In 1990, a brigadier from the busy Pakistani army presented an analytical report during the course of a one-year training period at the Royal college of Defense Studies in London. This brigadier possessed a very bright future and displayed the dynamism to do something for his country. The topic of his thesis was Indo-Pakistan relations in the prevalent geo-political context. He highlighted three areas of primary concern, which were the main reasons of deep-rooted animosity existing between India and Pakistan.
- Hindu-Muslim mindset.
- The Kashmir issue
- The water issue.
In his report the Pakistani military officer had written that by making water the main issue of contention, we could undertake to resolve other contentious issues. For example, by treating the Chenab River as the frontier we could establish the geographical boundaries of Kashmir. The brigadier concluded his report by citing two sentences, whose interpretation is nearly the same; the first sentence was:
“The rivers hold the keys to the future conflict.”
The next sentence was:
“The issue (Indus Waters) has the germs of future conflict.”
The language of the report was very unambiguous in conveying the impression, that it was the issue of water, which could prove the most crucial for either a possible Indo-Pakistan war or for reconciliation. If India was willing to accept the Chenab formula as the basis for the solution to the Kashmir issue, it would allow Pakistan to gain possession and access to the mouth of certain rivers, and in an apparent continuation of this principle, those areas where there was a predominant Muslim population which had always sought independence from India, would be acquired by Pakistan, while the Hindu majority region on the basis of natural division would remain with India.
When this Pakistani military officer returned to his country from London, fate continued to bestow its benevolent gaze on him to the extent that in 1998 the then prime minister of the country, Nawaaz Sharif’s differences with the army general Jehangir Karamat reached a point of no return. General Jehangir Karamat was forced to resign and in his place general Pervez Musharraf was nominated to the post of Pakistani army chief. Pervez Musharraf was the same brigadier who is his thesis submitted at the Royal college of Defense Studies in London had emphasized the primacy of water as the main issue leading to an Indo-Pakistan altercation.
A book titled The Final Settlement, published in Mumbai, whose subtitles contain such terms as ‘fire’, ‘water’ and ‘earth’, disclosed this. It seems that the book has been compiled by a think-tank Strategic Foresight Group of the International Centre for Peace Initiatives. It seems that this book has been lifted from the thesis of Pervez Musharraf and that could probably explain why the book mentions a plethora of authors with the intent to disguise the true authentic source, that went into the creation of this book. This 109-page report contains a very meaningful sentence, which has been repeated several times, and each time implying a different connotation; “a war for capturing water resources is unavoidable between India, Pakistan and Kashmir.”
The mention of India and Pakistan is understandable but the reference to Kashmir is significant and worth pondering upon. It could be that the source of most rivers originates in Kashmir, or it could be that the Indian think-tank envisages a radically different geographical identity for Kashmir in the foreseeable future, and for that reason thinks that in the event of war breaking out between India and Pakistan, Kashmir would emerge as the third party to the dispute.
The book mentions in great depth the secret diplomacy as conducted between India and Pakistan on the Chenab formula. The book mentions that after the resignation of Jehangir Karamat and Pervez Musharraf being appointed the new army chief, the stage was set for the initiation of ‘Water Diplomacy.’ Thus, on the 29th of May 1999, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaaz Sharif sent his personal emissary to India under utmost secrecy and no one knew about this mission apart from Nawaaz Sharif. This representative (who incidentally was none other but former foreign secretary Niaz Naik) was in New Delhi, when Pervez Musharraf conducted a very significant meeting with Nawaaz Sharif, in which he tried to impress upon the Prime Minister that the only way to resolve the dispute with India, was by resolving the Kashmir issue on the basis of the Chenab formula. This was also the gist of the trip as undertaken by Nawaaz Sharif’s representative who had gone to meet the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to expound the same argument signifying the importance of resolving the Kashmir issue and other contentious matters on the basis of the Chenab formula.
On his return from India, the emissary of Nawaaz Sharif was sent to G.H.Q to meet Pervez Musharraf on the very first day. The meeting that was initially slated to last for 30 minutes lasted 3 hours. Pervez Musharraf became the supreme ruler of Pakistan few days after the momentous events of this day. In 2004, for the very first time while springing a surprise on Pakistanis, Musharraf indicated his resolve to solve the Kashmir issue on the basis of the Chenab formula. This was essentially in flagrant contravention of Pakistan’s time tested pledge of adhering to United Nations Security Council resolutions and a subtle indication of unilaterally doing away with those provisions. It opened the floodgates of new thinking in the country.
It could be mere coincidence that the report as prepared by this Indian think-tank surfaced at precisely the same time when India and Pakistan were at severe loggerheads over the issues of the construction of the Wular, Baglihar and Kishanganga dams. India started work on the Wular barrage initially. The Kashmiri militant organizations, in the initial years related to the construction of the Wular barrage, launched operations that wrecked the machinery and the under construction dam, which led to India calling off work on the dam which was subsequently resumed at a later stage. It seems that the construction work pertaining to the Wular barrage has entered a decisive phase. After this, the Indian government brushed aside 5 main objections raised by Pakistan related to the construction of the Baglihar dam and commenced construction work. The ever-widening gulf as existing between the positions of India and Pakistan compelled Pakistan to seek mediation in the form of the World Bank. The matter was already under the careful consideration of the World Bank, that India commenced the construction of the Kishanganga dam. Pakistan has deemed this a direct violation of the Indus Waters Treaty Agreement, while India on its part is not serious in redressing Pakistani grievances in this connection. All negotiations related to resolving the water disputes between India and Pakistan ended in failure. India is playing a double game of engaging Pakistan in talks while simultaneously carrying on with the construction of these dams. It seems that India wants to deliberately drag out the talks in the hope that they would provide a cover for the unnoticed construction and completion of the abovementioned dams. Pakistan on its part is gripped with anxiety, that India may plunge the country into a major water crisis by turning the lush fields of Punjab into barren land, while concurrently contemplating adding fuel to the fire, by aggravating existing tensions between Sindh and Punjab over allocation of meager water resources to the extent that deteriorating relations may raise the specter of civil war in the country. Also India’s game-plan is to convince the Kashmiri population that by continuously opposing the construction of dams in Kashmir, the Pakistan government was trying to deprive the people of much needed electricity and keep them in perpetual darkness.
Several international organizations are keeping close tabs on the situation as unraveling on the ground. A prominent international institution has already listed places, where the disputes ranging over sparse water resources may snowball into major wars. It has predicted that South Asia also ranks as a region where war could occur on the basis of dwindling water resources. The water crisis between India and Pakistan is assuming alarming proportions as days pass, which could prove to be a precursor of a major conflagration taking place. It is forecasted that the next war in the Middle East would be on water instead of oil, while water would play the role of adding fuel to fire in South Asia.
The lack of tangible progress in negotiations related to the Wular barrage, the Baglihar and Kishanganga dams may be a signal portending dangerous times approaching India –Pakistan relations. Presently, President Pervez Musharraf is in an upbeat mood and has expressed optimism with regard to the ongoing peace process with India, but in case the water dispute remains unresolved, there exists the possibility that brigadier Musharraf may impose himself over President Musharraf, where 15 years back he had envisaged that the key to a major conflagration between India and Pakistan was the water of the rivers.