characterised with a constant suspicion of the Russians attempting to invade British India from her Northwestern frontiers. Much of this apprehension of Russian invasion of British India led to the drawing the present day India’s northernmost frontiers.

Rapid Russian conquests of Central Asian Khanates (kingdoms) brought the Russians close to the northern fringes of the Karakoram Mountains, that is, in the Pamir Mountains (Present day Tajikistan). Also, Russia’s commercial dealings with Kashgar (now in Xinjiang, was a famous city of the Leh-Yarkand-Kashgar silk route) too made the British anxious of a possible Russian infiltration from Xinjiang.

By late 19th century, the British became more active in attempting to cartographically demarcate India’s northern frontiers. In this period, the Afghan frontier was drawn (Durand Line) and the northern expansion of Maharaja of Kashmir’s territories took place. Efforts were also made to negotiate with the Chinese and Russians. The Russians came to the bargaining table and negotiated boundary agreements and buffer regions but the Chinese, on the other hand, didn’t cooperate.

The Great Game ended long ago, but the era of suspicion, border disputes and geopolitical calculations it propagated got carried into the post-colonial states of India, China and Pakistan. These imaginations of the Great Game got reproduced on the smaller canvas of Karakoram mountain ranges. The obsession with borders and strategic mountain passes still characterise the Karakoram region. India as a mutual enemy strengthened the Chinese and Pakistani relations through the Karakoram highway and an unconditional border agreement. On the other hand, the Indian side Karakoram’s borders of Ladakh with Baltistan(Pakistan) and Aksai Chin(China) are heavily militarised.

The Karakorams have a glorious past as a Silk Route road connecting India to the markets of Central Asia. The region also characterises a rich cultural intermingling of Kashmiri, Turkic and Buddhist culture which through the crisscrossing of trading caravans. Once India’s historical gateway to Central Asia and China, is today a strategic flashpoint between India, China and Pakistan. 

Submitted by: Prateek Joshi

Indus Water Treaty: Next Victim of Water Wars? Part - II

Continued from part - 1
This article is the final article in a 2 Part series covering the historic Indus Water Treaty (IWT). In the previous part, we have explored the dynamics of India and Pakistan with reference to IWT.  We will continue and appraise the IWT with norms of international laws and conventions on sharing of international river basins. There are a total of 261 river basins in the world which are shared by co-riparians. Due to the lack of a universal agency to enforce the water sharing mechanism between states, international and conventions on water sharing are difficult to implement. 

Generally, the upper riparian states claim absolute territorial sovereignty, with the right to use and exploit the waters in their own territory without any consideration of the effect of such use and exploitation on the lower riparians. Lower riparians claim the absolute integrity of the river, claiming that upper riparians have no right to take any action that alters the quality/quantity of water in the basin. The contradiction of these two stands results in inordinate delays in resolution of disputes related to sharing of water between co-riparians.

IWT vs. International Laws and Conventions

The Rule of Equitable Utilization was codified by the UNGA in May 1997 as the first principle of water sharing in Article 5. This rule enjoins the co-riparian states to utilize and international water course in an equitable and reasonable manner. It gives the right to each co-riparian to participate in protections, use and development of all international water basins in an equitable manner.

Besides the Principle of Equitable Distribution, the UN Convention also accepted the second principle of water sharing called the ‘No-Harm Rule’ in Article 7. This rule seeks to protect the existing uses of water. Though it may appear contradictory to the first rule of equitable utilization, the UN Convention has clarified that the Law of Equitable Utilization takes precedence over the No-Harm Rule.

Equitable sharing of waters of an international river basin is not easy to define. However, certain guidelines have been laid down in Article 6 of the UN Convention as under:
  1. Natural character to include geography, hydrography, hydrology, ecology, climate etc.
  2. Economic and social status and needs of the co-riparians.
  3. Implications and effects of use(s) of water basin by one co-riparian on other(s).
  4. Present and future potential uses of the water basin.
  5. Protection, conservation and development of water resources in a cost effective and economic manner.
  6. Whether alternatives to a particular type of water use are available.

All disputes are to be referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and all parties must agree to doing so as also accept the court’s verdict. Since every country treats water as a strategic resource there is always reluctance in referring it to the ICJ. The IWT was the first international water sharing treaty negotiated with the help of a neutral third party and at the time of signing, the UN Convention of 1997 was not in vogue. Thus the application and implementation of international water sharing laws always remains a question mark with the UN.

Comparison of IWT with other Water Sharing Treaties

Treaties on sharing of international river basins vary based on the following parameters-The no. of parties to the agreement (Bilateral/Multilateral), territorial extent (Entire basin or part of it),subject matter of cooperation (data collection, allocation, planning, construction works etc.) and intensity of cooperation, ranging from sharing of information to joint planning and implementation of common developmental projects and programs. Based on the above mentioned parameters, the major water sharing treaties can be classified into following categories:
  1. The Most Committed and More Cooperative Basins- this includes basins like Niger (nine members) and Rio Grande / Colorado (two members). The Niger River Commission is a multipurpose institution with broad authority over the entire basin for areas of data collection, navigation, irrigation, development, hydropower and environmental monitoring. In the case of Rio Grande / Colorado, the International Boundary and Water Commission manage the two basins as well as the border between the USA and Mexico. The commission has developed a unique and equitable approach and deals with all aspects governing water quality and sanitation, flood control and water allocation. Over the years, it has expanded its jurisdiction due to the high level of cooperation between the two states.
  2. River Basins with Medium Levels of Cooperation- in this category, the co-riparian states cooperate only in certain specific areas, e.g. Elbe River Basin. The International Commission for the Protection of River Elbe has the narrow mandate of ensuring water quality for drinking water supply and irrigation.
  3. River Basins with Least Cooperative Regimes- the Indus and Ganges-Brahmaputra river basins have cooperation regimes restricted to very narrowly defined areas. In the case of the 1996 treaty on sharing of Ganges waters between India and Bangladesh at Farakka. The treaty refers to a single use i.e. how much Ganges water will be used by India and Bangladesh in various seasons in order to ensure that India has enough water to flush the port of Kolkata. In case of the IWT, the jurisdiction of the Indus commission is restricted only to inspection and monitoring as India and Pakistan utilize their water resources individually and there is no joint management of the basin.

