Understanding The Indus Water Treaty

Parenting Indian Juveniles Can Involve Repeating Bullshit Sentences.

That’s a mnemonic for you to remember the rivers in the Indus water system. Under the Indus Water Treaty, the water of the western rivers— Indus, Jhelum & Chenab— are allocated to Pakistan. That is P for Pakistan & I_J_C. On the other hand, India has unrestricted access to the three eastern rivers— Ravi, Beas & Satluj. That is I for India & R_B_S.

Those are the bare bones of what may someday lead to a “water war” between two nuclear-armed nations. And it’s important for all of us to understand why.

When Radcliffe divided erstwhile British India into two, the rivers of the Indus water system decided not to give a fuck. “The government officers, clerks with chairs, pens and inkpots were distributed” & so were people with mental illness including Manto’s fictional character Toba Tek Singh. But the Indus & its sidekicks had been flowing the way they did since eternity & they were not going to be perturbed by this newfangled concept called a nation-state.

The six rivers of the Indus basin variously originate in Tibet & Northern India as the hills lie to the northeast of the Indus basin. Pakistan lies downstream & hence by the sheer virtue of geography, India found itself with a dangerous level of control over most of these streams.

In May 1948, the Karachi Dawn, one of Pakistan’s leading newspapers, wrote:

As a blazing sun poured itself over the dry and parched lands of Montgomery and Lahore, anxious and overwrought people of the province asked, “When will the canal water come?”

In April, India had stopped water flows from the Ferozpur headworks to some canals in the Punjabi areas in Pakistan. About a million acres of land in Pakistan faced drought. India later restored the water flow but only after Pakistan paid compensation for the water. With this incident, Pakistan realized its folly. It hadn’t insisted on canal water distribution at the time of the Radcliffe award.

Two Opposing Conception of Territorial Sovereignty

Let’s say you have 20 people packed permanently in a large room. There are 20 water taps installed on an equal distance on the four walls. While everyone can access the water tap whenever they want, the main switch to all the water taps is located on a particular corner of the room. Sixteen of them are fans of John Green & four of them love Rushdie.

The sixteen people thought of the four as intellectual snobs while the Rushdie fans considered the remaining sixteen as lacking in literary taste. They fought a lot over what one should read & sometimes they got into fist fights too. One day, an outsider arrived to “solve” their problems. He built a wall divided the room. About one-fifth of the room was allocated to the four Rushdie fans. They got one-fifth of everything— books, pens, food supplies, etc. They had one water tap for each person too. But soon they realized the main switch to all the water taps was on the side of John Green fans.

Now, what do you think we should do to arrive at a fair arrangement?

The John Green fans could say that they have the right to do whatever they want with the things in their territory & that involves turning the switch on or off whenever they want. This view is called absolute territorial sovereignty or the Harmon Doctrine. According to it, Rushdians have no right to question if the Greenies switch off the water taps forever & leave them the Rushdians to die. In 1895, When the government of Mexico protested against the US diversion of water from the Rio Grande river, the US justified its action by Harmon Doctrine. This is a very uncivilized way of looking at things & It is no longer in use in the International law.

The Rushdians can say that water did not belong to the land but to the people. So, they were entitled to the same amount of water they had enjoyed historically. The party in control of the switches could not do whatever they wanted. There are some internationally accepted rules & the two parties must abide by it. This view is called Limited Territorial Sovereignty or the theory of territorial integrity.

Under the theory of territorial integrity, every lower riparian is entitled to the natural flow of streams entering its territory.


The right to exploit a river to a greater extent than in the past must be denied an upper riparian since it would affect the amount of water, or its quality, flowing downstream.

This is how Pakistan has viewed the Indus problem from its inception. This theory too isn’t applied anywhere in practice yet. These are the two extreme views. The Indus Water Treaty is based on a middle way— the theory of reasonable & equitable utilization.

It follows from (these principles) that the rights of the several units concerned in this dispute must be determined by applying neither the doctrine of sovereignty, nor the doctrine of riparian rights, but the rule of equitable apportionment, each unit being entitled to a fair share of the waters of the Indus and its tributaries.

