Yashika Jain, National Law University, Delhi.
A recent move by the US to mobilise funds for the two major dams that Pakistan has been striving to build has left India unsettled. U.S. hailed this infrastructure project as Pakistan’s “smartest choice” for economic development and has pledged to extend its support in funding the same. The two dams, Diamer-Bhasha Dam and the Dasu Dam are gravity dams, which are still in the preliminary stages of construction due to the series of controversies and lack of funds. Diamer-Bhasha Dam is proposed to be built on the River Indus in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Its foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan on 18 October, 2011 and majority of the funding is being provided by Aga Khan Development Network.
Upon completion, Diamer-Bhasha Dam would be the highest roller compacted concrete (RCC) dam in the world. The dam site is situated near a place called “Bhasha” and hence the name. An estimated amount of Rs 27.824 billion is required for the acquisition of land & resettlement of the people to be affected in the wake of the construction of the dam. Location of the Dasu Dam is also on the Indus near Dasu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan. Such massive construction, according to Pakistan, has become essential for its economy due to the acute energy needs of the nation that are not being fulfilled. The proposed 4,500-megawatt Diamer Bhasha hydro-power plant would eliminate about half of Pakistan’s power shortfall and irrigate millions of acres of parched farmland.
During August 2012, the project faced several setbacks due to major sponsors backing out from financing the project, as World Bank and Asian Development Bank both refused to finance the project because according to them, its location is in disputed territory and they asked Pakistan to get an NOC from India. But, on 20 August, 2013, Finance Minister of Pakistan, Ishaq Dar claimed to have convinced the World Bank (WB) and the Aga Khan Development Network to finance the Diamer-Bhasha Project without the requirement of NOC from India. The stand of World Bank as of now does not seem clear. On the other hand, U.S. also seems pretty clear on its stand. Even though the United States opposes major hydro projects due to environmental concerns, it is willing to make an exemption for Pakistan because of its acute energy needs which, if not fulfilled, can de-stabilise the entire region.
This stand of United States, to mobilize funds for a hydel-power project in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, upsets Indian government. In furtherance of this, the Modi government has also decided to lodge a protest with the Obama administration for supporting this venture. According to India, the construction is being done in the region which it considers to be illegally occupied by Islamabad. India, that has long protested moves by outsiders including China to support Diamer-Bhasha dam hydel-power and irrigation project and other infrastructure ventures in PoK, is now peeved as the United States’s decision comes at a time when Pakistan has upped the ante on Jammu & Kashmir through repeated ceasefire violations and subsequent efforts to internationalise the issue.
There are two major concerns for India: political and ecological. Since India has always claimed that part as its own, in such a scenario, support of the world hegemony to the opposite side comes as a political setback. Any infrastructure that is built upon an illegally occupied land is also illegal and thus India would claim the projects themselves to be illegal. The nation maintains that the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir, including PoK, is an integral part of India and thus any construction without permission from India would not be legal as such. In such a scenario, a third nation, that too the United States must refrain from allowing and facilitating Pakistan to permanently occupy the region. It will be a bureaucratic hindrance if a mega dam is constructed with foreign assistance in a region claimed by India.
Another fear that India is facing is that the reservoir of this dam would inundate large parts of land in northern part of Jammu and Kashmir adjoining Pakistan occupied Kashmir. This problem brings forth the ecological outlook of the nation and the ecological fallout of the project that is of considerable concern to adjacent areas in India. The ecological impact of the project site being situated in a high seismic zone, which is prone to landslides and floods are added concerns. A large part of Indus flows through India and such a massive dam on the same shall affect the water flow of the river. Further, the amount of displacement, especially that of flora and fauna, negatively affect India as the consequences of the same would disturb ecological balance of nearby Indian parts. Depletion of water flow and also of flora and fauna are significant grounds based on ecology that must be raised.
Melting glaciers and poor water management are already stoking a crisis that threatens to intensify tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Water has always been front and center to the Kashmir conflict and as the stakes go up and water scarcity intensifies in both countries, both sides will be more willing to take drastic measures to safeguard what they feel are their strategic interests. If water pressures become extreme, India may violate the treaty to store water. In a worst-case scenario, anti-India groups in Pakistan could use water as a pretext for launching a terror strike on India, prompting limited, retaliatory military strikes by India inside Pakistan. Thus in such a situation the project is worrisome.
It is essential for the institutions that have come to the front to help Pakistan, to understand the historical background of the area on which the project is proposed and political ramifications of their decision to fund these projects. Given the level of intolerance that is penting up between the two nations in present times and where tensions over shared waters are rising, going forward with a project in a disputed area that has triggered three wars between Pakistan and India is not advisable. China due to this very reason has refused to extend a helping hand to Pakistan. this is not to say that India is against the international relations that Pakistan is building with other nations. They can very well show their commitment to Pakistan by investing in other projects that are being taken up in energy and infrastructure sector just as Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown by picking up a $1.65 billion, 720-megawatt hydropower plant in Karot, Pakistan, as the first project for his $40 billion Silk Road fund to build infrastructure in Asia and develop asian countries.
The relations between India and the USA have been consistently progressing and have reached an amiable point in the present times. It would definitely not be feasible to head-on enter into conflict with the U.S. over the matter. Therefore, it is natural and prudent for India to raise its objections against such allocation, enter into talks and convince donor agencies and countries like the US, Japan and Russia amicably to stay away from the project.