September 1, 2010Foreign AffairsIndusmilitary-jihadi complexObamaPakistanUnited Stateswaterwater management

Strategic trust-building follies

Washington should not undermine the sanctity of the Indus Waters Treaty

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

The formidable Richard Holbrooke and his talented team could have been more effective in their Af-Pak brief if they had a better grip on reality. They can achieve a whole lot more if thety were to solicit and receive genuine co-operation and support from New Delhi. Unfortunately, their thinking appears to be in the direction of reinforcing failure.

See what Steve Clemons says (via @vali_nasr). Writing about US efforts to help Pakistan raise funds after the flood disaster, he says, …even with Clinton and Holbrooke on board, the US government is still not doing as much as it should in terms of contributing at a systemic level to helping the Pakistanis and Indians turn this nightmare into a strategically significant trust-building event.”

While that statement sounds logical, and more importantly, nice, it is largely bereft of the former. India has been making strategically significant trust-building events since Atal Bihari Vajpayee took that bus to Lahore in 1999. These were all perceived as weaknesses and exploited by the Pakistani military-jihadi complex to attack India. Other than Operation Parakram—which was itself carried out after grave provocation—India’s policy can be described as strategic reassurance. Satyabrata Pal, India’s former high commissioner to Pakistan, strongly argues that New Delhi must continue along this direction. It appears that the likes of Mr Clemons weren’t paying attention when Manmohan Singh responded to the Pakistani-sponsored terrorist attack, and its brazen refusal to act against the perpetrators, by…delivering sweet lollipops to the Pakistani prime minister.

Yes, there is a need for a strategically significant trust-building event. It has to come from Pakistan. Getting the Pakistani government to obtain a guilty verdict against the Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders fingered in the 26/11 conspiracy would be a good start. But Team Holbrooke isn’t concerned with trust-building in India.

Mr Clemons refers to David Rothkopf’s post on what this trust-building event might be. Apart from using tired and absurd cliches like few relationships on the planet are as important or as potentially dangerous as that between India and Pakistan” he suggests the Mr Obama must propose a a massive, multilateral Indus River Valley Development Initiative” on his trip to India.

The problem with Mr Rothkopf’s proposal—of massive technical and financial assistance to improve river water management—is that India doesn’t need that help. Pakistan does. So President Obama should be announcing this if and when he goes to Islamabad.

Actually, there is something Mr Obama can do before, during or after his trip to India with regard to Indus waters. And that is to say that both sides must abide by the treaties they have signed”. The Indus Waters Treaty is a strategic trust-building device. Undermining its legitimacy by pointing to its being strained by dam projects and shifting demand” is counterproductive to stability because it allows Pakistan to opens up another unbounded dispute with India.

Related Link: See Dhruva Jaishankar’s post on Indus river water issues.

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