After 1948, when India stopped the flow of water to Pakistan, the two countries with the World Bank as a broker tried to negotiate a more civilized arrangement. At the beginning of the negotiations, India just asked for the water of the river Beas for exclusive Indian use. But till the end, India got unrestricted access two three eastern rivers— Ravi, Beas & Satluj. This was commensurate with India’s needs. About 20% of the watershed of the Indus water system is in Indian territory & India got unrestricted access to about a similar percentage of water. In addition to that, India was also allowed to small storage on the western rivers for cultivation & to generate electricity. This was the Indus Water Treaty signed between the three parties— India, Pakistan & the World Bank— in 1960.

Kadyalwar Sunil Abhinav

Old Acquaintances: India And The OIC

This year, India had been invited for the 46th session as a “guest of honour” as OIC completed its 50th year in 2019. But our relations with OIC are quite old.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world” & its stated objective is this:

To safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world.

India has the third largest Muslim population in the world. India is home to about 10% of the world’s Muslims. Any organization genuinely interested in protecting the interests of the world’s Muslims should obviously have India as one of the most important players. All the member countries of the OIC have a majority Muslim population. Russia & Thailand, with a significant Muslim minority, are the observer members of the organization. But, in my opinion, to really “protect the Muslims of the world”, you first need to have countries with significant Muslim minority populations as the members because those are the Muslims who may not have an adequate voice in their country.

So, if India isn’t a member of OIC & it has been invited for the first time in 50 years, we should rather ask, “Why the hell India isn’t a part of OIC yet? Doesn’t this miss the whole point of having an organization to protects the Muslims of the world?”

The preparatory committee that decided the composition of OIC in 1969 led down the following criteria for the countries to be invited for the meeting:

  1. countries having a Muslim majority population; or
  2. those having a Muslim head of state.

Pakistan wanted to paint India as a Hindu country rather than a secular country where Muslims have no place. India’s inclusion in OIC has always been opposed by Pakistan. If India is included in OIC, it means that the government of India actually represents a sizeable number of the world’s Muslims.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah

This is against the very idea of Pakistan. The two nation theory assumes that the Hindus & Muslims are two nations and Pakistan is the only true guardian of Muslims in the territory of Indian Subcontinent once ruled by the British. India’s inclusion in OIC would have created an identity crisis for Pakistan.

India was actually invited to the first OIC conference & in effect, India is one of the founding members of OIC. While Pakistan felt uneasy with India’s inclusion, it couldn’t muster a valid reason why India shouldn’t be included.

Around the same time, communal violence in Gujarat broke out. It was the first major Hindu-Muslim riot after partition. With this, Pakistan had now found a reason to refuse India’s entry into OIC.

This is what Gurbachan Singh, India’s then ambassador to Morocco, has to say about what happened:

The following day, on the 24th morning, Laraki asked me to see him before the conference was to reconvene. He said that news of the Ahmedabad riots was beginning to cause some disquiet amongst the delegations and suggested, on a personal and friendly basis, that I should not participate in the morning session. I readily agreed and asked the other members of the delegation to attend the conference.


During this time members of all the delegations had waited in the conference hall. Rumours were floating around. It transpired that the president of Pakistan was refusing to leave his villa until he received an assurance that the official Indian delegation would not be permitted to participate in the meeting. Many leaders of delegations attempted to telephone him but reportedly he would not even answer the telephone.

Pakistan didn’t want India to be part of OIC. India was asked if it could accept an observer status. The Indian delegation wasn’t happy with the suggestion. The Moroccan delegation asked India if it would voluntarily withdraw from the conference to ensure the success of the first conference of OIC. India was initially “unanimously” invited to OIC & it was not going to give up the membership due to Pakistan’s antics. India refused to withdraw.

Pakistan’s volte-face, it is evident, was not because of the Ahmedabad riots or a governmental delegation or a Sikh acting leader of the Indian delegation, though all, in turn, were presented as reasons. It is also on record that Pakistan was part of the consensus when an invitation had been extended to the Government of India. The real reason was that, when word got back to Pakistan of the invitation to India, there was a spate of protests in the country including, significantly, by many political opponents of the regime such as Asghar Khan, Bhutto, Mumtaz Daultana and others.

The Indian delegation at OIC was labelled as the “the Muslim community of India” instead of “the government of India” in the final declaration.