Thus, it can be seen that an elaborate framework of cooperation without mutual trust and willingness to cooperate doesn’t guarantee the success of water sharing treaties. On the other hand, the Elbe basin is a successful model of cooperation despite a narrower mandate of cooperation due to willingness and trust between the co-riparians. However, the IWT is considered a successful treaty as Indian and Pakistan, with their bitter history of conflict and mistrust, needed to maintain low levels of commitment and cooperation. Though the IWT called for cooperation in joint planning and development of the Indus Basin by India and Pakistan, no matter requiring joint planning has been proposed by either side thus far. The IWT has, therefore, been a ‘conflict resolution’ rather than a ‘basin management’ treaty.

We will now offer a few suggestions to ensure this iconic treaty that has stood the test of time, 3 wars and constant strife remains a model of India-Pakistan cooperation, more so at a time when water scarcity is a harsh reality and given the history of these warring nations, it could turn a historic treaty into the next victim of Water Wars.

In the specific case of Pakistan which depends on the Indus river basin for most of its water requirement, the World Bank’s Strategic Country Environment Assessment Report, 2007 mentioned that the per capita availability of water in Pakistan had declined from about 5000 cubic meters in 1951 to about 1100 in 2007, just above the internationally recognized scarcity rate. It further estimated that this would drop below 700 cubic meters per person by 2025. 

Even if Indian dams on the Western rivers are destroyed, it would make no fundamental change to the availability of water in Pakistan for three reasons. One, the Indian infrastructure on these rivers is mostly run-of-the-water, with no additional storage after the initial filling is done. Two, India has still not fully utilized the amount of storage authorized to it by the treaty. Lastly, Pakistan is struggling with storage of even the present amount of water resources, with no new major dams since the Tarbela Dam, which is also under stress due to silting. Its storage capacity as decreased from an initial 9.6 million acres foot (MAF) to about 6.6 MAF due to lack of maintenance over the years. To rectify this problem now will need monetary and engineering resources that may exceed the current capability of the Pakistan economy.

Despite its generous hydro diplomacy, India has not been able to exploit its own water resources or earn some goodwill from its co-riparian neighbours. Similarly, Pakistan also faces acute domestic pressure over the inter province rivalry over the distribution of Indus waters. The idea of ‘Water Rationality’ proposes that countries act to safeguard their long term supply of fresh water. Towards this end, cooperation rather than conflict appears to be a more probable and beneficial option between the two co-riparian nations. Pakistan has been following the legalistic approach in dealing with the water sharing issues with India because of which it ends up blocking and delaying most of the Indian projects. As most of the Indian projects on the Western rivers are meant for development of the region of J&K, Pakistan’s approach should be based on ‘human security approach’. This would be mutually beneficial to both sides as India can ensure development of the state of J&K and Pakistan will benefit from the regulation of supplies which fluctuate between floods during monsoon to no supply during the dry months. Water needs to be treated as an apolitical resource. The IWT had to be negotiated for over 12 years due to the politicization of the technical and engineering issues related to the sharing of the waters. The World Bank was forced to modify its proposal of joint management of the Indus Basin to division of rivers between the two states. The current day objections being raised by Pakistan are more political in nature rather than being objective and related to the provisions of the IWT. It is in the interest of both the countries to strengthen the bilateral mechanism of the Permanent Indus Commission and resolve issues on a technical basis rather than getting into time consuming and seemingly never ending international arbitration.


Both Pakistan and India need water, but there is a colossal amount of wastage of ground water due to inefficient irrigation and on other accounts of mismanagement of water. While farming takes only 3 percent of water withdrawals in the UK and 41 percent in the USA, the percentage is as high as 90 percent in India and Pakistan. Water management can be improved by undertaking actions under the three basic categories i.e. increase supply, decrease demand and improve quality. No new water sources are likely to be developed in the near future. On the contrary, existing water supply is likely to be depleted in due course of time due to global warming and silting of rivers and dams. In order to improve the supply of water, focus has to shift on better water management practices, some of which include wastewater reclamation, water harvesting and desalination. This would also include improvement of the irrigation canal network in Pakistan Punjab, which has seriously degraded over the years due to neglect. 

Demand can be decreased/ rationalized by improvement in irrigation techniques. Both India and Pakistan use flood irrigation technique which not only leads to large amount of wastage of water, but also causes degradation of the quality of soil due to salivation and silting. Alternative water efficient techniques like drip irrigation need to be developed. Public awareness for water conservation, rationing and management of urban and industrial demand should be inculcated and underground water should be avoided for irrigation purposes as the same will severely reduce the availability of drinking water in the medium to long term.

Lastly, emphasis should be put on improving the quality of water. At present, the entire debate and dispute over sharing of Indus waters is centered around the quantity of water with little concern on the need to maintain the quality of water in the basin. Quality of water can be improved by treatment of drinking water at appropriate levels and ensuring sanitation in and around river bodies. This would further help in controlling water borne diseases.


