Archive for September, 2016

This article was orginally published in DailyO here.

Ever since the Indus Waters Treaty has come into the current discourse of India-Pakistan relations, some have called for abrogation of the lopsided treaty, while others have warned against it citing a range of consequences that would follow. But any evaluation of this matter must be cognisant of the fundamental fact that the treaty is grossly unfair to India.

Signed in 1960 by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then Pakistan President Ayub Khan, the Indus Water Treaty was brokered by World Bank. It is an extraordinarily generous water-sharing treaty, and is the only pact in the world that compels the upper riparian state to defer to the interests of the downstream state.

The treaty gives Pakistan control over the three so-called “western” rivers – Indus, Jhelum and Chenab that flow from Jammu and Kashmir before entering Pakistan. On the other hand, India gets to control the three eastern rivers – Ravi, Beas and Sutlej that flow from Punjab.

This parity in the number of rivers is, however, quite misleading. The three rivers that India gets to control have an awfully low volume of waters compared to the other three. In all, Pakistan gets a whopping 5,900 tmcft volume of water every year which is a massive 80.5 per cent share of the total waters, while India gets to use only 19.5 per cent.

What’s ironic is that Pakistan gobbles up all of this water even though its actual requirement is much less. It is egregious that annually about 40 million acre feet (maf) of water flows into the Arabian Sea absolutely unutilised, according to a study by a Supreme Court advocate.

If even some of these waters were allowed to be utilised by India, the water crunch in the states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan could probably be solved. Further, the state most affected by the treaty is Jammu and Kashmir. The people and government of J&K have time and again raised this issue.

In 2002, the state Assembly passed a unanimous resolution demanding the abrogation of the pact, when Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was the chief minister. Given the power shortages in the state, full access to Indus waters has the ability to boost self-reliance which is key to solving the state’s problems. Pakistan, however, has a vested interest in continuing the status quo because it harms the people of J&K and undermines their economic growth.

Even though under the treaty India has the right to “non-consumptive” use of the three western rivers, which is for purposes such as hydropower generation and even storage upto 3.6 million acre feet, India has hardly made any use of these waters, allowing Pakistan to benefit from the surplus.

Even for the few projects that India has undertaken, such as the Kishanganga and Ratle projects well within the treaty framework, Pakistan has unabashedly taken them to international arbitration over petty objections, in effect stalling the projects resulting in obvious implications such as cost overruns.

Meanwhile as the Indian projects are halted, Pakistan itself is busy erecting dams to make its case stronger. Ironically, China too has stealthily built a dam on the Indus at Demchok in Ladakh.

The Indus Waters Treaty came into recent spotlight when MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup on September 22 hinted at a press briefing that India may revisit it. “I am sure you are aware that there are differences between India and Pakistan on the implementation of the Indus Waters Treaty,” he said before adding that the issue is being addressed bilaterally and that all cooperative measures call for mutual trust and goodwill on both sides. “For any such treaty to work, it is important there must be mutual trust and cooperation. It can’t be a one-sided affair,” Swarup said.

Largesse be it in the case of river waters or other resources like land, marine resources, etc is not uncommon in diplomacy. India has a proven track record of making magnanimous overtures to its neighbours.

The recent land boundary agreement with Bangladesh is a fine example of how India is willing to walk the extra mile if the partner country is able to reciprocate with a sense of goodwill and positivity. But Pakistan is no Bangladesh or Bhutan.

There is neither mutual trust nor goodwill, which were the foundational basis of the Indus Waters Treaty, between India and Pakistan today. For 56 years of uninterrupted and unquestioned flow of waters from India to Pakistan, all India has got in return is the blood of its citizens.

As strategist Brahma Chellaney wrote in his recent article, “If India jettisons the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), it can fashion water into its most potent tool of leverage to mend Pakistan’s behaviour. Pakistan has consistently backed away from bilateral agreements with India – from the Simla Agreement, to the commitment not to allow its territory to be used for cross-border terrorism… It cannot selectively demand India’s compliance with one treaty while it flouts a peace pact serving as the essential basis for all peaceful cooperation, including the sharing of river waters.” Chellaney has also pointed out that Pakistan’s use of state-reared terrorist groups can be invoked by India, under Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, as constituting reasonable grounds for withdrawal from the Indus treaty.

The government has for now not decided to abrogate the treaty, but would be “maximising” the use from the western waters under the ambit of the treaty. In the high level review meeting held on Monday (September 26), Prime Minister Modi said that “blood and water cannot flow at the same time”, indicating a firm stance.

