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Millennium Post

A river runs through it

The manner and timings of infiltration bids on the Western border with Pakistan, as also, the face offs with China, are surely and steadily pointing to a pattern of collusion between the two ‘neighbourly adversaries’ of India. As the infiltration bids are becoming bolder and sharper, with renewed vigour and intensity, so also, are the number of showdowns steadily increasing with China. The intensity and duration of the faceoffs, as also their types – be it on boats, air violations, or the one recently aired on a leading TV channel – all show a pattern of collusion. Why are both China and Pakistan getting more assertive on the borders at once? Is this not a sign of complicity between the two?             
The Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 between India and Pakistan has stood the test of time, although it stems from Pakistan’s fear that because the source of the Indus basin is located in Indian territory, the latter could potentially create droughts and famines in Pakistan, especially at times of war. Succinctly put, the treaty gives Pakistan exclusive rights to three western rivers – the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab while India has exclusive rights to three eastern rivers Sutlej, Beas and Ravi. 

The Chinese have been quietly and steadily building dams on the Indus, much to the detriment of Pakistan, which has decided to turn a Nelson’s eye to the same. Pakistan should realise that the fertile part of Sindh has started receiving less and less water and China is responsible for the same since they are poaching on their ally’s water. Senge H Sering in an article published in Journal of Defence clearly states that Sindh’s agriculture faces near extinction. 

The same has been reinforced by Alice Albinia, a British journalist, in her book Empire of Indus. Alex Cunningham in his book Ladak, (minus the ‘h’), written way back in 1853, states the source of the Indus (Lions Mouth, its mythological name)  is in the southwestern slopes of the Kailash mountain and on northwest of Mansrovar  lake. Cunningham writes, ‘The true source of the Indus lies northwest of the holy Mansrovar Lake. From its source to Garo, the Indus was followed by Moorcroft in1812. Within eight to 10 miles of its source, it was 240 feet broad, and two-and-half   feet deep in July, and at Garo, 40 miles from its source, it was clear as a rapid but not a deep river.’ 

The Indus in Tibet is basically a confluence of two rivers, Gar and Senge, which combine to form the Indus. The total length of the Indus is 3,180 km, of which roughly 10 per cent or around 320 km flows in Tibet, which is now controlled by China. In his book again, Cunningham states, ‘I measured the Indus at an uninhabited spot called Ranak, a few miles above the junction of the Puga rivulet, about 260 miles from its source. The stream was 240 feet broad with a mean depth of 1.7916 feet and an extreme depth of three feet.’ 

Thus historical records from 1812 clearly prove that the river was 240 feet broad quite close from its source to a place where it nearly enters India. They also term the Indus as a ‘mighty river in Tibet’ with a fall of more than 4,000 feet in the said 320 km, giving it a vast potential for hydroelectric generation. 

The avid readers of today can also extrapolate most of the data on to Google Earth and get a birds eye view of the river as it flows through Tibet with a lot of Chinese names. The Chinese have a peculiar obsession with rivers and are very clear that their national interests come first. They have constructed two dams on the Indus. The first, which has been discussed in the article by Senge, is located at a place now called Shiquane, also called Gar. This can be seen clearly on Google – the barrage is 195 metre wide as per historical records the river was around 240 feet broad, thus a 195 metre wide barrage is very much in order. 
 
The Chinese required hydroelectricity to support the townships and the military cantonment thus had no inhibitions in tapping the river for the same. This town has vast potential for tourist an airport is coming up in this area, and on the map it is located strategically north of Demchok and controls the area leading to Uttarakhand, Himachal and Eastern Ladakh. The Chinese have also constructed a second barrage at Tashingong, which again is 86 metre wide. It is after these two barrages that the river Indus enters India, and both India and Pakistan have an Indus Water Treaty. Ironical, right?             
The Chinese have shown a consistent pattern that has no respect for the lower riparian states. The pattern is the same, be it in Jammu and Kashmir or Arunachal. The  response from both India and Pakistan is one of denial and turning a blind eye. The government of India says that the three dams being built by China on the Brahmaputra, will not affect India as most of the water in the river comes from Arunachal Pradesh.  

For Pakistan, which boasts of a friendship with China that is ‘deeper than the oceans and higher than the highest mountains’, why is it that China’s national interest remains supreme? India, on its part respects international convention and does not touch the waters of the Indus. But if China is constructing dams on the river, both New Delhi and Islamabad need to take the issue up with Beijing. 

India needs a monitoring mechanism urgently because the Sutlej too rises in Tibet at Lake Rakshastal. It enters Himachal after flowing roughly 260 Km in Tibet.   The Chinese have not spared any river that runs from Tibet to India thus there is a need to monitor these on a better basis than Google Earth. India needs to take a firm stand and have a joint mechanism in place. Water is going to be in short supply and the Himalayas the abode of the snow are a perennial source of water, history stands a mute spectator, India needs to assert herself, or else, her soldiers will have  to face resurgent allies on the battle field.  

The author is a retired brigadier
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