There is universal acknowledgement of the IWT being a model treaty that has stood even through three wars in the area in question. However, one possible reason for this could be that the upper riparian i.e. India, for a long time, lacked the economic means to exploit the resources allocated to it by the treaty. It was only after the economic liberalization in the 90s that India started to develop works and projects on the Western rivers to exploit the share of water legally allocated to it by the IWT, and it was only since then that major differences on the interpretation of the treaty arose between India and Pakistan. This narrative is yet to play out fully in the future as India moves towards realizing its full share of the waters of the Western rivers over the coming years. 

The role of the World Bank as a third party was pivotal in creating the negotiating space required by the two countries. The World Bank also leveraged its financial muscle to remove the deadlocks created during the negotiations. The process of the two adversaries reaching an agreement over the sharing of the waters is also an act of water rationality and reinforces the belief that co-riparians must cooperate to achieve water security as conflicts and wars over water have no scope of improving the water availability and quality. 

The IWT is also a unique treaty as it focused on equitable division rather than the sharing of the Indus Rivers. This very feature of the treaty is also a technical restriction in ensuring optimum utilization of the river basin. With a growing requirement of water on both sides and the dwindling supply in the rivers, the IWT, like some other treaties, has come under stress and is likely to remain so in future also. The treaty may be sub-optimal on the utilization and development of the Indus Basin, but it is the best the two countries could agree upon after long lasting negotiations spread over 12 years. India and Pakistan need to ensure that the water sharing issues are discussed and resolved at appropriate levels rather than being made a political and leveraging issue. The level of cooperation on water sharing issues between India and Pakistan is far below the ideal, but he same is not a restriction imposed by the provisions of the IWT, but by the complex political environment of rivalry and mistrust which has mired the Indo-Pak relations ever since Partition.

The IWT has stood the test of extreme provocations and three all out wars in the last 50 years, coupled with a long standing insurgency abetted by Pakistan. This, in itself, is sufficient to call it a successful treaty beyond all doubt.

Indus Water Treaty: Next Victim of Water Wars? Part - I

This article is Part 1 in a 2 Part series covering the historic Indus Water Treaty (IWT). With the world facing an acute water shortage and water crisis being inevitable in the future, this treaty is cited as a model of cooperation between two sworn enemies that has even stood through three wars and a prolonged low intensity conflict. Will this continue to be the same in the future or will it become a victim of Water Wars? This gets more alarming in the India-Pakistan context when one adds the issue of dispute over Indus waters to the historical Kashmir dispute between the two nuclear armed countries which may become a potential trigger for a future war in the subcontinent. 

In the first decade since Partition of India in194, one of the most intractable issues left over was the sharing of river and canal waters. What was developed as a single irrigation system over millennia had to be divided between two Sovereign States and to make matters worse, the waters in question flowed through Kashmir, a region that had led to armed conflict soon in the formative years of the two states and repeatedly after. It took the good offices of the World Bank to negotiate a fair and acceptable treaty for the sharing of the waters of the Indus River System between India and Pakistan.

The Indus river system consists of the Indus River and its major tributaries that include Kabul, Kurram, Swat, Jhelum and Chenab rivers in the West and Ravi, Beas and Sutlej in the East. The Indus originates near the Mansarovar Lake and travels through Tibet before entering India in the South-Eastern part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Thereafter, it passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and then Pakistan before finally draining into the Arabian Sea near Karachi.

However, lately there have been a lot of stresses and strains on the treaty that may make water sharing a politically charged issue between India and Pakistan, possibly even overtaking the issue of Kashmir as the primary source of conflict. Though there is a lack of mutual trust and accommodative spirit between India and Pakistan on most bilateral issues including sharing of water, it is in the interest of both countries to resolve all issues of water sharing on a technical basis within the consultative and reconciliatory framework provided in the IWT rather than letting these be taken over by political or emotional narratives.

Before Partition, The British developed an elaborate system of irrigation canals in the Indus basin in the 19th century. Most of the canals were constructed in the provinces of Punjab and Sind. However, each province built its own works independently due to lack of an integrated approach. Due to a lack of storage facilities, competition for the run-of-river flow increased and led to a dispute between Sind and Punjab in the 1930s. Events leading to the Partition obstructed any final settlement of the dispute. Upon Partition, India became the upper riparian in all five rivers of the Indus Water Basin in Punjab due to the location of headworks on the Indian side of the international boundary. The standstill agreement lapsed on 31 March 1948 and India stopped the water supply to Pakistan on 01 Apr 1948 due to nonpayment of revenue. This is considered to be the start point of the escalation of the dispute as it created a fear psychosis in the minds of Pakistan that India could hold Pakistan to ransom on the issue of water. The two countries signed a temporary Inter Dominion Agreement (also called the Delhi Agreement) in May 1948 to maintain the pre-partition status quo n water sharing till resolution of the dispute over revenue payment. However, India and Pakistan failed to resolve the dispute at a bilateral level due to lack of trust and political will on account of hardened domestic opinions. Pakistan wanted to escalate the dispute by referring it to the International Court of Justice which was rejected by India. On 01 Nov 1949, Pakistan declared the Delhi Agreement to be null and void and stopped making revenue payments with effect from July 1950. However, India continued to supply water to Pakistan without any disruption.

