By Mahima Kumar
Pakistan has been looking to construct dams along the Indus river for years to harness hydropower. However, it hasn’t been able to raise sufficient funds for the project. In December 2016, Pakistan and China signed a memorandum of understanding, pledging that China would fund $12 -14 billion into the construction of a dam along the Indus river in Gilgit-Baltistan. The Diamer-Bhasha dam is predicted to generate 4,500 megawatts of electricity. The new reservoir is expected to direct the flow of water towards farmlands that have been affected by unpredictable weather.
This decision by China will further its plans of constructing a modern day silk road, also known as the ‘One belt one road’ that will connect Asia with Europe and Africa. Pakistan’s decision to build the dam in Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, is facing heavy opposition from India. India has been opposing all of Pakistan’s plans to build dams along the Indus river for years.
India and Pakistan lock horns
India’s opposition towards this project stems from a multitude of reasons. India has always challenged any construction along the disputed areas of Jammu & Kashmir. Specifically, India has contested Pakistan’s sovereignty over Gilgit-Baltistan. In 2009, the Indian Minister of External Affairs stated that, “India believes that Pakistan has been in illegal occupation of parts of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir since 1947”. Referring to the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja Hari Singh, India stakes its claim to the entire Jammu Kashmir region. However, Pakistan and India have been in conflict over this region for years.
India’s largest source of opposition stems from the fact that they believe this is a deliberate mockery of the sovereignty of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. This region has been identified by the United Nations as a disputed region.
However, Pakistan only has to refer to the Indus Waters Treaty signed by both countries in 1960, which gives Pakistan the exclusive claim over the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenub rivers. India only has the rights to build power projects as long as it doesn’t affect the flow of water to Pakistan. India considers the treaty invalid as it was signed by the Prime Minister, and only the President has the authority to sign treaties.
Additionally, this water treaty has been a cause for dissatisfaction between both parties due to the interpretation of the treaty. The treaty is somewhat outdated in that hydro-power technology has developed greatly from when the treaty was signed. While Pakistan is concerned that any efforts by India to build any dams on their part of the river will affect the water flow to their part of the country, India has its own concerns. As opposition to the project, India is asserting that the Bhasha dam will flood large parts of Jammu and Kashmir. This claim is corroborated by the local people, who say that this project will displace thousands of people.
Indo-China ties on the rocks
Due to this new project there is more friction between India and China, as India is unhappy with China’s major investments into Pakistan. India and China have had previous conflicts over border regions and over international projects in the past. China has disputed India’s joint project with Vietnam, in its search for hydrocarbons off the shore of Vietnam within its economic exclusion zone. Now, India is contesting the right for China to instigate a joint venture with Pakistan in a clearly disputed region.
In fact, the chief of the Gilgit Baltistan National Alliance Wajahat Hassan Khan stated in 2009 that, “China has already occupied a part of Gilgit Baltistan…Since Gilgit Baltistan is a disputed area, China has no business to build projects here.”
While China has extended its hand to all nations to join its ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) venture, stating that they hope to create a “family of harmonious coexistence”, India has some severe reservations. First of all, China has been instrumental in encouraging Pakistan to make Gilgit Baltistan its 5th province. Secondly the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) cuts into Gilgit Baltistan, which India considers an integral part of Jammu Kashmir. Furthermore, the CPEC has been implicated in some severe human rights violations. In a discussion with CNN-News18, Wajahat Hassan Khan said Gilgit Baltistan “was procured mostly by force by Pakistani generals for the CPEC and those resisting are either killed off or incarcerated without a trial.” As a result, India has further cause to oppose the partnership between China and Pakistan as it could pose as a vital threat towards its sovereignty of the disputed territories.
Decisions worded in diplomacy
India has now fast-tracked its own hydro-projects in India occupied Kashmir despite warnings from Pakistani officials that building dams on rivers flowing into Pakistan would disrupt water supplies. In 2016, Modi spoke to a group of government officials in a meeting concerning the Indus treaty declaring that “blood and water cannot flow together”. Consequently, India accused Pakistan-based radicals for an attack on Indian troops in Indian occupied Kashmir. Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said that, “Modi’s message was two-fold. Terrorism had to stop and India must fully utilize the economic potential available to it within the Indus treaty.” The threat India poses to the water supply into Pakistan, could genuinely be used as leverage in this dispute between the two rival nations. However, nothing is certain between these two volatile nuclear-nations.
Iqbal, the Islamabad lead on the CPEC, stated that India needed to “stop its myopic thinking towards CPEC” and accept the dam project. In fact, he recommended that India join the OBOR plan. While Indian officials have not issued any official statement about the situation, it’s clear that there are a lot of motives for them to continue to oppose the project.
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