Water warriors

Published: August 11, 2013
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The writer is a defence analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

The writer is a defence analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

Ask anyone in Pakistan: what shall the two neighbours, India and Pakistan, fight their next war on, and you are likely to get a consensus on the answer: water. Not that it is necessarily true, but that is the current creed, built on a half-baked and semi-literate discourse pedalled on a daily basis in the mainstream media.

Why is this done? And, why is such a narrative successfully entrenching itself? The answer to both dilemmas lies in the domain of partial inquiry that beguiles this developing thought. Those who pass as experts are only half that. None is taught the field of hydrology or even has basic education in water. In such a barren landscape, shorn of water wit, if the dominating belief is that India is selling Pakistan’s electricity extracted from stolen Pakistani waters, or even more insidiously, is sending our way water minus its electricity, show me the way to Mars.

This Martian existence has other dimensions, too. The present adviser on water and power to the government is a pharmacist by training. The PPP government had a medical doctor as the minister in charge for petroleum and natural resources for most of its five years, who reportedly had something to do with inducting the pharmacist. Not exactly a reassuring lineage. But listen to the current adviser on water talk of the power travails and his prescription for alleviating the curse of persistent power cuts, and you are likely to come out singing his praises. Whether he has ever been close to a real grid station though, is another issue altogether.

With premier slots in the government open to glib fly-by-night experts, competition is bound to rise. That, in essence, is the underlying causality for the current band of water warriors spewing venom at one another and on anything that emerges from the inner sanctums of government as the way forward out of the power morass.

The basic construct of the Indus Basin Water Treaty, which governs water relations between India and Pakistan, was luckily constituted in English — translations, too, are available — and anyone with a basic sense of science and geography should be able to understand the essence of what this excellent piece of agreement contains as the guiding principles to keep waters flowing. The treaty has stood the test of three-and-a-half wars, and many near ones since, when all else failed between the two states.

The problem is, not many have opened up the treaty and its various annexes to correctly define and identify the rules for run-of-the river projects and permitted levels for domestic, consumptive, non-consumptive and agricultural use. Similarly, what is India permitted as ‘pondage’, as against ‘storage’ that she is frequently indicted for in the Pakistani narrative? Cumulative storage in ‘pondage’ is not to exceed 3.6 million acre-feet (MAF). Do we know how much India is actually storing? A recent figure suggested over 200 MAF in popular discourse in Pakistan. Pakistan’s total share of the three western rivers averages 117 MAF. From where is India managing to store more than 200 MAF from the same rivers? And these are Pakistan’s rivers. Since we don’t read, we become easy prey for the disinformation that goes around on such critical issues.

India and Pakistan each store roughly the same amount of water (16 MAF) from their allotted rivers in the Indus Water Treaty; yet, India produces 12,700MW of power from their three rivers, compared with Pakistan’s 6,717MW only from the three western rivers. From Chenab alone, India recovers 8,700MW, while Pakistan extracts only 14MW. It is a dynamic of finances — of which India has plenty more — and of topography that India exploits better. Our woes are many; in water, too, but we must begin by husbanding our resources better.

A recent television discussion on water wars counted a civil engineer, a fighter-pilot, a man who runs a private security company and two journalists as experts. Pity the listening audience. The landscape is droughty and barren and the impostors have an easy ride. Ferret out the water-literate and put them to work.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (33)

  • Jat
    Aug 12, 2013 - 12:10AM

    If only, all your writings and discourses were as open and as honest as this one…

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  • hasan
    Aug 12, 2013 - 1:09AM

    Pak water wooes are completely becuase of our fault, we dont have basic knowledge or water manaagement, and as usual we blame someone else for our mistakes. 90% of water from these rivers flow wasted to the seas, there are no dams on our side, we have failed to manage captive areas, we have destroyed our mountains and forests and we shamefully have spread false propaganda against india, so that the pot keeps boiling. Every time pak has gone to a third party, they have ridiculed us and we have lost the case. As a paki, I have no doubt that indians are doing their best to technically benefitting from this, have good intentions in maintaining the treaty, while we sink in darkness due to our own fault.

