(Illustration: Saurabh Singh)
IS THE QUEST for water one of the driving forces behind China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan? Way back in 1954, China encroached into Indian territory in Aksai Chin, which is an extension of the Taklamakan Desert and occupied the whole of Aksai Chin ostensibly to build a road linking Sinkiang and Tibet, both of which the country had recently annexed. But even then, the farsighted Chinese strategists were interested in the Shaksgam Valley, which is home to over 242 glaciers and considered to be the most heavily glaciated region in the world outside of the two poles. Aksai Chin provides alternate access to the Shaksgam Valley. The Shaksgam Valley fell into Pakistan’s lap in 1947 as a consequence of British perfidy in orchestrating the Gilgit rebellion during Partition. The Chinese and Pakistanis were in secret negotiations in 1962 when China invaded India. Their border deal and the transfer of the Shaksgam Valley to China took place in early 1963. But even before the Sino-Pak deal on the Shaksgam Valley was signed, China had surveyed plans for a transportation corridor stretching from the Chinese border to Pakistan’s deep-water ports on the Arabian Sea. It was in this connection that Pakistan purchased Gwadar from Oman in 1958. In fact, Oman had first offered this to India and Nehru turned it down. After the purchase of Gwadar, the Chinese started construction of the Karakoram Highway in 1959. Warning bells should have been sounded in India, but nobody seemed to be worried. In fact, in 1960, India signed the Indus Waters Treaty thereby gifting Pakistan a lion’s share of the waters from the six major rivers of north India.
The treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 divided the Indus and the five rivers of Punjab between the upper riparian state India and the lower riparian state Pakistan. While the waters of the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi went exclusively to India, India is allowed to tap into 19.48 per cent of the run-of-the-river water of the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum that flow through. In fact, when India and Pakistan had six rounds of talks in 1963 to settle the issue of Kashmir, Pakistan demanded 90 per cent of the Buddhist majority Ladakh because the Indus flowed through it. Was the Chinese incursion into Aksai Chin in 1954, Pakistani purchase of Gwadar in 1958, the commencement of the construction of the Karakoram Highway in 1959, the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, the 1962 war and the Sino-Pak border deal on Shaksgam Valley in 1963, all interconnected milestones in a far-reaching conspiracy to steal India’s waters?
The 1,300 km long Karakoram Highway, whose survey work was started in 1959, took 20 years to complete. In between this period, in China, the failure of the Great Leap Forward in 1960 and the effect of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1971 delayed the completion of this project. Added to this was the sheer engineering challenge of building such a highway. In 1966, when the Karakoram Highway was being constructed, Pakistan initially favoured routing it through the Mintaka Pass. However, China, citing that Mintaka Pass would be more susceptible to air strikes, recommended the steeper and more secure Khunjerab Pass instead. Ultimately, the new Karakoram Highway was built further south and west, passing over the Khunjerab Pass. The highway started from Kashgar in Sinkiang, ending at Hasan Abdal in Punjab, Pakistan. This highway now provided the Chinese instant road access into the Indian subcontinent.
Was India’s consolidation of its ground presence on the Siachen Glacier in 1984 really the pre-emption of Sino-Pak moves to grab hold of the glacier? After all, the Siachen Glacier rubs shoulders with the Ghent and peak 30 glaciers in the Shaksgam Valley. By physically taking possession of the Siachen Glacier, India has negated the terms of the China and Pakistan border agreement of 1963. As quoted in the agreement, the boundary in the area near the Siachen Glacier runs along ‘the top of the Broad Peak, the top of the Gasherbrum Mountain, Indira Col Pass and the top of the Teram Kangri Peak, and reaches its south-eastern extremity at the Karakoram Pass’. Importantly, China signed this agreement with Pakistan as the party in control of the area, and Article VI of the agreement states that following a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, negotiations will be reopened if the sovereignty of the area is with India.
