Xinjiang – China’s Uighur Problem

Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) or East Turkestan is the western autonomous province of China. It accounts for one-sixth of China’s landmass with a population of 20 million from thirteen major ethnicities with the majority being the Uighur Muslims of Central Asian descent. Xinjiang shares its borders with eight countries, namely Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India; and works as a strategic gateway to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. Large sections of Central Asia-aligned Uighurs in Xinjiang consider its Chinese occupation an imperial domination by the majority Han. The history of Xinjiang has been far more turbulent than reported independently to the outside world. The repression of the Uighur ethnic minority and the exploitation of the rich natural resources is bound to cause a substantial problem to China given the geographic importance of Xinjiang. We have discussed West Turkestan earlier detailing its potential to cause unrest within China by fueling the East Turkestan Independence Movement. 

The Chinese conquest of Xinjiang, which it considers as a part of its empire, is based on strategic interests in addition to historical claims on the region. The Chinese control of Xinjiang gives it a unique advantage of access to vast natural resources like Coal, Crude Oil and Gas; which it has heavily exploited after its modernization drive. Xinjiang holds 40 percent of coal, 22 percent of petroleum and 28 percent of the Gas reserves of China. The quality of coal available is high given the low sulfur deposits while oil deposits exist in shallow basins that are easily accessible. There are nearly 17 major Oil & Gas fields in Xinjiang with the prominent ones concentrated in Karamay, Tarim Basin, and Turfan Basin. The oil fields at Karamay are among the largest in China along with extensive deposits of coal, silver, copper, lead, nitrates, gold, and zinc. In 2003, the Chinese discovered a large gold mine with 53 tons of gold approximately valued at $3.2 billion in the Ili Valley, close to the Kazakh border in the western area of the Tianshan Mountains. The gold mine discovered in the Xinyuan county of Xinjiang also holds 31,200 tons of copper. These discoveries only underscore that a vast amount of mineral wealth lies beneath in Xinjiang and the neighboring Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, etc.; that China is attempting to bring under its sphere of influence.

Xinjiang not only provides critical energy resources but also acts as a transport corridor from Central Asia through the Chinese mainland to its industrial centers on the East Pacific coast. China has thus laid a network of pipelines connecting Central Asia to the Chinese coast through Xinjiang. It has laid out the ambitious East-West pipeline starting from the Lunanan Oilfields in Xinjiang’s Tarim Basin; spanning across the mainland and ending in Shanghai. The East-West pipeline is the longest natural gas pipeline in the world covering nearly 8,704 Km through fifteen provinces before reaching the Chinese coast. The other peripheral pipelines from Xinjiang interconnecting with the East-West pipeline are the Zohongwu pipeline (that pipes gas to the Sichuan province); and the Shaanxi-Beijing pipeline. The western section of the pipeline links Xinjiang to Shaanxi while the eastern one connects Shaanxi to Shanghai. In addition to extending the network of East-West pipelines to Hong Kong, (which began in 2013), China has also launched an ambitious project of constructing the SNG (coal based Synthetic Natural Gas) pipeline from Xinjiang to Zhejiang and the Guandong province running nearly 8,400 Kms and transporting approximately 30 billion cubic meters of SNG. 

China has also been engaged in building the Central Asian China Gas Pipeline (CACGP) that starts from Gedaim on the Turkmen-Uzbek border running through Central Uzbekistan and Southern Kazakhstan before ending in Horgos in Xinjiang. The three parallel pipelines; part of the CACGP network have a total capacity of 30 billion cubic meters. China has also embarked on a fourth pipeline in the CACGP and signed agreements with various Central Asian countries; becoming a nearly 50 percent stakeholder in the project. The CACGP transports natural gas from Central Asia to Xinjiang and further connects with the Chinese mainland through the East-West pipeline. These pipeline projects are critical for China to reduce its dependence on Coal and Oil as energy, which it largely imports from the Persian Gulf and Australia. Xinjiang has nearly 570 rivers and 270 mountain springs. Xinjiang, like Tibet, is home to Major River Systems like the Ili, Eerqisi, Kaidu and Yarkand that flow towards the mainland providing a critical supply of fresh water to the densely populated areas on the coast. Xinjiang in this sense is critical for China’s water and food security to feed its population. 