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  • numbersnumbers
    Aug 12, 2013 - 1:20AM

    Very good article about the many “Talking Heads” that populate the various Pakistani TV channels and the damage they do to the country!
    From “experts” extolling the virtues of the fabulous “Water Car” (you all remember that Nobel Prize worthy Pakistani achievement!) to rabid conspiracy theorists explaining the latest CIA/RAW/MOSSAD/BurgerKing/Martian PLOT against “the land of the Pure”!!!!
    I almost wish that another Pakistani TV channel would start a weekly comedy program (like “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” comes to mind) that would mock these self-proclaimed “experts”, since such a show would have more useful material than they could ever use!

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  • B
    Aug 12, 2013 - 1:21AM

    Hats off to you Sir for speaking the truth after a long time. May more truths lead to better relations between the two countries.

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  • B
    Aug 12, 2013 - 1:25AM

    Hats off to you Sir for speaking the truth after a long time. May more truths lead to better relations between the two countries

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  • Vikas
    Aug 12, 2013 - 1:26AM

    Something sensible. Pakistanis should read more and listen less to talk show experts. All the information is available on the internet.

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  • cruiser
    Aug 12, 2013 - 2:21AM

    Admire your courage to speak the truth with facts, even though indians seldom feel good about your opinion, specially on the jingoistic indian television when they are shown the mirror.

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  • MSS
    Aug 12, 2013 - 2:41AM

    Well done Mr Chaudhry. Plain talking based on facts is very convincing and useful for a lot of Pakistanis. Please arrange to print this article in the Urdu press.
    You are no longer Hafeez Saeed’s favourite.

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  • Aug 12, 2013 - 2:53AM

    Hmmm…admit our own blatant waste and abuses of our resources, be it in sanitation or agricultural practices, listen to global expert advice and then attempt to honestly rectify it with years of learning, planning, organizing and accountable hard effort?

    No way! Let’s follow supreme water warrior, Professor Hafiz Saeed, scare ourselves into a frenzy with mumbo jumbo geographic terminology, point to the most recent repeated and unprevented shortage or flood, make up stuff and link it directly to blame India (is there any better purpose in life?) and go to war, or at least launch militant attacks! Only solution, bro, according to my research…(drinks half glass of unfiltered water, tosses the rest to the ground)

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  • It Is (still) Economy Stupid
    Aug 12, 2013 - 3:05AM

    Recent floods in Pakistan and donations received every year for floods are wasted. Niagara falls recirculates its water through a tunnel under the river and keep on generating electricity from the same water over and over while generating additional money from tourists. Such schemes require imagination and policies with best interest of the nation in mind. If all the aid for flooding was properly utilized all the water woos would disappear. One way to hide incompetence is to blame someone else.
    For honest candor: Der se aaye par durust aaye… (Better late than never)..

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  • Babloo
    Aug 12, 2013 - 3:17AM

    I am positively surprised. Summary . Despite wars , terrorism and every false allegation leveled against India, India has honestly and diligently adhered to the Indus water treat. Its time Pakistanis knew the truth.

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  • numbersnumbers
    Aug 12, 2013 - 7:11AM

    @It Is (still) Economy Stupid:
    WOW, a lot you know about Niagara Falls in America!
    You say “…generating electricity from the same water over and over again”!!! NOT!!!
    The water flowing downstream from Lake Erie is divided between the Niagara power generating canals and the (tourist viewed) flow over the falls, both streams then merge below the falls and flow out to Lake Ontario, and then on to the Atlantic Ocean!
    No water is “recirculated”!

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  • A. Etchen
    Aug 12, 2013 - 8:08AM

    @It Is (still) Economy Stupid
    What nonsense. You cannot recirculate water and generate electricity again and again from the same water. This would violate laws of nature.

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  • Polpot
    Aug 12, 2013 - 9:06AM

    “From Chenab alone, India recovers 8,700MW, while Pakistan extracts only 14MW. It is a dynamic of finances — of which India has plenty more — and of topography that India exploits better.’
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Any substantial Hydro Project takes more than 5 years to develop. Why would a Politcial Party starinitiate one and then gift the electricty to the next Govt.? Its a matter primarily of politics and much less of finances.

