Pakistan, India spar over using water as a weapon in Kashmir dispute

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Accusing India of waging “fifth-generation warfare”, Pakistan said on Monday New Delhi had failed to inform it about the release of water from a dam that could cause flooding across the border.

Lt. Gen. (Retd) Muzammil Hussain, Chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) gestures during an interview with Reuters at his office in Islamabad, Pakistan August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir

India, however, rejected the claim saying that under the terms of a water treaty between the two nations it had informed Pakistan about the release of excess water late on Monday when it crossed a certain threshold.

Relations between the neighbors, already hostile, have been further strained over India’s decision this month to revoke the special status of its portion of the Kashmir region that both countries claim. Pakistan reacted with fury, cutting transport and trade links and expelling India’s ambassador in retaliation.

Islamabad said the unexpected release of water into the River Sutlej that flows from India to Pakistan was part of an attempt by New Delhi to flout the longstanding treaty between the countries.

“They try to isolate diplomatically, they try to strangulate economically, they’re trying to strangulate our water resources – and water automatically will have an impact on your economy, your agriculture and your irrigation,” Muzammil Hussain, chairman of the Pakistani government’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), told Reuters.

India was using its position upstream to wage “fifth-generation warfare” on the country, said Hussain.

India’s federal water resources ministry told Reuters late on Monday that under the treaty advance information needs to be given in a situation when “extraordinary discharges of water from reservoirs and flood flows” could harm the other party.

Until today no such extraordinary discharges had been observed on the Indian side in the current flood season. At 1900 IST (1330 GMT), the flow of Sutlej river reached the threshold level of high flood and the same was conveyed to Pakistan, the ministry said in a statement, adding that it is committed to the treaty.

Pakistani emergency authorities were preparing for minor flooding in several areas in Punjab state on Monday as a result of the unexpected rise in water flow, though it was not clear if any had occurred.

“India did not communicate the release of water to Pakistan,” Khurram Shahzed, director general of Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), told Reuters.

India and Pakistan have long argued over water resources.

A World Bank-mediated arrangement known as the Indus Water Treaty splits the Indus River and its tributaries - which 80 percent of Pakistan’s irrigated agriculture depends on - between the countries.

India, which lies upstream, threatened in February to stop sharing excess water with Pakistan after a suicide bomb attack by a Pakistan-based militant group in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police.

Hussain said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “threatened very clearly that he could stop water to Pakistan. He couldn’t care less (for) the treaties”.

In 2016, after suspending a meeting on the Indus Water Treaty, Modi told government officials that “blood and water cannot flow together”.

India says a program of maximizing its water usage by building hydroelectric plants is in line with the treaty.

Reporting by Mehr Nadeem and Saad Sayeed in Islamabad and Neha Dasgupta in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Editing by Alasdair Pal, Frances Kerry and Ros Russell