Pakistan has a slew of problems – Terrorism, breeding terrorism, bleeding its economy to sponsor terrorism on other states, and now it has a new problem of water. If not for India, where will it get it from? Pakistan is dependent on water from the rivers that flow down towards it, Indus from India, and the Maidan river from Afghanistan. India holds the key on the Indus river, and now with the agreement on the Shahtoot Dam in place, it seems that India is ready to choke Pakistan dry.
The Shahtoot Dam is being built upon on Kabul River which is an important source of water supply to Pakistan. Pakistan is enraged by the dam and more so that India is the one, funding the construction. With a dam on the Kabul River and also on the Indus, India will hold a significant advantage on tightening the screws on terror-supporting nation on talks regarding Pakistan-sponsored terrorist activities in India, Cross border firings, and ceasefire violations. While Pakistan has vehemently opposed and protested against the dam and especially the Indian funding, it seems India’s close relations with Kabul have handed India a major strategic advantage.
The Indian government on Tuesday announced at the Geneva Donors Conference via Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. He said, “India had just concluded with Afghanistan an agreement for construction of Shahtoot Dam, which would provide safe drinking water to 2 million residents in the Kabul city.”
MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava added “The minister also announced launch of Phase-IV of high impact community development projects in Afghanistan, which envisage more than 100 projects worth $80 million that India will undertake in Afghanistan”
While the negotiations and conversations to construct the Dam has been in continuation for the past three years, this is the first time India pledged it in an International conference.
The Dam is essential for treating the severe water crisis that has gripped Kabul for more than a decade. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in response to Jaishankar’s announcement said: “I’d like to Thank India and Iran for the Chabahar corridor and the related sea as well as air corridor”.
The dam which will cost around $236 million will be of grave concern to the lower riparian state of Pakistan. In addition to reducing the water flow into Pakistan, the project could erode already flailing relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and simultaneously boost relations between New Delhi and Kabul.
Like Afghanistan, Pakistan is also gripped in a severe water crisis, and now a dam on the Maidan river, an upper tributary of the Kabul river, will certainly intensify Pakistan’s water problems. The overwhelming majority of Pakistan’s population is dependent on agriculture and a shortage of water supply will impact their livelihood.
While the Indus is the major lifeline meeting Pakistan’s water needs, the dam on Kabul’s tributary is likely to impact the needs of 2 million people in Pakistan. Moreover, India also has a dam on the Indus river and shares its water based on the ‘Indus water treaty’ which India has recently threatened to null and void if Pakistan does not halt cross border terrorism emanating from its territory.
Besides the threat of the water supply, Pakistan is also wary of the growing relations between and Kabul and New Delhi on various fronts including water. Reports in the Pakistani media are focused more on the fact that it is India that is playing a central role in the dam project. In the event of war or even another terrorist attack, Pakistan feels that India will and could choke Pakistan’s economy by shutting down the water supply.
While until before the announcement, Pakistan has been nudging Kabul to sign a treaty of water sharing for the Kabul River and its tributaries but it failed to materialize given the tense relations between the two states in recent years. Therefore, the dam not only marks the development of a strategic chokehold but is also a defeat of Islamabad’s diplomacy to India.
India has already spent more than $3 billion to support development projects in Afghanistan and funding the construction of the Shahtoot dam is another crown jewel in regards to India’s relations with Afghanistan.
As far as relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are concerned, the rising tensions between them have always marred the relations. Imran Khan’s latest visit to Afghanistan was a grave diplomatic failure, as thousands of Afghans took to the streets with slogans “Pakistan is a producer and exporter of terrorism”. Moreover, Khan’s insistence that India had sponsored terror activities on Afghan soil was met with stern criticism and opposition from Afghanistan and its people. India’s goodwill diplomacy and financing projects which help in pumping up Afghanistan’s economy are not lost on the people.
India’s relations with Afghanistan is at an all-time high, given the developments on India’s eastern border shared with China, it was important for India to address some of the defensive issues on its western front. By supporting the construction of the Shahtoot Dam, India has achieved just that. With both the major supplies to Pakistan in India’s hand Indian diplomacy and military strategy have won big again as Pakistan fears to choke on its economy when India deems it necessary.