The World Bank’s Involvement
India and Pakistan had both applied for loans from the World Bank for development of works on the disputed waters of Sutlej, which were initially rejected. Later, the World Bank President, Eugene R. Black visited India and Pakistan and proposed the formation of a joint working group of engineers from India, Pakistan and the World Bank. He was of the view that the issue of sharing / division of water should be treated from a ‘functional’, rather than a political perspective. India wanted to use the eater flowing through its territory to develop its own irrigation network. Pakistan was concerned about the resultant damage to its existing usage and the need to ensure uninterrupted supply of water for agriculture. As the negotiations were not making any headway, the World Bank put forward its own settlement proposals in Feb 1954, offering the three Eastern Rivers to India and the three Western Rivers to Pakistan. Under the proposed plan, Pakistan had to construct replacement works to channelize the waters of the western rivers to compensate for the loss of waters of the eastern rivers. The World Bank proposed that India should bear the cost of replacement works in Pakistan. While Pakistan wanted the Indian financial liability to cover the cost of all transfer works as well as developmental works, the huge financial liability of USD 1.2Billion was not acceptable to India. The World Bank President then proposed a solution as per which, India was required to pay a fixed sum of £62.060Million in ten equal yearly installments while the Bank would raise additional funds for Pakistan with the help of Western donor countries. The donors pledged an additional $900Million, clearing the way for the conclusion of the treaty.

Given the inimical and belligerent attitude of India and Pakistan, the mediation by the World Bank acted as a facilitator for continued engagement and negotiations. The World Bank was able to leverage its position as the principal financer to both nations in taking the negotiations ahead. In addition, mid-course correction by the World Bank proposing division of rivers rather than joint development was able to break the deadlock created due to differing positions of India and Pakistan on the sharing of the waters. Intervention by the USA and other developed countries by the way of supporting the World Bank efforts for settlement of the dispute gave the necessary impetus to the negotiation process. In addition, financial contributions by international donors to the Indus Basin Development Fund was an important pre-requisite for the treaty as India and Pakistan were not in a position to bear the huge cost of replacement and development works involved.

The treaty was signed in Karachi between the Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the Pakistani President Field Marshal Ayub Khan, along with the World Bank President W.A.B Illif, in September 1960. It was deemed effective from 01 Apr 1960 but was only ratified by the two governments later in January 1961.

When analyzing any treaty, it is imperative that both sides must be given equal weightage along with a similar cost-benefit ratio in order to have a balanced perspective. Policy making is relatively easy but history is witness that when the vision has been myopic, it has only led to long term strife rather than a clear acceptable long term solution. After all, Geopolitics is very dynamic and balances of power can drastically change by the turn of the decade. However, mutual acrimony aside, it’s important to separate facts from paranoia.

An Uneasy Partnership

The Partition of India left Pakistan as the lower riparian with most of the headworks on the Indian side. The experience of India shutting off water in 1948 led to the issue of water security and availability, assuming great importance for Pakistan since its inception making it both an emotive and a political issue during an already sensitive time.

Indus basin accounts for nearly 65% of water available in Pakistan. As an agrarian economy which follows ‘flood irrigation’ techniques, Pakistan relies heavily on the Indus waters for sustaining its population and irrigation needs. A bulk of Pakistan’s settled population depends upon the Indus and its tributaries for sustenance. The lower riparian states of Sindh and Balochistan have been accusing the Punjab province of Pakistan of gross misappropriation and over utilization of the river waters, leading to inter province rivalry within Pakistan and consequent water politics. The dams on the Indus Rivers have been conspicuous sources of conflict amongst the states in mainland Pakistan and a source of discontent amongst the people of PoK.

The political hierarchy of the country leaves no opportunity in linking the shortage of water to the alleged violations of the IWT by India. In addition, terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba have also found a scapegoat in India for the growing water scarcity in Pakistan. Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Taiba has warned that “Muslims dying of thirst would drink the blood of India.”

Pakistan’s fears that India may dry out the rivers before reaching Pakistan by manipulating the storage facilities in various projects are unrealistic as all major Indian projects including the Baglihar Dam are located well inside the Indian Territory and any attempts to dry out the rivers or tributaries will first affect the Indian downstream projects. Moreover, the treaty specifies the maximum and minimum daily/weekly releases from the projects. This has never been violated by India even during wars. In fact, Indus has shown a markedly increased flow over the last decade which belies Pakistani claim of shortages.

Pakistan also fears that India may flood areas in Pakistan by opening gates of Pondage Facility; however due to the physical location of major India projects; the devastation due to flooding will primarily affect areas on the Indian side with minimal damage on the Pakistani side. Releases from run-of-the-river projects cannot cause major floods downstream. It also states that India is violating the IWT by undertaking too many Hydroelectric and Water Storage Projects on the Western Rivers. The IWT permits India to create capacity to store up to 3.6MAF water, number of projects being immaterial. Detailed specifications of hydropower projects by India on Western Rivers as laid down in the IWT have been strictly adhered to. Thus, the Pakistani claim is more political than technical. Its other bizarre claim that India is stealing the Indus Waters, leading to water crisis in Pakistan has been negated by former Pakistani Foreign Minister SM Qureshi, who has said in a TV interview on a Pakistani channel that Pakistan’s water problems are a result of inefficient irrigation and water management, not because of India.

Pakistan’s basic premise since the commencement of negotiations has been that the distribution of Indus waters between India and Pakistan should be based on the theory of ‘Historical Use’ as it sought to gain from the extensive development of canal system in areas of West Pakistan during British rule. However, as a result of the IWT, Pakistan had to let go of its rights over the three Eastern Rivers. So far, Pakistan has attempted to disrupt all such Indian projects by raising unqualified objections. The narrative of the water dispute has been hijacked by politicians. Sardar Asaf Ali, former advisor to the Pakistani Prime Minister has said, “The impending issues over sharing river water between India and Pakistan could trigger a war. Pakistan could pull out of IWT if India does not stop violating the treaty by construction of new dams on Indus River”. Most of the Indus Rivers receive 70-80 percent of water during the monsoon months which requires dams and storage works to achieve optimum utilization. As Pakistan is not in a position to build storage dams on the Western rivers due to geographical challenges, a huge amount of water goes waste into the Arabian Sea. In addition, the monsoons are generally accompanied by huge floods which cause loss of crops and infrastructure in rural Pakistan. As per Food and Agriculture Organization estimates, approximately 21 percent of arable land in Pakistan suffers from salinity and water logging due to excess waters in the Indus basin and the practice of flood irrigation techniques.