India could not accept anything lesser than the member status because it was “unanimously” invited as so. Pakistan, on the other hand, ensured that India wasn’t invited to any subsequent conferences. Pakistan has used OIC to garner support for its Kashmir cause. In the 1990s, it doubled down on the particular issue. So, India wanted to be part of the OIC to present its side of the story. But Pakistan thwarted all such efforts.

Now, that the major countries like Saudi Arabia & UAE want to be on India’s good books due to India’s economic rise, they have been trying to rethink India’s position in the OIC.

That’s why we had this “guest of honour” invitation. The anti-India days of OIC are gone & we shouldn’t be worried too much about our inclusion. So, if we are to participate in OIC, it should only be as a member, nothing less than that.

Kadyalwar Sunil Abhinav

Coke Studio as Pakistan’s Soft Power

Alexa, Play “Pak Sarzameen” by Coke Studio.

For the uninitiated, let’s first understand what “Soft Power” exactly means. Military & Economic might are considered as “Hard Power”. With a strong military, you can intimidate your enemies & defeat them in battles. That is one way to get what you want. Then, you have the economic power. Why does the US impose sanctions on countries it doesn’t like? Because it can. Economic power gives you various tools like aid, sanctions, or the age-old trick of bribing the officials. These are coercive methods.

But then there is “Soft Power” too. This term was coined by Joseph Nye, an American Political Scientist. Soft Power creates a favourable image of a country in the minds of foreigners. Soft Power influences the behavior of others to make them want the outcomes you want. Like, in South Asia, Indian democracy is a benchmark. Among many things like Bollywood or Yoga, India’s democracy itself is its soft power. If the people of Bhutan are attracted towards Indian democracy, they may as well start demanding outcomes similar to what India wants. The outcome, in this case, can be staying away from authoritarian China. That is an example of soft power. The essential thing about soft power is that it is non-coercive as against the coercive hard power. There is a lot of disagreement if Soft Power is of any real use but It will be very difficult to bomb the people who your countrymen truly love.

An example of Soft Power that I want to discuss is Coke Studio Pakistan.

Chaap Tilak, one of my favourite songs from Coke Studio

What image conjures up in your mind when I say the word Pakistan? Terrorism? Military Dictatorship? Islamic Fundamentalism? Poor Citizens in Burqa and Pathani Salwar? The rich elite epitomised by the likes of Hina Rabbani Khar? For some of us, it isn’t an image but a sound, the soulful sound of Coke Studio Pakistan.

Pakistan always had an image problem. It had tried to project itself as a protector of Islam. A slogan popularized by the dictatorial regime of Zia-ul-Haq went like this:

Pakistan ka matlab kya hai? La illah illallah

(What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no God but the God.)

There was always an effort towards uniformity. The distribution of political & economic power is Pakistan is highly skewed even today. In 1971, Bangladesh said, “Dude, I am done with you. We can’t hold this together anymore.” Pakistan has been harbouring terrorists in its territory. Osma Bin Laden was found chilling near its military garrison in Abbottabad. Then you have the Pakistani Support for Taliban, the nuclear weapons & growing intolerance & sectarian violence. This is surely not a good resume.

Coke Studio Pakistan is a show where singers & musicians perform together on the same platform in a kind of “Jugaldandi”. I have talked about the political & economic distribution in Pakistan but Coke Studio gives you a feeling that Pakistan is inclusive at least in a cultural sense. The songs are a fusion of various musical influence— eastern classical, folk, rock & contemporary popular music. The songs are easily available on YouTube & the provided translations in Urdu & English makes them reach a wide audience all over the world. It gives an impression contrary to what we have— a diverse & inclusive Pakistan where all cultures all equally respected. This is what the Coke Studio website says:

Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform, which bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity & instils a sense of Pakistani pride.

Most importantly though, the first season essentially put on the map the Coke Studio philosophy of peace & harmony and celebrating life.

This promotion of Pakistani music when the country felt truly lost is similar to the projection of French culture, its language & literature through the Alliance Francaise, which was created in 1883. This helped France repair its shattered prestige.

