Over the last week, Indian leadership took a number of steps to provoke Pakistan into action. Pakistan’s leadership has acted pragmatically. The comedy of surgical strikes was poorly scripted to suck Pakistan into an embarrassing corner, in both cases: either by acting or by not acting militarily. However, poor interpretation of surgical strike by Indian military leadership gave Pakistan the third option—shrug it off. While India stands self-incriminated of committing a hostile act, Pakistan accrued a bonus of legitimacy for hitting back at those Indian military installations, which according to India, took part in the surgical strike(s)—that never was—at a time and place of its choosing. Now Pakistan has the legal cover to carry out preemptive strikes, as and when Pakistan has intelligence that any such misadventure is being planned. Also Pakistan may approach the UNSC to take Indian declaration as confession of committing an act of aggression and make it part of UN record.
The news of conducting successful military operation on Pakistani side of Line of Control and returning unscathed was aimed at radiating a doubt about Pakistani military’s capacity to act. Prime Minster Narendra Modi and his military brass appear off balance. Indian Director General Military Operations tried to portray artillery fire across the line of control as surgical strikes; he needs to repeat his staff course for better understand of what is and what is not a surgical strike.
Earlier every one saw Modi’s clumsy about-turn as his untenable hawkishness drowned in Arabian Sea via his Kerala speech on September 24. Though, apparently full of threatening bluster, substance had largely been replaced by nuance. His articulations were reflective of the fact that India does not have many options. Improvising a military oil tanker accident into a false flag operation has embarrassed India globally. Nervous Modi opted to scuttle the SAARC summit.
Two new objectives announced by Modi at Kerala are: to dry Pakistan by stopping its water and isolate it diplomatically. Both are equally silly, as was the earlier rhetoric of going to war with Pakistan. He also proposed: “Let’s fight a thousand year war against poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment, and see who wins”. World Bank data shows that India is already on the losing end of this war as well.
The World Bank’s latest report on ‘Addressing Inequality in South Asia’ suggests that Pakistan fares far better than India in terms of people living below the poverty level. While 8.3% of Pakistan’s population – some 14.1 million people – lives in poverty according to World Bank’s new $1.90 a day threshold, a staggering 21.3% in India – more than 260 million people – are indigent, indicating that Modi will have a harder time winning his own challenge. Moreover, inequality in education and health is far higher in India than Pakistan, because Indian growth model is not inclusive.
Congress leader Meem Afzal urged Modi to redirect his attention to India’s own challenges. “Modi ji, instead of giving suggestions to Pakistan, focus on what is happening in your own country,” he said. “No proper development is visible… you promised 100 million jobs in five years but you haven’t even created 50,000.”
During his address, Modi vowed that India will mount a global campaign to isolate Pakistan in the world. “We will isolate you. I will work for that…We will intensify it and force you to be alone all over the world,” he said. Reply to Modi about isolating Pakistan came from a former Indian Police Service officer from Gujarat— Sanjiv Bhatt. This IPS officer is known for his role in filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India against Narendra Modi when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. Bhatt had claimed to have attended a meeting, during which Modi had asked top police officials to let Hindus vent out their anger against the Muslims. And now about Modi’s wish to isolate Pakistan, Sanjive wrote: “Russian forces arrive in Pakistan to hold joint military drills snubbing India; Indonesia offers Pakistan defence equipment; Iran wants to be a part of CPEC and link Chabahar port which it built on Indian money; China says it supports Islamabad’s stance on Kashmir; OIC says it supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir; Turkey wishes sending fact finding mission to Kashmir on Pakistan’s demand; Nepal wants to boost bilateral relations with Pakistan; USA has refrained from naming Pakistan for the Uri Attack; And our government wants us to believe that Pakistan has been internationally isolated?”
And, now let us examine the viability of Modi’s second rhetoric—reconfiguring Indus Water Basin Treaty. Quoting a senior government official, the Hindu reported: “The Prime Minister will discuss the pros and cons of turning off the [water] tap to Pakistan.” “Blood and water cannot flow together,” Modi was quoted by Times of India as telling his aides. During the meeting, it was decided that India would ‘exploit to the maximum’ the water of three Pakistani revers by fast-tracking building of new hydropower plants along these rivers.
The Treaty allows only limited water usage for agrarian purposes and electricity generation through construction of run of the river dams over Pakistani, exclusively to benefit Kashmiri people of Indian Occupied Kashmir. Independent arbitrators have upheld the run of river principle during complaints lodged by Pakistan whenever India ventured to construct water storage based hydro-electric projects— for example Baglihar and Kishanganga dams. India is not allowed to open the gates of these dams even for silt removal, because by definition, a typical run of the river dam cannot have silt deposition.
Verdict in Kishanganga case has made this principle applicable retrospectively—to Baglihar dam— as well as prospectively, to any dams that India could construct in future. The International Court of Arbitration had ruled that India was violating the Indus Waters Treaty by building the Kishanganga dam. Modi’s threat to run Pakistani rivers dry shows his utter desperation and naivety. So, here too, Modi stand legally blockaded.
As regards abrogation of IWT, international law experts say it is not possible for either country to just walk out of the Treaty. There is no provision in the IWT to scrap the agreement unilaterally. If India does so, it’ll violate international law. The treaty says that its provisions may be modified or replaced only by “a duly ratified treaty concluded for that purpose between the two Governments”. The government of Pakistan has approached the World Bank in the context of Modi’s latest pearls of wisdom. World Bank is the guarantor of the Treaty, and would discipline India in due course.
Even if India started on a programme to hold back the water, the dams needed to do so would take decades to build. Treaty has a robust inbuilt conflict resolution mechanism and Pakistan would fall back on it.
Indian Express aptly stated on September 26 that: “Like so many hawkish memes, Indus Treaty abrogation has been marketed as grand strategy. Held up to the light of day, though, it isn’t hard to see it for what it is: a plan that belongs to the dusty shelf reserved for awful ideas”. Moreover, any reassessment of the Indus treaty is bound to factor in China, where the river Indus originates from. And Modi hates China as much as he abhors Pakistan.
From its perspective, Pakistan wishes to remain positive and constructive in its ties with India and expects the Indian leadership to maturely extricate out of its self-created Uri slug. Pakistan desires normal, cooperative relationship with India and to resolve all problems peacefully. Modi should desist from stonewalling his Pakistan policy by foreclosing what little options he has. He should realise that he is now prime minster of India, and not the chief minister of a state.
Indian comedy of “surgical strikes”