India has maintained a position of absolute sovereignty over all Indus waters in its own territory as per the ‘Harmon Doctrine’ and thus stopped the release of Indus waters to Pakistan over nonpayment of revenue once the Standstill Agreement lapsed. The primary Indian concern soon after independence was to exploit the potential of its river basins for development of agriculture and it has always stood by the provisions of the IWT in letter and spirit and continues to do so. India also believes that the Permanent Indus Commission is the best forum to resolve all bilateral disputes related to sharing of Indus waters. There is however there is a serious debate amongst the strategic thinkers and experts in India on the need to abrogate or modify the IWT for better exploitation of the common water resources.

Modification of IWT

Some analysts in India opine that India should leverage its position as the upper riparian to get Pakistan to act on other contentious issues. They argue that Pakistan has not violated the IWT like it did to the treaties of Shimla and Lahore only because of its disadvantageous position of being the lower riparian. The abrogation of the ABM Treaty by the USA and Panchsheel by China are quoted as precedents. India has been forced to function within the restrictive provisions of the IWT and has failed to exploit the hydroelectric opportunities over Jhelum and Chenab Rivers over Pakistani objections to every single project planned by India. Some argue that the signing of the IWT by Mr. Nehru had as an unstated quid pro quo, the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. As the upper riparian, India enjoys a substantial leverage which it has never exploited or even threatened to exploit despite grave provocations from Pakistan. Mr. MS Menon, an Indian security expert says that the IWT is more favourable to Pakistan since it got 80% of Indus waters even though the Indus Rivers chart a large part of their course in India. According to him, India should have got more than 40% of the total waters of the Indus basin and that India should move the World Bank for an overall review of the IWT.

The IWT needs to be renegotiated in order to optimize water utilization by both countries. Optimal utilization of Indus waters can only be done by ‘Integrated Basin Management’ by both countries. Though the initial World Bank proposal envisaged this, but it had to be dropped due to lack of mutual trust as also the politicization of the issue. Through Article VII of IWT that deals with future cooperation, India and Pakistan recognized their common stake in development of Indus river basin in the most optimal manner and committed themselves to cooperate in all fields, including engineering works. However, no action towards joint development has occurred. The essence of the proposed IWT-II centers on joint management of future schemes and optimization of basin plans in Western rivers. Due to geographical constraints, Pakistan cannot build dams on Western rivers while India isn’t allowed to do so by the IWT, resulting in under-utilization of Indus waters. The proposal envisages India being allowed to build storage dams on the upper Indus, Jhelum and Chenab to utilize the waters jointly.

There is a growing demand from the Indian state of J&K to annul the IWT since it prohibits them from exploiting the potential of water resources for irrigation, energy and transport. The state of J&K has a hydroelectric power potential of 20,000 MW.  However, due to restrictions on storage of water of the Western Rivers, the state imports 80% of its power requirement from neighbouring states. The Indian attempts of sharing Ravi River’s water with J&K too have been unsuccessful. It is estimated that more than 200,000 hectares of agricultural land in J&K has remained un-irrigated despite the technical feasibility of utilizing water from Jhelum River on the Indian side. The J&K State Legislative Assembly adopted a resolution in 2002 calling for the abrogation of IWT. Sections of state media also reported that the state is suffering a loss of approximately Rs80 billion per annum on account of import of electricity. Mr. BG Verghese, a prominent water expert has opined that one of the main reasons for Pakistan to seek the state of J&K is that the headworks of the major Indus Rivers are located in J&K and POK. By abrogating the treaty, India may end up strengthening the Pakistani claims on J&K.

Some strategists have proposed certain formulae based on exchange of territory in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to ensure long term water security. One such formula is the ‘Chenab Formula. This was proposed by Sir Owen Dixon, a UN representative for India and Pakistan in 1950. It assigned Ladakh to India, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) TO Pakistan, split Jammu between the two countries and proposed a plebiscite in the Kashmir Valley. Contrary to the ‘visible’ demand for Kashmir Valley, parts of Jammu in the Chenab formula explain Pakistan’s compulsion to secure the control over the Indus Rivers. Similarly, the ‘Vale as the Base Formula’ envisages control of the vale of Kashmir by Pakistan by waging proxy war, to secure the Indus waters.

The potential advantages of an IWT-II cannot be denied; the lack of trust between India and Pakistan may not let it come into existence in the foreseeable future since the basic proposal of dam construction by India would mean a loss of control by Pakistan over Western rivers. This may not be politically acceptable in Pakistan. This is further underlined by the fact that India and Pakistan have not taken any steps towards joint development of the Indus river basin despite such provisions existing in the IWT. The IWT is an international agreement signed after prolonged negotiations. It will be detrimental to its international credibility if India were to walk out, especially since the treaty has stood the test of time for over 5 decades. Additionally, mere abrogation without any follow up agreement on water sharing will be counter-productive since the genuine requirements of the lower riparian cannot be wished away. Hence, abrogation is not a viable option.

The Return of the Militias

The chaos in the Middle East we are witnessing is more complex than a simple foreign conspiracy to destabilize the Middle East. We have already discussed in the Greater Middle East Project and the Genesis of ISIS as to how the current conflicts in Middle East Region have emanated. While there have been ample write ups on the Wahhabi Sponsored Ultra Jihadists like Jabhat Ul Nusra and ISIS in Syria/Iraq, the writers have tended to ignore the other side of conflict, which is the Shia Militias fighting from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq and Yemen. The covert backing of Shia Armed Militias by the Religious Theocracy in Iran is the other side of conflict, which is an equal participant in the present conflict in Middle East if not less than the Wahhabi Terror Machine. The Conflict in Syria-Iraq and the wider region in Middle East have more of sectarian undertone of a Shia-Sunni conflict than just the foreign participation in the conflicts. While the Sunni Arab States primarily GCC (Saudis, Qatar etc.), Turkey are covertly backing Syrian Rebels, ISIS and Nusra; Shia Iran is backing Militant Groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria; Shia Militias in Syria and Iraq and Houthis Rebels in Yemen.  

