India can block rivers flowing into Pakistan
India can block rivers flowing into Pakistan

India on Thursday slammed Pakistan’s reported attempts to declare Gilgit-Baltistan— also known as the Northern Areas—as Pakistan’s fifth province describing the move as illegal and completely unacceptable.

“The entire State of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India in 1947. It has been, is and will always be an integral part of India. A part of Jammu and Kashmir has been under illegal occupation of Pakistan. Any unilateral step by Pakistan to alter the status of that part will have no basis in law and will be completely unacceptable,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay told reporters.

“I must also say that such a step will not camouflage the illegality of Pakistan’s occupation of parts of Jammu and Kashmir and the gravely concerning and serious human rights violations there (in the Northern Areas), as well as denial of democracy to the people there,” he said.

India’s outburst follows reports from Pakistan stating that a committee headed by Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the Pakistan prime minister on foreign affairs, had proposed giving the status of a province to Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan’s minister for interprovincial coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada told Geo TV on Wednesday that the “committee recommended that Gilgit-Baltistan should be made a province of Pakistan.”

He also reportedly said that a constitutional amendment would be made to change the status of the region, through which the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes. India opposes the CPEC precisely because it passes through areas that it considers part of its territory.

At present, Pakistan has four provinces—Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. There are news reports that China has concerns about the unsettled status of Gilgit-Baltistan—which could have prompted this move by Pakistan to attempt a change in its status.

In 2015, India had objected to Pakistan holding polls in Gilgit Baltistan. Then Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup had said India was “concerned” by Pakistani attempts to “absorb these territories.”

On a visit by three Indian parliamentarians to Pakistan and whether it could be interpreted as an attempt to normalise relations with Pakistan, Baglay said that the three were there to attend a meet of Asian Parliamentary Assembly and it should not be linked to any other issue.

Meanwhile, India has fast-tracked hydropower projects worth $15 billion in Kashmir in recent months, three federal and state officials said, ignoring warnings from Islamabad that power stations on rivers flowing into Pakistan will disrupt water supplies.

The swift approval of projects that had languished for years came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested last year that sharing the waterways could be conditional on Pakistan clamping down on anti-India militants that New Delhi says it shelters.

Pakistan has opposed some of these projects before, saying they violate a World Bank-mediated treaty on the sharing of the Indus river and its tributaries upon which 80 per cent of its irrigated agriculture depends.

The tension at the border has been on the rise
The tension at the border has been on the rise

The schemes, the largest of which is the 1,856 MW Sawalkote plant, will take years to complete, but their approval could prove a flashpoint between the nuclear-armed neighbours at a time when relations are at a low ebb. “I say the way you look at these projects, it is not purely a hydro project. Broaden it to a strategic water management, border management problem, and then you put in money,” said Pradeep Kumar Pujari, the top ranking official in the power ministry.

Pakistan denies any involvement in the 28-year armed insurgency in Indian Kashmir and has repeatedly urged New Delhi to hold talks to decide the future of the region. Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, said he would confer with the Ministry of Water and Power on the proposed Indian projects, saying it was a technical matter.

He noted, however, that India would be attending a regular meeting of the Indus Commission later this month in Lahore, even though the broader peace dialogue was on hold. “It seems that finally India has realized the importance of this mechanism under the IWT (Indus Waters Treaty) for resolving water disputes related to the Indus water and its tributaries.”

Six hydro projects in Indian Kashmir either cleared viability tests or the more advanced environment and forest expert approvals in the last three months, two officials in India’s Water Resources Ministry and the Central Electricity Authority said separately.

Together these projects on the Chenab river, a tributary of the Indus, would triple hydropower generation in Jammu and Kashmir from the current level of 3,000 MW, the biggest jump in decades, added the officials, declining to be named because the approvals had not yet been made public.

“We have developed barely one-sixth of the hydropower capacity potential in the state in the last 50 years,” the senior official at the Water Resources Ministry said.

“Then one fine morning, you see we cleared six to seven projects in three months; it definitely raises concern in Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s water supply is dwindling because of climate change, outdated farming techniques and an exploding population. A 2011 report by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said New Delhi could use these projects as a way to control Pakistan’s supplies from the Indus, seen as its jugular vein.

“The cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season,” it said. India says the projects are “run-of-the-river” schemes

Meanwhile, India on Wednesday gave it back to Pakistan for referring to the situation of minorities in the country. Exercising its right to reply during a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, the Indian Representative said that Pakistan has become the “world’s terrorism factory”.

The country has also alienated its own people through continued mistreatment of Hindus, Christians, Shias, Ahmadiyas, and other minorities. “In this Council, Pakistan has referred to situation of minorities in India. Minorities in India have been Prime Ministers, Presidents, VicePresidents, senior Cabinet Ministers, senior civil servants, cricket team captains, Bollywood superstars. Can the minorities of Pakistan claim even a shadow of this? All they have are blasphemy laws and relentless abuse and violation of their human rights,” the Indian side said.

India had asked Pakistan to control its “compulsive hostility” towards it and fulfil its obligation to vacate illegal occupation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), which has become a “hub” for the global export of terror.

“We ask Pakistan to stop inciting and supporting violence and terrorism in any part of India and refrain from meddling in our internal affairs in any manner,” the official said. Once again Pakistan’s delegation has chosen to misuse the Council to make fallacious references about internal matters pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir, the diplomat said.

Emphasising that terrorism is the grossest violation of human rights and should be so acknowledged by any impartial and objective observer, the Indian side said a part of the territories of Jammu and Kashmir remain under the forcible and illegal occupation of Pakistan.

“It is unfortunate that in recent times the people of PoK have become victims of sectarian conflict, terrorism and extreme economic hardship because of Pakistan’s occupation and discriminatory policies,” the Indian side said.

“The Indian state of J&K is part of a pluralistic and secular democracy, where an independent judiciary, an active media and a vibrant civil society guarantee freedoms. In contrast, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is administered by a ‘deep state’ and has become a hub for the global export of terror,” the diplomat said.

The Indian side asserted that India does not accept attempts by Pakistan to denigrate the democratic choice that has been regularly exercised by the people of J&K over the last six decades since our independence. “Pakistan’s continued support for terror groups operating in J&K is the main challenge to protecting the human rights of our citizens in the State.”