The above factors have led to the development of critical infrastructure like roads and railways in Xinjiang and have brought prosperity there. However, this has not percolated down to the Uighurs and has only benefitted the migrant Hans, who enjoy exalted positions in businesses run by the CPC. The Han are also systemically diluting the demographics of the region. The Han Population in the region has increased from 6.7 percent in 1949 to 40 percent in 2008. In 2012, as per statistics, of Xinjiang's 22.32 million people, 8.47 million were Han Chinese, and 10.52 million were Uighurs. Besides them, there are other ethnic groups such as the Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Xibe, Tajik, Ozbek, Manchu, Daur, Tatar, and Russian. 

The increasing number of Han Chinese settling in Xinjiang led to widespread rioting in the region during the 1990's. The denial of economic opportunities and jobs to the ethnic minorities in Xinjiang further fuelled separatism and turned violent as the suppression of the basic rights and demands of Uighurs continued. In the 1990's the breakup of the USSR furthered the quest for independence from China. The PLA brutally crushed all dissent and carried out thousands of public executions to install fear in a flashback of Mao's era. The Chinese administration has banned public servants from Ramadan Iftar meals and in 1997, China arrested Muslim youths for simply attending a religious ceremony. This resulted in nearly 15,000 people protesting against this Chinese oppression of the right to religion and also called for the release of prisoners taken during crackdowns such as the Ghulja incident. Since 1997 terror attacks in Xinjiang have been increasing regularly targeting the Han population. The 2014 Kunming attack, the 2015 coal mine attack and bomb blasts are just a few examples of the increasing terror in Xinjiang.  

The brutal crackdown of Uighurs, the economic exploitation of its rich resources and the large migration of Han population in Xinjiang has drawn strong resistance from the Uighurs. These events of repression have resulted in elements among them joining terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan. Uighur separatist groups were formed in the 1990's and have carried out many bombings and attacks in Xinjiang. The most known group in the region was the ETIM (East Turkistan Islamic Movement) whose aim was to overthrow the Chinese control of East Turkestan or Xinjiang and establish the rule of Sharia. As per Russian media reports, Osama bin Laden convened a meeting in 1999 in Afghanistan that included IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and ETIM and agreed to fund them. The Kyrgyz security sources also confirmed the said collaboration between the terror groups in 2001. Pakistani officials have also admitted that the terrorist organizations in Western China have links with terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan (like the Pakistan-Taliban). Other groups seeking independence are East Turkistan Liberation Organization (ETLO), United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET), and the Uyghur Liberation Organization (ULO). The ETIM was subsequently banned by US and UNSC as a terror organization in 2002 as part of increased US-China anti-terror cooperation post 9/11, but many human rights organizations have objected to the same stating that the Uighurs are justified in oppressing genuine dissent and human rights violations. 

The ETIM which later evolved as TIP (Turkistan Islamic Party) has links with various terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria/Iraq. Sheikh Abdullah Mansour, the Pakistan-based head of TIP has stated that all Muslims have a “universal jihad obligation” to fight China. In 2014, Al-Qaeda’s English magazine Resurgence called Xinjiang as “occupied Muslim land that must be recovered into the shade of the Islamic Caliphate” while al-Baghdadi of the ISIS spoke about Muslim rights being forcibly seized in China and called for Muslims around the world to pledge allegiance to him to liberate their fellow Muslim brothers in Xinjiang. Over 2000 Uighurs from Xinjiang and Central Asia have joined ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and are fighting in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has also begun a propaganda program to encourage Uighurs to join the fight for the Caliphate in what appears to be an indication of their support for the East Turkestan Movement. One of the prime reasons for Uighurs to join these terror groups is to gain militant experience in Syria & Iraq in order to prepare and return to fight for their independence in Xinjiang. Thus, it is quite possible that Xinjiang may also become the battleground for supremacy between the ISIS and Al-Qaeda and create a new terror syndicate like the IMU in Uzbekistan in the fight for Central Asia.

Turkey has special interest in Xinjiang due to its longstanding ethnic and cultural affinities with the Uighurs and a perception of them as an ‘authentic’ Turkic people suffering under Chinese occupation. The Grey Wolves, a nationalist Turkish organization created in 1968 is an anti-communist movement that dreams of Pan-Turkism similar to the wishes of President Erdogan who has unsurprisingly likened Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs to “genocide” and called for China to “abandon its policy of assimilation”. The Grey Wolves support the ETIM and have set up training camps in Central Asia and enjoy unequivocal support and recruitment from the Uighurs in Xinjiang. The East Turkestan Grey Wolf Party is among the major terrorist organizations of Xinjiang. The Bangkok bombings of 2015 were also linked to Uighurs holding Turkish passports and the arrest of a Turkish citizen with bomb-making material has brought the focus back to the Grey Wolves. The Grey Wolves have close ties to Turkish crime mafia gangs that operate in Bangkok and provide logistical support for the transit of Uighurs from China to Turkey. The attacks were carried out in response to Thailand’s deportation of over 100 Uighurs to China. 