The Shia-Sunni Faultlines

The Shia-Sunni conflict that we see in Middle East today is not current but one that has lasted for centuries from the Epic Battle of Karbala in then Mesopotamia or currently Iraq. The roots of current conflict also lie in Post WW1 Era where imperial powers like the British Empire fused the regions of Mosul and Baghdad as Sunni Dominated Areas to balance out the Shia Dominated area of Najaf, Karbala and Basra in Southern Iraq. The Fusion of 2 Sectarian Groups in one state has time and again lead to conflicts. Shia mobilisation and activism in Iraq intensified with the Baathist coup in 1968 and the regime's collective suppression of the community, although some Shias were co-opted. After the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Shia actors, like the Islamic Dawa Party (of Iraq's former Prime Minister Maliki), mobilised the Shia community to try to overthrow the Baath regime but the attempt failed. 

The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war then saw various Shia groups take up arms against Saddam Hussein, with patronage from Iran, but this was to no avail as neither side was able to defeat the other during the costly war of attrition. Another rebellion was launched in 1991, following the first Gulf War. Looking to capitalise on a weakened Iraqi army, as well as an apparent endorsement from then US President George HW Bush, Iraqi Shias launched an uprising in mainly Shia provinces of the south. But no US support materialised and the regime's indiscriminate crackdown on the population saw tens of thousands killed. Shia shrines, centres of learning and communities were also destroyed. The scene in Syria was no different with a 70% Sunni Dominated Syria being ruled a Dynasty from the Minority Sect of Alawite (Shia). The Syrian city of Hama was the scene of a massacre in 1982 when President Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president Bashar al-Assad, razed the city to crush a Sunni rebellion lead by Muslim Brotherhood, slaughtering an estimated 20,000 of his own people. The 1982 massacre is regarded as the single bloodiest assault by an Arab ruler against his own people in modern times and remains a pivotal event in Syrian history. There was also a series of car bomb attacks in Damascus culminating in an attack on a shopping centre in which more than 100 people died. Post the quelling of 1982 Revolt Bashar’s father banned Muslim Brotherhood whom ironically Bashar Released post 2011 uprising that contributed to the escalating violence thereafter. Assad regime’s brutal crackdown unlike his father’s time has resulted in a Civil War where nearly 1, 70,000 Syrian have been killed owing to indiscriminate regime bombings of rebel areas.

After the American Troops left in 2011, thousands of Iraqis, nearly all of them members of the Sunni Arab minority, had been gathering to rail against Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government for almost a year. Although the protests were mostly peaceful, security forces responded harshly, detaining thousands of Sunni men without charges and, in one encampment, setting off a spasm of violence that left hundreds of civilians dead. Across the Sunni heartland, north and west of Baghdad, the town squares filled with angry crowds and the rhetoric grew more extreme. A wave of car bombers and suicide bombers struck Baghdad; in January 2014, more than a thousand Iraqi civilians died, the overwhelming majority of them Shiites, making it one of the bloodiest months since the height of the American war. In the effort to put down the upheaval, Maliki ringed the province’s two largest cities, Falluja and Ramadi, with artillery and began shelling. Forty-four Sunni members of parliament resigned. In Falluja and Ramadi, Sunni police abandoned their posts. Maliki, apparently realizing that he had miscalculated, ordered the Army to leave both cities. The Iraqi PM Maliki was not only a Shia, but also served on the committee charged with purging the Iraqi government of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Maliki had fled Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and, except for forays into areas held by Kurdish rebels, he did not return until the Americans invaded, in 2003. The years of his exile were difficult for Shiites in Iraq. Later Maliki moved to Iran, from where he commanded a camp, in a border town called Ahvaz, to train Iraqi fighters for missions against Saddam’s invading Army and stayed in Iran for 7 years. 

Post 2010 Elections, Maliki met Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, the Iranian paramilitary corps. Suleimani’s conditions for help in forming the new government were sweeping. Maliki agreed to make Jalal Talabani, the pro-Iranian Kurdish leader, the new President, and to neutralize the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, which was backed by the C.I.A. Most dramatically, he agreed to expel all American forces from the country by the end of 2011. What followed post 2011 American Withdrawal was a series of massacres of Sunnis across Anbar and Northern Iraq which contributed to rise of ISIS and Qaeda in response to Shia Govt and Militias backed by Iran. He also forced out a number of senior officials, notably Sinan al-Shabibi (a Sunni), the governor of the Central Bank of Iraq. Then Iraqi PM Maliki also allowed airlift of guns and fighters unchecked through Iraqi airspace.

Rise of Shia Militias in Iraq

Badr, founded in the 1980s in Iran,( its continued supporter) is not only the most important of the various armed groups composing of the Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd). Badr’s military commander, Ameri who tried and failed to get an appointment as minister of defence or interior, in part due to U.S. opposition has been transportation minister since Maliki’s second cabinet and is now a parliamentarian. Ameri’s military pre-eminence continued in March with the launch of the operation to liberate Tikrit and northern Salahuddin. Iran, through Badr, initially played more of a role in the offensive than Iraqi leaders did, and photos of the infamous Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani sometimes appeared alongside Ameri himself, dominating media coverage. Badrists carried the Iraqi flag and their own militia’s flag, a yellow-and-green design of a rifle overlaying a picture of Iraq, reminiscent of Lebanese Hezbollah.  Former Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki also belonged to Badr leadership. Badr and other militias sustained criticism that they were engaging in retribution attacks and attempting to cleanse the Sunni population from these areas. Local Sunni families and survivors claimed that members of four prominent Iraqi Shiite militias - Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Brigades, the Mahdi Army, and Kata’ib Hezbollah were behind many abductions and killings of Sunnis in the country while in the battle against ISIS in Northern Iraq.

