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Battle of Paani-pat

Where is the need for such magnanimity?

John Briscoe’s piece entitled “War or Peace on the Indus” was published on The News a couple of weeks ago, but only came to my attention via The Interpreter.  Prof. Briscoe contends the following with regard to what he believes is an issue of perception (emphasis added):

Living in Delhi and working in both India and Pakistan, I was struck by a paradox. One country was a vigorous democracy, the other a military regime. But whereas an important part of the Pakistani press regularly reported India’s views on the water issue in an objective way, the Indian press never did the same.

I never saw a report which gave Indian readers a factual description of the enormous vulnerability of Pakistan, of the way in which India had socked it to Pakistan when filling Baglihar. How could this be, I asked? Because, a journalist colleague in Delhi told me, “when it comes to Kashmir – and the Indus Treaty is considered an integral part of Kashmir — the ministry of external affairs instructs newspapers on what they can and cannot say, and often tells them explicitly what it is they are to say.

This apparently remains the case. In the context of the recent talks between India and Pakistan I read, in Boston, the electronic reports on the disagreement about “the water issue” in The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express and The Economic Times. Taken together, these reports make astounding reading. Not only was the message the same in each case (“no real issue, just Pakistani shenanigans”), but the arguments were the same, the numbers were the same and the phrases were the same. And in all cases the source was “analysts” and “experts” — in not one case was the reader informed that this was reporting an official position of the Government of India.

Equally depressing is my repeated experience – most recently at a major international meeting of strategic security institutions in Delhi – that even the most liberal and enlightened of Indian analysts (many of whom are friends who I greatly respect) seem constitutionally incapable of seeing the great vulnerability and legitimate concern of Pakistan (which is obvious and objective to an outsider). [The News]

My INI co-blogger at Polaris has a clinical, comprehensive rebuttal of some to the claims made by Prof. Briscoe.  There are a couple of points that I’d like to make, however.

Primarily, with regard to the notion that India’s news media has been coerced by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) into presenting a largely “Indian slant” on the issue, “substantiated” by Prof. Briscoe’s claim that data presented by several media houses in India were the same.   Certainly, the numbers were the same.  But only because they were based on factual data, and not on David Copperfield type concoctions disseminated to the world by folks in Pakistan.

The Indus Waters Treaty provided for an arbitration clause in the event of dispute.  Pakistan exercised that right during the Baglihar Dam controversy (and may likely do the same in opposition to the Kishen-Ganga project).  The Neutral Expert upheld some minor Pakistani objections (whereby poundage capacity was reduced by about 14%, and the height of the dam was reduced by 1.5 meters) but Pakistan’s claims on the height and gated control of spillway were emphatically rejected.

The very same Pakistani press, which Prof. Briscoe lauded as having reported “India’s views on the water issue in an objective way,” spun the results of the arbitration and led the Pakistani awam to believe that the World Bank had ruled in favor of Pakistan.  Objective, indeed.

A second point revolved not around the terms of the treaty, but on its spirit, whereby it was contended that India, big brother and upper riparian, show magnanimity towards the smaller, more fragile state. Prof. Briscoe asserts that Indians did not see the great vulnerability and legitimate concern of Pakistan. Had this been the case, India could have, within its right, tapped all 33 million acre feet (MAF) of the eastern rivers and stored 3.6 MAFs of western rivers — it has done neither, allowing Pakistan access to, at the very minimum, 3 MAF not required by the Treaty.  Even the compensation that India is entitled to, per the terms of the treaty hasn’t been sought from Pakistan. Magnanimous enough?

To be sure, both India and Pakistan do need to work out aspects of current dynamics not explicitly addressed by the Treaty, such as water sharing in periods of shortage.  No one denies that Pakistan faces a severe crisis on the water issue.  The solution to this is for Pakistan to try and optimize design and efficiency of existing dams and develop more efficient solutions for water management by partnering with those willing to offer assistance, such as the U.S., via the Signature Energy Program and initiatives provided for by the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation.

While Prof. Briscoe may be an expert on water management issues, Pakistan’s accusations have to be considered within the ambit of its antipathy towards India that is, ultimately, its raison d’être.

Numbers and intricacies  can confuse the brightest intellect — simply painting India as the hydra-headed monster stealing water from the honest Pakistani  is a simpler, more direct sales pitch to the awam already reeling from the effects of decades of water mismanagement by its own rulers.

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3 Responses to Battle of Paani-pat

  1. Deshdaaz April 28, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    One needs to tell Prof. Briscoe that the Indus water treaty between India and Pakistan was so grossly imbalanced with 80% of water being diverted to Pakistan. Ask strategic affairs expert Mr. Chellaney available on twitter more on this. India has offere so much more generously and fed the monster over the years. Its time to use water as a weapon let the monster die in thurst, which would be despicable idea to Nehruvian junkies that stroll in corridors of power.

  2. @filter_c November 17, 2011 at 7:58 am #

    Unbiased? John Briscoe has a history of making unsubstantiated, pro-Pakistan statements on IWT and other issues. http://t.co/zn9kGF5c

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