The physical control of the Slacken area by India places the status of Pakistan as the party in control of the area in question by shifting the presumed India and Pakistan and China tri-junction from the Karakoram Pass, almost 100 km to the west, near Indira Col. If a settlement of the India and Pakistan boundary is reached by extending the LoC up to Indira Col, it would require China to renegotiate this section of the boundary with India.
After encroaching into Aksai Chin in 1954 to build a road linking Sinkiang and Tibet, China was able to take over the Aksai Chin Lake, which is fed by Aksai river and many other streams. Its closed catchment occupies an area of about 8,000 Sq Km
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The Sino-Pak Boundary Agreement of 1963 was clearly a case of collusive cartographic aggression by both China and Pakistan against a weakened India. The Kargil War was an example of Pakistan trying to emulate India but failing miserably in securing control of the heights in the Kargil area and thus endangering the Srinagar-Leh highway. If the Kargil War had ended in Pakistan’s favour, notwithstanding India’s nuclear status, the Chinese would have come down from the Shaksgam Valley to the Urdok Glacier and then onto the Indira Col. Coupled with a thrust from the east, from Daulat Beg Oldie, Chinese forces would have captured the Indian Army in a pincer movement.
The waters from Indira Col drain in the south to the Siachen. Glacier and to the Nubra and Shyok rivers, to finally merge with the Indus. If Indian control was eliminated from this region, modern hydro-engineering could increase the flow of the Indus right up to and beyond Turtuk, the last village on the Indian side of the LoC. This would lead to a much more intense flow of the river and consequently make the generation of electricity much easier in the future. Waters to the north of Indira Col would drain into the Urdok Glacier, Shaksgam River, Yarkand River, Tarim and Qyurug rivers to merge with the Lop Nor Lake in Sinkiang, close to China’s nuclear testing site.
It is clear that China’s interest in the Shaksgam Valley was largely because of the waters of the four rivers that flow through it. The country was setting up Lop Nor in Sinkiang as a nuclear testing site and in the event that the Lop Nor Lake was contaminated or it dried up, it wanted to ensure an available supply of water to the region. In 1962, China was still a non-nuclear nation and was yet to invade Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, then known as NEFA. For China to enter secret negotiations with Pakistan during those days, required a lot of courage because Pakistan, through its membership of SEATO and CENTO, was a frontline state against communism. What did China and Pakistan discuss during those talks?
Did the Government of India have any intelligence inputs on them or did the agreement in 1963 come as a big shock to Nehru?
Further, after the Sino-Indian War of 1962, China established de jure control over Aksai Chin in India. After encroaching into Aksai Chin in 1954 to build a road linking Sinkiang and Tibet, China was able to take over the Aksai Chin Lake, which is fed by Aksai River and many other streams. Its closed catchment occupies an area of about 8,000 sq km.
As a result, the Chinese quest for water originating in the Karakoram-Himalaya region has resulted in the Chinese acquiring Aksai Chin in Ladakh by force and the Shaksgam Valley in Gilgit-Hunza by an illegal treaty with Pakistan. This farsighted Chinese planning has resulted in a windfall gain for them today. The only joker in the pack is India’s right to exploit 19.48 per cent of river water of the three rivers flowing through the state of Jammu and Kashmir. India has not exploited any of the waters of the Indus cascade and has only partially exploited the waters of the Chenab and Jhelum. It is because of the ineptitude and the lack of will on the part of the Government of India that it has never realised the fact that it is sitting on a very potent weapon whose deterrent capacity is enormous. It could curtail the enormous consumer surplus being enjoyed by Pakistan in terms of the excess water that it has been using for the last 59 years. Here the argument is not even referring to the encroachment of water from Pakistan’s share but only the full legal utilisation of India’s share.
(This is an edited excerpt from Kashmir’s Untold Story: Declassified by Iqbal Chand Malhotra and Maroof Raza | Bloomsbury | 218 pages | Rs 599)
About The Author
Iqbal Chand Malhotra is an award-winning TV producer and Maroof Raza is consulting editor, strategic affairs, at Times Now and an author
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