Shia Militias in Syria

It is known that the Syrian Armed Forces or Assad’s Army has lost its military capabilities in the last two years and most of the military bases and airports have been captured by Syrian rebel forces, many of their tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft are either destroyed or captured by Syrian rebel fighters which is a big loss to the Syrian Armed Forces. Most of his sectarian elite forces like 4th Armoured Division, Republican Guard, Intelligence security forces are among the heavy casualties of the Army that are dead, wounded, captured or have escaped. To recover his military loses Assad needed to recruit Shia fighters from abroad to cover up the losses of his army and to have a strong assistance to his troops. 

Some reports suggest that the numbers of foreign Shia fighters are around 40,000. They came from around the world, and are mostly recruited from Lebanon and Iraq with others from Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. They are being motivated religiously and politically to come to Syria to defend the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad and the Shia holy sites in Syria; all of the Shia foreign fighters are supported by Iran and Iranian Revolutionary Guards who pay and trains them regularly in Syria. 

Iran has being supportive of the Syrian Regime military by sending weapons and Shia fighters where Iranian Revolutionary Guards have formed and trained 42 Brigades and 138 Battalions to face the “enemies” in Syria and to defend the Assad Regime. Many Shia fighters use religious slogans such as Ya li Tharati Hussein which means “revenge for Hussein,” and Zaynab la Tusba Marratayn which means “Zaynab, you will not be held captive twice,” showing the belief that the current conflict is simultaneously a defence of Shiite holy sites and an attempt at taking revenge on the Syrians and the Sunnis for their role in the massacre at Karbala, which took place around 1,400 years ago.

Iran has completed the sectarian recruitment for the Shiites around the world to fight in Syria for the Assad Regime, the new recruited militia fighters underwent a fast and intensive military training course, confined to the weapons that have been supplied in the training camps under supervision of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard and with the participation of Syrian officers from the Syrian elite forces. Sometimes those fighters are needed to go to Iran where they will have to enrol on a 45 day training course in order to specialize in using weapons like AK-47, RPG-7, Dragunov Snipers and RPK machineguns and after the completion of the course they will be sent to join a brigade in Syria. 

The training camps are many and are located in different countries. In Syria, they have the Yarfour training camps in Rural Damascus, Sayyidah Zaynab training camp in Damascus and Zahra training camp in Aleppo. In Lebanon they train inside Hezbollah training camps in southern Lebanon and in Iraq they train in Iraqi military training camps in Baghdad in addition to Iranian revolutionary guard training camps in Iran; all of these training camps are being used to prepare the Shiite fighters militarily before sending them to Syria. Assad regime ensures the providing of supplies to its soldiers and foreign fighters, including paying the salaries for most of them and the rest of them are being paid by Iranian and Iraqi Government. The salary range is between $500 - $2,500 depending on the front they are fighting in and the power of the militia they belong to. Major General Qassem Suleimani leads the operations on the ground.

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard or sometimes called as Iranian Hezbollah was formed in 1979 when Khomeini established the Islamic republic of Iran. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is the Founder of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which was used to protect the Revolution, defend the Islamic republic of Iran and to assist the ruling clerics in the daily enforcement of the new government's Islamic codes and morality in the Iranian society. 

The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard participated alongside the Syrian Assad regime in the suppression of the Syrian Revolution in 2011 from the start by sending its military commanders and did not delay sending its members to fight alongside the ranks of the Syrian Assad regime apart from providing training and forming brigades made up of foreign Shia fighters to help the Syrian Armed Forces fighting the rebels across Syria. There are around 1,500-3,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guard Offices active in all across Syria, their primary duty is to gather intelligence and manage the logistics for the Syrian regime and assisting training of local soldiers and managing supply routes of arms and money to neighbouring Lebanon.

Iranian Quds Force: Quds Force “Jerusalem Force” is a Special Forces unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard; this well trained and equipped Iranian force is led by Major General Qassem Suleimani personally. The responsibility of this force is to ensure the safety of Bashar Assad and his family and it accompanies him wherever he stays and goes, they wear civilian clothes and are equipped with small firearms and there are around 1,200 soldiers of this unit in Syria.

Hezbollah: Hezbollah “Party of God” is a Shia militant group and political party in Lebanon and it was formed when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Now Hezbollah is led by Hassan Nasrallah who has sent more than 8,000 fighters to Syria to defend Assad regime and to combat the rebel fighters there, most of Hezbollah fighters are Lebanese Shiites from the south of Lebanon.

Liwa Abu Fadl Al Abbas: Liwa Abu Fadl Al Abbas “Abu Fadl Al Abbas Brigade” is a Syrian Shia militant group that was formed in 2012 to protect the shrine of Sayyidah Zaynab, which is located in Damascus. The Brigade consists of 10,000 fighters (7,000 Iraqis) and is led by the Iraqi Abu Hajer and the Syrian Abu Ajeeb.