The songs in Coke Studio are sung in various languages— Brahui, Seraiki, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Farsi, Poorvi, Marvari, Balochi, Brahui, Persian, etc. Listen to the song called “Daanah Pah Daanah” written and composed by Akhtar Chanal Zahri. Just in one single song, about five languages are used. It is about a shepherd telling a story & introducing us to the beautiful land, rivers & mountains of Balochistan.

A new song in Season 11 called “Baalkada” features two transgender singers.

It is also a confluence of tradition & modernity. It takes both Western influences & indigenous classical & folk influences. Adrian Malik, the Video Producer at Coke Studio says:

The music is an honest representation of where we are today, it’s both timely & timeless; both purely Pakistani & palatably global. Coke Studio is all about unity— the collaboration of a big-hearted, open-minded Pakistanis to create something unique, beautiful & truly our own.

Pakistani music as a whole is a soft power for Pakistan. Geniuses like Abida Parveen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan have been Pakistan’s cultural representatives. Coke Studio is just its culmination.

But does it work?

To an extent, yes. Open a Coke Studio song on youtube & scroll down to the comment section. The comment section brims with Indians and people all over the world praising how beautiful Pakistani music is. You will find Indians professing their love for the Pakistani neighbors like you won’t find anywhere else.

As CSP’s tagline goes, it truly is the “Sound of the Nation”.

Should India Engage With Taliban?

In 1999, the Indian Airline IC 814 was hijacked in Kathmandu by Hurkat-Al-Mujahideen & flown to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The hijackers demanded the release of three terrorists.

One was Maulana Masood Azhar who was also involved in the attacks on the Indian Parliament in 2001. The second terrorist to be released was Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the subject of the movie ‘Omerta’ by Hansal Mehta who achieved notoriety for the abduction & murder of an American Journalist named Daniel Pearl.

Rajkumar Rao as Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh in Hansal Mehta’s Omerta

The third was Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar who fomented insurgency in Kashmir & trained terrorists in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Ajit Doval, who was the chief negotiator then says:

If these people (the hijackers) were not getting active ISI support in Kandahar, we could have got the hijacking vacated. The ISI had removed all the pressure we were trying to put on the hijackers. Even their safe exit was guaranteed, so they had no need to negotiate an escape route.

Apart from this, according to an Indian Army official, at the peak of Taliban rule in Afghanistan:

about 22 per cent of terrorists operating in Jammu and Kashmir were either of Afghan origin or had been trained there.

This ISI-Taliban Yaarana has been a real pain-in-the-arse for India. Why, then, should India engage in dialogue with the Taliban & give this terrorist organization the legitimacy it yearns for?

IC-814 in Kandahar

It’s better to choose to engage with the Taliban now than being forced to talk to them later.

It’s just a matter of time that the US will withdraw a majority of its troops from Afghanistan. What happens next? The Afghan government controls just about half the Afghan territory. The rest is either controlled by the Taliban or it is still a contested area. The Taliban is just getting stronger by the day & if the military conflict goes on, it will just end up occupying more territory.

An International consensus is emerging that a peace process is the only way forward. Any outcome of the peace process will definitely involve the Taliban governing the country or at least sharing the power. The Taliban knows that it is in control & It is supporting the peace only on its own terms. It is inevitable that we will have to engage with the Taliban sooner or later.

Some Contra Points

Firstly, Pakistan uses the Afghan Taliban as a hedge against India.

This should be enough of a reason for India to be reluctant to engage in any dialogue with the Taliban. But even Pakistan doesn’t want a stable government in Afghanistan even if it is ruled by the Taliban. It loves to keep Afghanistan in eternal chaos.

A strengthened Taliban, backed by the ISI, can spread its influence in the neighbouring Pakistan & Kashmir. This too is a big problem for India. Ideally, India would have loved to have a world without the Taliban. But if the Taliban’s ascendance is inevitable, we better extend a hand of friendship or even dialogue to the Taliban. That’s the only way our interest can be secured. An antagonistic Taliban will only make matter worse at the border.

We can hope that a Taliban which will have a country to run will be less subordinate to the wishes of Pakistan. India has gained some goodwill in Afghanistan through its developmental work & any anti-India activity will be an unpopular move by the government. We can also hope that it stops exporting terrorism.