External agencies and countries like the US have fueled the movement of East Turkistan for their strategic gains. Turkey is a NATO member and the US and its allies are using Turkey to carry out its dirty work for them. Thus, the US is achieving its foreign policy goals of destabilizing China politically and militarily through proxies. The independence of Xinjiang will result in a major loss of territory for China and combined with the Tibet separation movement (that is inevitable with the rise of China) will virtually isolate China from Central Asia. It can also have other ramifications such as the demand for independence in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Militarily, the Uighur movement is backed by the US and NATO through intermediary groups like Turkey’s Grey Wolves while politically it is in the form of World Uighur Congress through Washington and Munich-based organizations. They have been instrumental in pioneering the Uighur Separatist movement globally highlighting the Chinese repression and exploitation of the region. According to various reports, US-based Non-Governmental Organization NED (National Endowment for Democracy) has been actively funding and backing the activities of World Uighur Congress (WUC). It is estimated that NED nearly funnels in $2,15,000 annually to WUC for the advocacy of human rights and democracy. NED has been instrumental in orchestrating many such movements across the world from Ukraine to Georgia to Burma through its NGO’s and activists network. In 2006, Rebeiya Kadeer was elected as President of the Uighur American Association and World Uighur Congress. On July 6, 2006, the Xinjiang administration blamed Rebeiya Kadeer in Washington DC as the mastermind of abetting the violent clashes in the region and also linked her to the terrorist attacks, which was flatly denied by Kadeer. Rebeiya Kadeer had the full backing of the US Administration, evident from her meeting with President Bush in the year 2007 where he called on China to release her family members taken as prisoners. Simultaneously China’s handling of the protests sparked international outrage with countries like Turkey and the OIC Nations expressing concerns for the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. 

Xinjiang is an important part of OBOR. Its economic transit corridors make Xinjiang extremely critical to China’s global ambitions of reviving the ancient Silk Route. A train from China to Tehran recently opened the Silk Route, further aiming to connect Europe and Russia through Central Asia. The Chinese ambitions in Xinjiang are also about securing an alternate route to the Persian Gulf through Central Asia. The CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) connects the Karakoram Highway in PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) to the Gwadar Port in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. The CPEC will be instrumental in connecting Xinjiang with the Persian Gulf through the Karakoram and Gwadar Port giving China an alternate route for energy supplies from the Malacca Straits where it could face a blockade during a potential conflict. Xinjiang is a gateway to the Chinese expansion of influence in Central Asia and further to Eurasia and the Persian Gulf. 

Xinjiang is the most vulnerable province of China given the fact that its borders many Central Asian countries as well as Russia unlike the other provinces of China which are largely covered by sea or the Himalayan mountains. An interesting tug of war is being played out in Xinjiang. As China’s ambition grows; the voices for independence in Xinjiang will be heard louder with foreign powers like the United States covertly funding the separatists movement in Xinjiang and the Central Asian regions. The Chinese repression of the ethnic Uighurs by the increasing Han population will fuel support for the East Turkistan movement across the neighboring countries that are connected to Xinjiang. Even India has hinted about playing the Uighur card in countering China’s expansionist designs in Asia-Pacific region through military and economic campaigns. The Indian government recently allowed 8 Chinese dissidents and a member of World Uighur Congress to visit Dharamshala and meet Dalai Lama, the head of the Tibetan Government in Exile in India. China’s global quest for dominance will face many hurdles; most of them from within such as Tibet and Xinjiang without which China’s power will be severely compromised. The US has tasted some success in the democratization of the Middle East. Will it be able to pull off a democracy coup in Tibet and Xinjiang? Will it choose to align stronger with India and go against Pakistan for the Great Game of Central Asia? How much will India support the US and attempt to undo the wrongs of its erstwhile foreign policy? Only time will tell. 

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The View into “West Turkestan”

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

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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.