Liwa Fatemiyoun: Liwa Fatemiyoun [Fatemiyoun Brigade] is an Afghan Shiite militia that was formed in 2014 by Iranian IRGC to fight against the Syrian revolutionaries. They have participated in many battles in Daraa, Idlib and Aleppo provinces alongside Syrian Arab Army and other pro-Syrian regime militia against Syrian revolutionaries. Liwa Fatemiyoun has around 3,500 fighters and they are led by Alireza Tavassoli (also been observed and commanded by Iranian Officers). The Afghan Shiite fighters are Persian speaking from Iran; it’s the Hazara refugee population.

In addition to the above main groups there are other Shia militias in the region like Kata'ib Hezbollah (Harakat Nujabaa), Haidar al-Karar Brigades (Asa'ib Ahl Al Haq), Liwa Saada, Badr Organization, Sarriya Al Talia Al Khurasani, Faylak Wa’ad Al Sadiq and Liwa Assadu Allahi Ghaleb. 

Rise of Hezbollah

Hezbollah was created by Iran in 1982 as an offensive to aggressively export the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s “Islamic Revolution” among Shiites in Lebanon, Arab countries and throughout the Muslim immigrant communities in Europe. Hezbollah made its mark carrying out its earliest terrorist acts by attacking Westerners and Israelis in Lebanon. Since the mid-1990s Hezbollah has focused increasingly on Europe as a convenient launching pad for terrorist attacks within Israel. Hezbollah has used Europe-based nonprofit front organizations to funnel money from Hezbollah supporters in Europe to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Europe is also a transit point for Hezbollah money derived from drug trafficking and money laundering. 

Hezbollah Operatives have targeted Israeli, U.S. and UK diplomatic installations for surveillance in preparation for planning attacks. In a number of cases, advanced plans for imminent attacks were thwarted by local police in cooperation with international intelligence agencies. Most recently, one such attack was barely averted in Cyprus, but another, a suicide bombing in Bulgaria, killed Israeli tourists. Highlights of Hezbollah's record of terror attacks include suicide truck bombings targeting US and French forces in Beirut (in 1983 and 1984) and U.S. forces again in Saudi Arabia (in 1996). It has a record of suicide bombing attacks targeting Jewish and Israeli interests such as those in Argentina (1992 and 1994) and in Thailand (attempted in 1994), and a host of other plots targeting American, French, German, British, Kuwaiti, Bahraini and other interests in plots from Europe to Southeast Asia to the Middle East.

Iran is believed to fund Hezbollah to the tune of at least $100 million per year. Recently, Western diplomats and analysts in Lebanon estimated Hezbollah receives closer to $200 million a year from Iran. Hezbollah has also employed Narco terrorism by using the proceeds of drug money for a significant part of its funding in Lebanon since the 1980s. Hezbollah’s main narcotics trafficking route until the late 1990s was focused on the Mediterranean. Delivery of heroin from Lebanon and Syria was made to European mafia groups, which would distribute it throughout Western Europe, with the proceeds funnelled back to Hezbollah in Lebanon. In recent years, Hezbollah has increasingly used Europe as a delivery point for cocaine from South America, brought to Europe via Caribbean and Libyan routes. Funds from the sale of cocaine have similarly been transferred via Europe to Lebanon to fund Hezbollah. 

In 2008, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that German police discovered 8.7 million euros in the luggage of four Lebanese men at Frankfurt airport. An additional 500,000 euros were found in their apartment in Speyer. The money contained traces of cocaine. A year later, German police arrested two Lebanese men who had transferred large sums of money to Lebanese relatives connected to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the Hezbollah leadership. In December 2011, the U.S. indicted Ayman Joumaa, a Hezbollah financier and Lebanese drug trafficker, with heading a money-laundering and narcotics smuggling network that transported tons of cocaine from South America to the U.S., Africa and Europe. 

Shia-Sunni - The Spinning Vortex

The Rise of Shia Crescent in form of Iran, Shia Govt in Iraq post 2003, Syria (Assad) and Lebanon have opened the Faultlines of the centuries old sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunnis once again. The Rise of ISIS and Nusra cannot simply be attributed to Gulf Arab States but also the Persecution of Sunnis at the hands of the governments in Shia Crescent and their sponsored Shia Militias. This very fact was corroborated when Al Qaeda was pushed into Iraq by Assad in 2006-07 the American Troops along with Sunni Tribes successfully leading the surge and pushing Al Qaeda back but post the American Withdrawal in 2011, the Maliki Government acting in cahoots with Iran targeted Sunni’s in Northern Iraq which precipitated the crisis in 2013-14 leading to rise of ISIS in Iraq.

The Shia-Sunni conflict is not only limited to Syria-Iraq but has also spread over to Yemen where Houthis (another armed Militias backed by Iran) are fighting the Saudi backed Yemenis’ Government. Even other Sunni players in the region like GCC, Egypt, Sudan and Cameroon have joined the Saudi coalition in Yemen which also has the tacit backing of western powers. It’s become a self-sustaining spinning vortex.

Ali Younesi who was Chief of Intelligence for former Iranian president Khatami has recently stated that Iran is back to empire building with Baghdad as its capital. He defined the territory of the Iranian empire, which he called “Greater Iran,” as reaching the borders of China and including the Indian subcontinent, the north and south Caucasus and the Persian Gulf. He said Iraq is the capital of the Iranian Empire a reference to the ancient city of Babylon, in present-day Iraq, which was the center of Persian life for centuries. 

The ancient battle of Karbala and the killing of Ali's sons could become very real and very powerful in the modern setting, especially when both sides are game for the fight. The World Powers, be it United States backing the Sunnis or Russians backing the Shias in Middle East are only adding fuel to fire. The rhetoric on both sides is extremely inflammatory, extremely sectarian, and the atrocities that are happening every day are just furthering this agenda. In all this conflict while humanity pays the price, it is no surprise that once again, the Military Industrial complex of West and Russia is ringing in big bucks by supplying arms to its respective players and sometimes even to both the sides.