The government has also decided to suspend the meeting of Indus Water Commission until further notice, pointing out that such engagements need an atmosphere free from terror. But the government’s policy on the treaty must in no way stop here. This must only be the first step and future course of action must be contingent on whether Pakistan mends its ways – which is predictably quite unlikely.

Therefore, a step-by-step escalation would work well indicating to Pakistan that with every misadventure it undertakes, the costs will be raised. Come what may, abrogation as an option should not be ruled out because only then will India be able to make it clear that it is not going to be business as usual if Pakistan continues to bleed India.

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This article was  originally published in DailyO (online opinion platform of India Today group) on September 21, 2016 here.

The recent visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to New Delhi, where he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saw a slew of agreements and exchanges. Some of the major ones were agreements on extradition, mutual legal assistance treaty and outer space.

Both leaders flagged the issue of terrorism and agreed that it is the single biggest threat to peace, stability and progress in the region and beyond. They reaffirmed their resolve to counter terrorism and strengthen security and defence cooperation.

PM Modi pledged that India would allocate a sum of $1 billion for Afghanistan’s capacity building in areas of education, health, agriculture, skill development, women empowerment, energy, infrastructure, and strengthening of democratic institutions.

He also proposed to supply world class and affordable medicines and cooperation in solar energy through mutually agreed instruments.

Ghani comes full circle

The visit comes after a series of engagements between the two leaders. Modi has visited Afghanistan twice, following Ghani’s maiden visit to New Delhi exactly a year ago.

Between the visits, they have had constant engagements, including the video conferencing during the joint inauguration of the restored Stor Palace last month (August). The relations between the sides have been on a constant upsurge after Ghani abandoned his Pakistan “tilt”.

Back in September 2014 when Ghani took charge as President in the National Unity government, he decided to actively engage Pakistan in the hope that it will help stabilise the security situation by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

But within a year Ghani realised the hollowness and deception of Pakistani assurances. The fighting season concomitant with the talks was one of the bloodiest that Afghanistan saw in years, with the Taliban even overrunning several districts.

The reports that Mullah Omar had died in April 2013 served as the last straw in making it unequivocally clear that the “peace process” was nothing but an eyewash. It was in the name of Mullah Omar, the Amir-ul-Momineen, that the talks were being held in 2015. Such was the farce during the process that the Taliban, backed by Pakistan’s ISI, even released a letter with an Eid message in the name of the long dead Mullah Omar.

Ghani, therefore, abandoned his failed outreach towards Pakistan, much to the relief of the Afghan public that was always sceptical of trusting Pakistan. The resentment against Pakistan’s terrorist designs is widespread among the Afghan civil society who look up to India as a truly reliable friend.

A retired Indian diplomat told this writer how an Afghan once remarked to him that “they [Pakistan] send terrorists to kill our people, whereas you build roads and bridges that improve our lives”. This is the general sentiment that guides the way most Afghans look at India.

The development partnership

The development partnership of India and Afghanistan has been the defining aspect of their contemporary bilateral relations. Over the last decade and more, India has heavily invested in the reconstruction and development projects inside Afghanistan, which has created immense goodwill.

The celebration on the streets by Afghan youth over the completion of the Salma Dam is a recent testimony to this. Officially called the India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam, the Rs 1,775-crore hydroelectric and irrigation dam is located on the Hari Rud River in Chishti district of Herat, and was inaugurated by PM Modi in June this year.

It was Modi’s second visit to Afghanistan after the historic Kabul visit last December that saw him inaugurate the Parliament building whose construction was also funded by India.

A number of projects in the areas of agriculture, rural development, health, education, vocational training, etc have been approved by the Indian government under the Small Development Projects (SDP) scheme. Besides these flagship initiatives, India through its state-owned and private companies has invested in a number of sectors in Afghanistan.

A consortium of six Indian companies led by Steel Authority of India had won the concession for three iron ore mines in the Hajigak region in 2011. The state owned power equipment maker BHEL commissioned two 220/20kV substations in Doshi and Charikar in January this year.

Recently, Afghanistan also invited Indian investments in the renewable energy sector, specifically off-grid renewable energy projects.

Apart from infrastructure and industrial projects, India has also been lending assistance to Afghanistan in other areas like sports.The BCCI helped provide for a “home ground” for Afghan cricket in India at the Greater Noida cricket stadium.

Further, the Indian government approved $1 million for constructing a cricket stadium in Kandahar under the SDP scheme.

In the 12th South Asian games held in India earlier this year, India sponsored the air-travel of the 214 strong Afghan contingent, besides bearing some other expenses. The request for India’s help, reportedly made by Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, was immediately agreed to by PM Modi.

Countering terrorism emanating out of Pakistan

That the Taliban plots its attacks with Pakistan’s support is well known not just to the Afghans but to the world.

