After the terrorist attack on Indian troops in Kashmir two weeks ago that killed 40 Indian soldiers, but before Tuesday’s retaliatory air strikes across the border into Pakistan by the Indian Air Force, the Indian government did something unprecedented.
It threatened to cut off Pakistan’s water. Or at least, it sounded like that.
On Feb. 21, Indian Transportation Minister Nitin Gadkari tweeted: “Our Govt. has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan. We will divert water from Eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.”
In December 2001, after a Pakistan-backed terrorist attack on the Indian parliament, there was a seminar in Karachi designed to calm everybody down.
It was going quite well until somebody alleged that India had plans to use the “water weapon.” At that point, a Pakistani participant stated flatly that any conflict over water would lead to a nuclear first strike against India by Pakistan.
So Gadkari’s threat had everybody scared – for about five minutes. Then it became clear that it was only hot air. He was just referring to an existing plan to build a dam on the Ravi River, one of six that feed the giant Indus river system.
It would stop some of that river’s water from flowing on into Pakistan, but all the water in the Ravi belongs to India, according to a 1960 treaty between the two countries.
India could do a great deal of harm to Pakistan if it chose to stop the flow of water. Five of the Indus’s six tributaries flow across Indian territory before they reach Pakistan, and 85 per cent of Pakistan’s food is grown on land irrigated by the waters of the Indus system.
The suicide attack on Indian troops in Kashmir two weeks ago was the deadliest in three decades, and Jaish-e-Mohammad, a militant Islamist group based in Pakistan, took credit for it. The retaliatory air strikes ordered by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were the first to cross the border into Pakistan proper since the 1971 war.
Now Pakistani planes have bombed Indian territory, and another Indian fighter that crossed into Pakistan has been shot down and its pilot captured. There is shell fire both ways along the Line of Control in Kashmir.
Why does this sort of thing go on happening? The short answer, alas, is because the Pakistani army needs it to continue.
When the Indian and Pakistani leaders signed the Lahore Declaration of 1999, committing the two countries to a peaceful resolution of the conflict over Kashmir, the Pakistani army and its accompanying militants almost immediately invaded the Kashmiri district of Kargil, on the Indian side of the Line of Control.
It took quite a serious little war for the Indian army to push them out again – but then, the whole object of the operation, from the Pakistani army’s point of view, was to have a little war. They didn’t need to win. They just had to kill the peace process.
Other countries have armies, but Pakistan’s army has a country. It will continue to control the lion’s share of the economy only so long as it has the threat of the so-called Indian enemy as an excuse, so it works hard to keep that threat alive.
Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).