Pakistan and India seem unable to resolve the Indus Water Treaty dispute bilaterally. Tensions between the two nuclear neighbors regarding the water conflict pose a global threat and could bring dramatic consequences. While the World Bank is urging Pakistan and India to resolve the dispute on their own, the water conflict is slowly turning into a global disaster.

Pakistan India Trump
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Last week, Pakistan declared that it won’t accept any modifications to the treaty after India said it was ready to resolve its differences with its neighbor. Islamabad accuses New Delhi of just trying to buy time and says its nuclear-powered neighbor is trying to change the treaty, which was signed in 1960, to suit its domestic political agenda.

The Indus Water Treaty allows India to control the three eastern rivers of the Indus Basin, while Pakistan controls the three western rivers, including the Indus River.

Will Pakistan and India go to war over water?

Despite the World Bank’s call to resolve the issue bilaterally, Pakistan and India continue to escalate the conflict. The international community, meanwhile, shows little to no interest in the water conflict between the two nuclear neighbors. That’s a huge mistake because the India vs. Pakistan water conflict poses a global threat. New Delhi and Islamabad continue to stick to their guns, which could eventually lead to the use of real guns and unleashing a war.

Last Friday, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Tariq Fatemi told Dawn, “Pakistan will not accept any modifications or changes to the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty. Our position is based on the principles enshrined in the treaty. And the treaty must be honored in…letter and spirit.”

Indian officials believe the World Bank-brokered treaty shouldn’t have been signed in the first place because Pakistan controls more water than India as a result of the 1960 treaty. Islamabad has long feared that its nuclear-powered neighbor is trying to revoke the treaty to suit its domestic political agenda. Revoking it would present dangerous consequences for the region and the world as a whole.

Pakistan strongly opposes India’s plans to build dams

In the latest wave of escalating tensions, the two nations can’t agree on India’s plans to construct two hydropower dams. Islamabad thinks its neighbor’s plans to build the 850-megawatt Ratle and the 330-megawatt Kishanganga hydropower dams on India’s Chenab River would negatively affect the flow of rivers on Pakistan’s side.

New Delhi and Islamabad recently launched two separate, conflicting processes under the treaty to resolve the dispute of building the two hydroelectric power plants. But earlier this month, the World Bank appointed a neutral expert, fearing that the two processes could lead to destructive consequences.

“Both processes initiated by the respective countries were advancing at the same time, creating a risk of contradictory outcomes that could potentially endanger the Treaty,” the bank said in a statement.

The World Bank also announced a pause in the two processes with an aim of protecting the Indus Waters Treaty.

“This is an opportunity for the two countries to begin to resolve the issue in an amicable manner and in line with the spirit of the treaty rather than pursuing concurrent processes that could make the treaty unworkable over time,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement before adding that he hopes the two neighbors will resolve the dispute by the end of January.

Trust deficit between Islamabad and New Delhi

The root of all disputes and issues between Pakistan and India is the trust deficit. When India asks for “adequate time” to resolve the disputes regarding the 1960 treaty, Pakistani officials interpret it as “time buying” tactics. By calling for more time, India could be planning to complete its two dam projects during the consultation phase, thinks Rabia Sultan, an expert based in Pakistan. Sultan told the Anadolu Agency that the two dam projects could create food and water shortages in Pakistan.

“The construction of a gated structure on the upstream will give India an edge to manipulate and control the [Chenab] river, which may turn out to be very dangerous especially when the two sides are hostile to each other,” Sultan said.

The expert added that the proposed hydropower dams could also damage Pakistan’s rice crops because the Chenab River serves as a key source of irrigation water for the area where Pakistanis grow rice.

“The construction of the two dams may cause water shortage in the area, particularly in low water season,” Sultan warns.

Pakistanis are famous for their production of Basmati rice, which is a major export item that boosts the nation’s economy.

India vs. Pakistan water conflict poses global threat

ValueWalk reported last month that there’s a high risk of war between Pakistan and India amid the water conflict. Ever-growing tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi, climate change, global warming and depletion of natural resources could lead to a military confrontation between the nuclear neighbors in the near future, warn experts at the UN. And since the two countries have nuclear weapons, any military confrontation between them can result in catastrophic consequences for the world.

Last month, the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health warned that the Indus River and all other rivers in South Asia are the worst-affected by climate change. The UN experts warned that South Asian nations, including the rival Pakistan and India, will be the first to feel the catastrophic damage of droughts and chronic water scarcity, two direct indicators of climate change. They also warned that a lack of access to drinking water from the Indus River, which belongs to Pakistan under the Indus Water Treaty, could lead to a military confrontation between New Delhi and Islamabad over water.

In September, Pakistani leaders warned their Indian counterparts that any attempts to revoke or change the Indus Water Treaty would be deemed an act of war. Many experts link long-standing hostilities between Islamabad and New Delhi to rising water demands and the depletion of water resources in the Indus River, which keeps at least 300 million people alive, according to the UN.