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  • Arijit Sharma.
    Aug 12, 2013 - 11:24AM

    @A. Etchen: ” … What nonsense. You cannot recirculate water and generate electricity again and again from the same water. This would violate laws of nature. … “

    Remember Agha Waqar’s Car Kit ?

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  • Polpot
    Aug 12, 2013 - 11:27AM

    @A. Etchen: What nonsense. You cannot recirculate water and generate electricity again and again from the same water. This would violate laws of nature.””
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Electricty is generated from the Kinetic energy produced when the water falls in a gravitational field ( potential energy).. So electricty is a by product of the potential energy to kinetic energy cycle and can be proudced endlessly.
    Sir are you the inventor of the car that runs on water?

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  • ashok
    Aug 12, 2013 - 12:43PM

    A very sane article from the air vice marshal for a change.
    No wonder India keeps on telling Pakistan to take its complaints under the IWT for arbitration,knowing well that if we have gone as per the treaty we have nothing to fear.Common sense says that the upper riparian state can extract all the hydro power without affecting the water flow to the country down stream.And if this is what India is doing,what can be Pakistan’s grouse.
    Utilise water better,store more and waste less. We dont have to go to war to realise this.
    Water is going to be the gold of the future.

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  • Vikas
    Aug 12, 2013 - 12:44PM

    @It Is (still) Economy Stupid:
    Can you provide some document on your Niagara falls comment. That sounds to me against the laws of physics.

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  • Polpot
    Aug 12, 2013 - 3:42PM

    @ashok: “Common sense says that the upper riparian state can extract all the hydro power without affecting the water flow to the country down stream.And if this is what India is doing,what can be Pakistan’s grouse.”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    On many Pakistani TV disussions a point is made that India has no business to export’electricty generated from these rivers to the national grid.
    Grouses in Pakistani mind…whether permitted by the Treaty or not.

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  • Puppet Guy
    Aug 12, 2013 - 4:28PM

    I think author just underwent a heart transplant surgery. His soft approach towards the ‘water issue’ is definitely a reminiscent of the ‘change of hearts’ that has taken place :)

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  • gp65
    Aug 12, 2013 - 6:04PM

    What a refreshingly honest OpEd AVM saab. Very pleasantly surprised.Recommend

  • Shiv
    Aug 12, 2013 - 6:33PM

    Not just defence analysts or pharmacists, watch out for scientists as well. Read

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/566520/scientists-say-indian-farmers-draining-pakistans-waters/

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  • observer
    Aug 12, 2013 - 7:03PM

    Ask anyone in Pakistan: what shall the two neighbours, India and Pakistan, fight their next war on, and you are likely to get a consensus on the answer: water. Not that it is necessarily true, but that is the current creed, built on a half-baked and semi-literate discourse pedalled on a daily basis in the mainstream media.
    Why is this done? And, why is such a narrative successfully entrenching itself?

    In order to understand WHY is this done, let us first understand HOW it is done.

    A. It is done by allowing a water illiterate person to hold forth on the water issue, in a mass rally.

    http://pakistankakhudahafiz.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/water-flows-or-blood/

    B. And by hounding the knowledgeable expert for stating the truth.

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/473751/target-jamaat-ali-shah/

    Now, as to WHO could be behind all this?

    Sir, your guess is as good as mine.
    And my guess is that it is promoted by the defenders of the ‘ideological boundaries’ of Pakistan.

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  • Raj - USA
    Aug 12, 2013 - 8:18PM

    Azizi in Pakistan’s comedy show Hasb-e-Haal once joked that India is extracting all electric power from the water and consequently the water that flows down to Pakistan does not have any electric power and is affecting its crop production.

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  • Agnostic
    Aug 12, 2013 - 9:28PM

    Hilarious piece of writing because it is way off the writer’s normal pattern. Cherchez la motive. What is behind this sudden change of heart? Till that becomes clearer, I cannot stop laughing!