Our Afghanistan policy is mainly determined by two factors— the desire to limit Pakistan’s influence & to gain access to energy markets in Central Asia. Our investments in Chabahar will only bear fruits if the routes through Afghanistan are stable. Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan too have started the dialogue with the Taliban. If the Taliban remains hostile to India, the routes through Afghanistan are not any better than those through Pakistan. Isn’t that something we were trying to avoid through Chabahar?

Taliban’s one-time foe Russia in on the table. Iran & the US are on the table. We don’t have a lot of options. In diplomacy, they say,

If you are Not at the table, you are on the menu.

If India isn’t part of the peace process in Afghanistan, we can expect that our interests will be ignored. There is a need to have a stable government in Afghanistan that doesn’t resort to exporting terrorism. For that, we’ll need to neutralize Afghanistan & not let the Taliban remain the proxy of Pakistan.

In 1992, India’s ally President Mohammad Najibullah was overthrown & a Pakistan-backed Mujaheddin government took power. India duly recognised & engaged with the government.

Why did it do so? The International community backed by the UN supported this transition & the Indian diplomats were able to reach an accommodative policy with the Mujahideen. The new peace process with the Taliban will also have a large number of countries at the table & India should try to secure its interest through diplomacy.

So, yeah. India should engage with the Taliban.

There For Each Other: Saudi Arabia & Pakistan

Saudi Arabia may not be Pakistan’s “all weather” friend as China claims to be but the two countries have almost always been there when the other one needed.

From the outset, the two countries “completed” each other— one’s weakness was other’s strength. Together, they looked after each other. Saudi Arabia was & is the spiritual leader of Sunni Islam but lacked human capital. In the 1960s, Saudi Arabia would send the members of its military to Pakistan for training. Pakistan, which got a disproportionate military strength after partition, was good at that job. In the 1960s, it was Pakistani military officers who helped Saudi Arabia a great deal in building an army & air force. By helping Saudi Arabia against Nasser, a republican who overthrew the monarchy in Egypt & helped to do the same in Yemen, the Pakistani military was able to keep its men busy after the 1965 war with India.

In the 1970s, a Pakistani battalion was stationed in Saudi Arabia’s southern border to repulse the Yemenis. Some Pakistani men were also stationed on the border with Israel & Jordan. Nawaf Obeid, a former adviser to the Saudi government from 2004 to 2015 said:

We gave money and the Pakistanis dealt with it as they saw fit… There is no documentation, but there is an implicit understanding that on everything, in particular, on security and military issues, Pakistan will be there for Saudi Arabia.

By the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has become quite wealthy due to oil money. Pakistan, as we know, is naturally great at being nice to the wealthy guys in the gang. After the 1971 war, Pakistani tapped into the Saudi coffers to fund its defence budgets. Whenever it was in economic stress, Saudi Chachu would always come to rescue. Saudis would send massive aid to Pakistan & a large number of military personnel would go the other way. In the 1980s, the Crown Prince Fawad even went on to say that the security of Saudi Arabia was intrinsically tied to that of Pakistan’s.

Pakistan, being too far away, never posed a risk to Saudi’s hegemony in the middle east. So, Saudi Arabia could give massive aid to Pakistan without worrying about the monster getting too large. Add to the equation their relationship with the US; It only reinforced the already great bond. The Saudi-Pakistan relationship has a long history. It’s nothing new.

What should India do?

There’s just one big point where the interest of the two countries diverge— Iran. Saudis hate Iran— they would love if it didn’t exist. Pakistan tries to act with caution in its relations with Iran. They don’t want to get embroiled in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. Iran & Pakistan both have a significant Baloch population & they would like to keep the border as stable as possible so that the Balochis do not start any trouble. In 2012, Pakistan even refused to join an Arab League-sponsored plan against Iran that was promoted by the Saudis.

If Pakistan is forced to give up its neutral stance in the Iran-Saudi rivalry, that can strain the friendship. We, Indians, should be good to Iranians as well as to Saudis. Anyway, Saudis have considerably brought down their rhetoric against India when it is about the Kashmir issue. Saudis have been trying to be good with India for a good amount of time now. So, it’s better we keep in mind the history of Saudi-Pakistan relationship when we read the news of Saudi-Pak bonhomie.