Strategic trust-building follies

Washington should not undermine the sanctity of the Indus Waters Treaty

The formidable Richard Holbrooke and his talented team could have been more effective in their Af-Pak brief if they had a better grip on reality. They can achieve a whole lot more if thety were to solicit and receive genuine co-operation and support from New Delhi. Unfortunately, their thinking appears to be in the direction of reinforcing failure.

See what Steve Clemons says (via @vali_nasr). Writing about US efforts to help Pakistan raise funds after the flood disaster, he says, “…even with Clinton and Holbrooke on board, the US government is still not doing as much as it should in terms of contributing at a systemic level to helping the Pakistanis and Indians turn this nightmare into a strategically significant trust-building event.”

While that statement sounds logical, and more importantly, nice, it is largely bereft of the former. India has been making strategically significant trust-building events since Atal Bihari Vajpayee took that bus to Lahore in 1999. These were all perceived as weaknesses and exploited by the Pakistani military-jihadi complex to attack India. Other than Operation Parakram—which was itself carried out after grave provocation—India’s policy can be described as strategic reassurance. Satyabrata Pal, India’s former high commissioner to Pakistan, strongly argues that New Delhi must continue along this direction. It appears that the likes of Mr Clemons weren’t paying attention when Manmohan Singh responded to the Pakistani-sponsored terrorist attack, and its brazen refusal to act against the perpetrators, by…delivering sweet lollipops to the Pakistani prime minister.

Yes, there is a need for a strategically significant trust-building event. It has to come from Pakistan. Getting the Pakistani government to obtain a guilty verdict against the Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders fingered in the 26/11 conspiracy would be a good start. But Team Holbrooke isn’t concerned with trust-building in India.

Mr Clemons refers to David Rothkopf’s post on what this trust-building event might be. Apart from using tired and absurd cliches like “few relationships on the planet are as important or as potentially dangerous as that between India and Pakistan” he suggests the Mr Obama must propose a “a massive, multilateral Indus River Valley Development Initiative” on his trip to India.

The problem with Mr Rothkopf’s proposal—of massive technical and financial assistance to improve river water management—is that India doesn’t need that help. Pakistan does. So President Obama should be announcing this if and when he goes to Islamabad.

Actually, there is something Mr Obama can do before, during or after his trip to India with regard to Indus waters. And that is to say that “both sides must abide by the treaties they have signed”. The Indus Waters Treaty is a strategic trust-building device. Undermining its legitimacy by pointing to its being “strained by dam projects and shifting demand” is counterproductive to stability because it allows Pakistan to opens up another unbounded dispute with India.

Related Link: See Dhruva Jaishankar’s post on Indus river water issues.

10 thoughts on “Strategic trust-building follies”

  1. Here is a counter view. Real politic defined by ill informed politicians blinds the nation into investing in the larger good of humanity.We can reinforce the Indus Water Treaty and modify contents to suit both sides. If we do it as an upper riparian we shall have the moral right to engage China in doing likewise.

    Strategically, knowing the deep suspicion that defines this relationship, you may be right. But it is time to move on. 2010 is not the same as 1960 and the glaciers were not melting so fast then. We need to think this through – tactical bargains will make us lose the way to the larger destination – peace. And that has a price which we should be willing to pay from both sides of the borders.

    We at SAI do understand that this act of generosity will meet with possible hostility – but at least we would have tried.

    A possible way out could be

    http://southasianidea.com/geopolitics/water-for-peace/

  2. Team SAI, your so-called ” brand new idea” is not only stale but also unacceptable in the presence of an existing treaty that ensures equitable sharing of water

    Water-sharing snake-oil sellers should first read up on the efficacy of the Indus water treaty before having the gall to pretend that you *know* it is time to “move on”, essentially pretending that pakistan’s water problems have anything to do with india.

    Have you bothered to read on the lack of water management in pakistan? Obviously not, going by you worthless “idea”.

    Summarily, get educated about existing and working mechanisms before you resume selling your snake oil.

  3. Srikanth

    Thankyou for your acidity. We can not budge an inch sticking toarchaic treaties and mindsets. Hawks will continue to find reasons to remain bullish when actually their governance model leaks down the Indus.

    We are no pacifists and bash Pakistan as much as you desire, if you bother to read our columns – we need a just quid pro quo on all counts, provided our government and the “intelligensia have the temerity to take stern actions where needed. We are not asking for repealing the treaty but managing the resources better to take one thorn out of our side.

    Would request you to search the site for water and Pakistan and your patriotic acidity may turn alkaline

  4. Team SAI, Cut the horse manure. You have not explained

    1) Why is the IWT not working for Pakistan and working for India?
    2) Why is that the case?
    3) “Land for peace” is still a open issue, so there is no need to add another open issue from the Indian Interest standpoint (for which Team SAI cares little about, clearly, but that is your problem).
    4) There are no nuances in your post, just ignorant and unadulterated nonsense.

    Unless you can answer those questions, which you worthies in Team SAI have not addressed, all your so-call ”

    The answer to this is poor water management by Pakistan.

    So, again, you snake oil sellers in Team SAI need to get educated about THE PRESENT, i.e., the Indus Water Treaty Mechanism, and why that is still working to this day, before you pretend you can fix the future. So you can shove your worthless labeling and come back here with the answers as to why the IWT is inadequate in its present form before pretending that Team SAI’s snake oil is exactly what the quack ordered.

    Enough said.

  5. Team SAI, Cut the horse manure. You have not explained

    1) Why is the IWT not working for Pakistan and working for India?
    2) Why is that the case?
    3) There are no nuances in your post, just plain disinformation.

    The answer to this is poor water management by Pakistan.

    So, again, you snake oil sellers in Team SAI need to get educated about THE PRESENT, i.e., the Indus Water Treaty Mechanism, and why that is still working to this day, before you pretend you can fix the future. So you can shove your worthless labeling and come back here with the answers as to why the IWT is inadequate in its present form before pretending that Team SAI’s snake oil is exactly what the quack ordered.

    Enough said.

  6. We no longer wish to post profanities or to justify our view point which you haven’t read at all..else your language would have been softer..IWT or no IWT..bye

  7. Team SAI, I am not surprised that you choose to walk off in a huff because you clearly have no intention of where we are today, where Pakistan was generously given 60% of the river waters under the IWT, and yet we are discussing how India can give more to Pakistan under the treaty, as if India does not have resource constraints of its own with a billion people to feed. Such Ideas are against the Indian national interest, since India would have to deprive Indians of any resources that are given to Pakistanis. It is a Zero-sum game, which cannot be papered over with bromides about “water for peace”.

  8. Pakistan should get its water management act together. If the aim is to ensure more water for Pakistanis, then Team SAI should be writing articles on how Pakistani canal systems can be overhauled, since they have been used unmanaged since 1947, and how land reform and water management can ensure more equitable sharing of the rather plentiful water that flows in the Indus through Pakistan.

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