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  • excalibur
    Aug 12, 2013 - 10:16PM

    Just watch Sawal Yeh Hai of August 11 another AVM is the panel

    who is telling the truth is difficult to judge but surely one of the two is incorrect

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  • n
    Aug 12, 2013 - 10:39PM

    India is selling Pakistan’s electricity extracted from stolen Pakistani waters, or even more insidiously, is sending our way water minus its electricity

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  • Saleem
    Aug 12, 2013 - 10:50PM

    Great article, but it is shame it will not wake up this nation. Since Indus treaty, India has built over 200 dams while we are still squabbling about Kala Bagh dam. To me those who oppose dams, including Kala Bagh, are nothing but Indian agents and by the time it comes out it will be too late.

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  • Strategic Asset
    Aug 12, 2013 - 11:38PM

    @Vikas: @It Is (still) Economy Stupid:
    Can you provide some document on your Niagara falls comment. That sounds to me against the laws of physics.

    .
    From Wikipedia:
    .
    At night, a substantial fraction (600,000 US gallons (2,300 m3) per second) of the water in the Niagara River is diverted to the lower reservoir by two 700 ft (210 m) tunnels. Electricity generated in the Moses plant is used to power the pumps to push water into the reservoir behind the Lewiston Dam. The water is pumped at night because the demand for electricity is much lower than during the day. In addition to the lower demand for electricity at night, less water can be diverted from the river during the day because of the desire to preserve the appearance of the falls. This prevents the plant from withdrawing such a large amount water during other times of low demand, such as weekends. During the following day, when electrical demand is high, water is released from the upper reservoir through generators in the Lewiston Dam. That same water flows into the lower reservoir, where it falls again through the turbines of the Moses plant. Some would say that the water is “used twice”. This arrangement is called pumped-storage hydroelectricity.

    This system allows energy to be stored in vast quantities. At night, the potential energy in the diverted water is converted into electrical energy in the Moses plant. Some of that electrical energy is used to create potential energy when the water is pumped into the reservoir behind the Lewiston Dam. During the day, part of the potential energy of the water in the Lewiston reservoir is converted into electricity at the Lewiston Dam, and then its remaining potential energy is captured by the Moses Dam, which is also capturing the potential energy of the water diverted from the river in real-time.

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  • truthbetold
    Aug 13, 2013 - 12:10AM

    Good points.

    One very important factor that the author forgot to mention is that, in the past 65 years, while the total quantity water going to Pakistan has remained the same, the per capita water has dropped by a factor of six, an effect entirely due to the six-fold increase of population in Pakistan in the period.

    The water warriors of Pakistan should blame India for Pakistan’s six-fold population explosion. The Indians must have added some kind of fertility drug into the water they release from their side into Pakistan.

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  • gp65
    Aug 13, 2013 - 2:11AM

    @Saleem: “To me those who oppose dams, including Kala Bagh, are nothing but Indian agents”

    How so? Pakistan is lower riparian. Once Pakistan gets water, India does not really care how Pakistan uses it. Whether it builds a dam or water flows into the sea.Recommend

  • Raj - USA
    Aug 13, 2013 - 2:39AM

    @Saleem:
    You figured it correct. Kalabagh dam will become the only rain-fed dam in Pakistan if it is ever built. All other dams are glacier fed. It is so important to Pakistan but as the rest of the country, be it Sindh or KPK or Baluchistan, they never trust Punjab because of their traditional conduct, there was no consensus on KBD. Punjab had earlier annexed parts of Baluchistan province also. They take a major share of gas from Sindh and pay a very low price. They pay peanuts to Baluchistan for Sui gas, just about 20% of what they pay for the gas from Sindh. Pakistan has been blaming India for not building KBD deep inside its territory. They have been claiming that India is spending billions of dollars to build opposition to KBD in Pakistan. Can anything be more foolish than this?????

    India has never worked against building KBD and would actually welcome it as it would lessen tension between India and Pakistan. KBD would be a huge storage dam and would also generate electricity. International financing institutions also support this dam and finance is readily available.

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  • SK
    Aug 13, 2013 - 12:44PM

    Good piece by Shahzad Chaudhry who bravely tries to remain calm faced with screaming Indian TV anchors (:-)
    SK
    Mumbai

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