Sunday, 1 June 2008

Issue of Baglihar Dam 18 January 2005

Issue of Baglihar Dam 18 January 2005
Dr Shabir Choudhry

One of regular readers of my articles has asked me an interesting question. He wants to know why I have not written anything against construction of ‘Baglihar Dam’; whereas I am more than eager to write against upraising of the Mangla Dam.

It is a good question, but before I begin to formulate an answer we need to establish the difference between the two projects.

The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India and we challenged this accession by saying that he did not satisfy all the rules of accession enunciated in the light of Indian Independence Act. Pakistan was not a party to this accession and became a party only because of de facto control of the Kashmiri territory, and assumed obligations under the UNCIP.

In other words both countries had no legal and constitutional rights to control or annex the State of Jammu and Kashmir, hence they have no right to use or divert resources which belong to the people of Kashmir.

We know both countries love to have Jammu and Kashmir because of its resources and strategic position. Both countries desperately need water resources which, by grace of Almighty, we have in ample supply. Indus Water Treaty is about the division of water resources of Kashmir.

This treaty was signed by President Ayub Khan and Pundit Nehru on 19 September 1960, and Mr Eugene Black, then President of World Bank, played a leading role in preparation of this agreement, according to which India has exclusive right over three Eastern Rivers, Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, and Pakistan have right over the three Western rivers, Chenab, Jhelum and Indus. It was an agreement between the two occupying countries to share the water resources of Jammu and Kashmir against the will of its legitimate owners.

I am not a legal expert so I don’t know whether this kind of use is considered as theft, loot, plunder or what. But one thing is clear that it was, and still is, exploitation of our resources by the both countries. We don’t mind them using our resources, including water, provided we get appropriate rewards for this. If gas and petrol could be sold to those who want to pay a price for it, then why not a price is charged for water and other resources used by India and Pakistan.
The treaty gave exclusive right to India over the three Eastern Rivers, it also allowed India a limited use of the Western rivers for agricultural use, domestic use and any development projects, as long as it did not obstruct the flow of water into Pakistan. Although the Treaty was regarded as a best possible solution to the water distribution problems between India and Pakistan, it had inbuilt possibilities of controversy as both government could have different interpretation of domestic use and development projects.
In light of this agreement illegal construction of Mangla Dam took place against the expressed will of the local people. Irony of the matter is that this mega project, which uprooted lakhs of Kashmiri people, was not for the welfare and interest of the local people, but for the interest of Pakistani land lords and industrialist who wanted water and energy.

Like Mangla Dam’s illegal construction, its illegal upraising is also going to uproot more than lakh local people; and this time too to cater for needs of Pakistani land lords and industrialists. Pakistani land lords will get water, industrialists will get energy, contractors will get business and WAPDA and their agents will get money in form of kick backs and financial corruption, but the question is what is there for the people of Mirpur?

Whereas Mangla Dam was built on the river Jhelum, Baglihar is built on the river Chenab, near Doda which is in Jammu province of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan's contention is that the design of the 450mw Baglihar hydro-power project violates the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. According to Pakistani expertsthe design of the project, which provides for submerged gated spillways, gives India control over Pakistani waters, and that is a breach of the Indus Waters Treaty.

What this means is that Pakistan has no objection over the project itself but has concerns over its design, and demands that it should be changed. Pakistan submitted six technical objections to the project, and if no agreement is reached between the parties then Pakistan has a right to seek neutral expert help under the Article IX of the Treaty.

It is true that India does not like any outside interference in any matters which they regard as ‘bilateral’ or ‘internal’, but one wonders what Pakistan is going to gain from this exercise. Surely Pakistan can embarrass India by this approach and also send this signal that it is impossible to work out any deal with India bilaterally, be it on small issues like Baglihar, Siachin and Sir Crick or the resolution of the Kashmir dispute itself.

This approach can help Pakistan to score political goals and perhaps win some support at home, but surely it will not have any impact on the construction of Baglihar project itself. This project started in 1992, and is due to be operational before the end of this year, or the next year at the latest. While these talks were taking place India got extra manpower and resources to ensure that the project is completed on time.

As yet Pakistan has not taken a decision whether to approach the World Bank or not, and when they do it will take many months to appoint neutral experts. And once this hurdle is over neutral experts will obtain technical data from the both countries. The submission of the data and its subsequent examination by experts will be a long and complicated process which could take years. And at the speed India is working, the construction work will be over; and I am sure Pakistani experts are not unaware of this.

Then one wonders what the objective of this exercise is? In past six seven months Pakistan has worked hard on this agenda, and brought it to the lime light; but the question is why it took them so long to get their act together. Is this some kind of diversion from other issues, or some kind of smokescreen that attention of the people is focused on this issue while something else with greater importance is taking place?

It is understandable why Pakistan is so desperate for resources of Jammu and Kashmir including water from Kashmiri Rivers. Pakistan’s per capita water availability was 5600 cu meters in 1950, and it has drastically dropped to1400 cu meters; and if appropriate measures are not taken then it could further fall down to 1000 cu meters within the next ten years.

Whereas I can understand Pakistan’s water problems for which only they can be blamed as they did not build Kala Bagh Dam and planned properly to utilise water resources, I can not sacrifice interest of Kashmiri people for the sake of Pakistani landed lords.

If a dam was being built inside the Indian Territory and it affected flow of water to Pakistan, then choice was a simple one, I had to choose between a Pakistani interest and an Indian interest. But here situation is different. Call it Baglihar dam or Baglihar hydro-power project, it is being built in Jammu which is a Kashmiri territory; and if electricity is generated from this or land is irrigated then it is going to benefit my own people - citizens of Jammu and Kashmir. It may or may not affect the flow of water to Pakistan, and to true Kashmiri nationalists, interest of Kashmir and its people is paramount.

Even moderate Kashmiri leaders, who at one time, were considered as ‘B team’ of the Pakistani establishment, are coming in support of the view point expressed above. Former Hurriyat Conference (A) Chairman Moulvi Mohammed Abbaas Ansari said ‘India and Pakistan are fighting on the rivers and water which do not belong to them. The rivers are the sole property of Kashmiri people and no body has a right to talk on behalf of Kashmiris.’

It will be of interest to many that India has plan to complete 35 power projects inside Jammu and Kashmir, and this will have economic and political impact on lives of the people there. One view is that Pakistani establishment wants to ensure that the ‘Kashmiris are not empowered’ by projects like these, as they will create jobs and bring economic prosperity there. And according to the view of this establishment if economic prosperity together with some kind of ‘normalcy’ returns to Jammu and Kashmir, then it will help India to have edge over Pakistan.
Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is a Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:

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