Be it infiltrating terrorists across the LoC into India, orchestrating cross-border attacks like the one in Uri this Sunday (September 18), supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan that spills Afghan blood every single day, or abusing human rights in Balochistan and PoK, Pakistan has given us umpteen reasons to call it a terrorist state.

Yet, there isn’t enough international pressure on Pakistan to rein the terrorist designs of its “deep state” – the nexus of Pak military, ISI and the various jihadi groups.

The need to diplomatically isolate Pakistan is not only in the interest of Indian or Afghan security but that of the entire South Asian region and beyond. Even Bangladesh is suffering from the nefarious designs of the Pakistani State. In December 2015, Pakistan had to recall its diplomatFarina Arshad after Bangladeshi authorities alleged her of spying and financing terrorist organisations.

The effort of globally exposing Pakistan and its terrorist activities, therefore, must be led by India together with Afghanistan and Bangladesh. When New Delhi, Kabul and Dhaka all speak in one voice, it sends across a powerful message to the international community.

One of the most laudable decisions of the Modi government’s Afghanistan policy has been its decision to donate three Mi-35 multi-role helicopters, with fourth in the pipeline. The Indian helicopters are expected to boost Afghan air power and positively impact the fight against terrorism.

The long drawn war that the Afghan forces are fighting against the Taliban needs support wherever it can come from. Towards this end, not just India but all world powers should contribute towards emboldening capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces.

Besides the developmental agenda, forums like Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process and the trilateral such as India-US-Afghanistan consultations, to be held in New York later this month, also need to heavily focus on the security situation and means to counter the Taliban.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between India and Afghanistan in 2011 provides a framework for greater defence and security cooperation, as reiterated in the recent joint statement. Herein lie the opportunities to take India-Afghan relations to the next level.

As New Delhi examines the requests made by the Afghan Army chief General Qadam Shah Shahim last month, the one thing that should not be a matter of consideration is how its decisions are perceived by Islamabad.

There is absolutely no reason for India, to the extent it is economically feasible, to shy away from supporting and working towards a stable, democratic and peaceful Afghanistan.

This article was originally published in The Hans India, a Hyderabad-based newspaper, here on August 24, 2016. 

As India celebrates the success of PV Sindhu at Rio Olympics, many have rightly pointed out at the outstanding contribution made by her Coach Pullela Gopichand in nurturing talents like her and many others. Gopichand has indeed been at the forefront of this revolution of sorts in Indian Badminton. His academy at Hyderabad has produced champions in the sport who have won laurels and medals for the country. But Gopi, as he is popularly known, should not be looked at as only a Badminton Coach. He is, in every sense of the word, a change-agent.

In a country that never forgets to lament the poor quality of its sporting infrastructure every four years when the Olympics is held, Gopi is among the few rare personalities who dared to challenge the status quo. As a champion sportsperson himself he was always aware of the limitations of the country’s sporting facilities. But what sets him apart from many others who merely acknowledge the problem is his intention and grit to step forward to change the way things are done. He has shown us that the buck need not always stop with the government. Rather, as someone who understands the game as well as the systemic structure around it, he took it upon himself to set up a world-class facility that could support and help the next generation of Badminton players achieve what he had missed out in Sydney, an Olympic medal.

Gopi’s contribution to Indian Badminton therefore goes much beyond just coaching or mentoring. He has donned multiple roles, that of a fund-raiser, administrator, strategist, besides a coach. He has established an eco-system that will help the game to thrive for generations to come. The laurels that players like PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal have brought to the country have already ignited the interest and passion of Indians towards Badminton. The kind of excitement that gripped the nation when Sindhu played her final match was simply phenomenal. People coming out on the streets to watch and celebrate a non-cricket sporting event has always been a rarity in the past. But in the recent years, we have seen glimpses of attitudinal change, thanks to a generation of Olympic stars like from Vijender Singh to PV Sindhu. It is only when we have facilitators like Gopi that stars like these emerge.

There is no denying the preeminent role that the government ought to play in improving the sporting scene in the country, but the case of Gopichand shows how individuals too can make a lasting impact. Gopi’s symbiotic relationship with the government shows that government structures are not always as rigid as we think. In fact, the sort of intervention that he has made in the system should be an inspiration for people in any field or sector, even beyond sports. We are a country that knows and reiterates its problems well, be it potholes on the roads or shortfall of jobs for a growing population. What we really need are change-agents like Gopichand who take ownership in their respective field of expertise and lead the country in the right direction.

Kamal Madishetty is a research associate at Vision India Foundation, New Delhi and an alumnus of IIT Guwahati.