About Chellaney

Professor, strategic thinker, author and commentator

Asia’s megacities are running out of water


clipboard01Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

Asia’s cities are ballooning, and the accompanying upsurge in the consumption of water and production of waste in urban areas is placing new pressures on the environment.

Home to 53% of the world’s urban population, Asia has the highest concentration of megacities, including Shanghai, Tokyo, Karachi and Beijing. Not only are Asia’s cities big and numerous, they are among the most polluted. The urban explosion has made providing safe water and sanitation a massive challenge for the region.

Historically, the availability of local water resources has determined not only where major cities have been established but how well they have fared. But in Asia, rapid — and often unplanned — urban growth in recent decades has overwhelmed water systems.

20161006freshwaterhoriz_article_main_imageAsia’s per capita water availability is already the lowest of any continent. Fast economic growth, coupled with breakneck urbanization and changing lifestyles, has made a difficult situation worse. In 2012, slightly over half of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2050, that ratio is projected to jump to more than two-thirds, with much of that growth taking placing in Asia.

The region’s urbanization is fueling demand for water not just for municipal use but also for manufacturing and agriculture. And changing diets, especially an increased preference for meat — the production of which is notoriously water-intensive — are compounding water challenges. Asia needs to make substantial water savings in agriculture to quench the thirst of its expanding cities. Some of the largest urban centers — from Beijing and Manila to Jakarta and Dhaka — are already at risk of running out of water.

The challenge of providing safe drinking water is compounded by the growing incidence of floods and droughts in Asia. According to the Asian Development Bank, people living in the Asia-Pacific region are “four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than those living in Africa, and 25 times more likely than those living in Europe or North America.” Most Asian megacities are in coastal areas, making them vulnerable to global warming-induced rises in ocean levels.

As cities across the region struggle to access adequate water supplies, many of their residents are beginning to rely on bottled water. This practice, however, has fueled a serious waste-management problem. Due to very low recycling rates, billions of plastic bottles end up as garbage every year, taking up increasing space in landfills or even littering the landscape. Some cities are running out of places to put those bottles.

The environmental problems do not end there: The retreat of megadeltas due to China’s upstream damming of rivers originating on the Tibetan Plateau has become a serious issue. According to several scientific studies, heavy upstream damming, which can obstruct the flow of silt to plains and estuaries, is contributing to the retreat and subsidence of Asia’s big deltas, which are home to such megacities as Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Bangkok, Kolkata and Dhaka. This development, in turn, is causing seawater to flow into coastal freshwater aquifers, affecting municipal supplies.


Yet despite this deepening crisis, a water-stressed Asia continues to live beyond its means environmentally, overexploiting water resources while hoping to postpone the day of reckoning. Some countries have responded to these challenges by implementing grand but environmentally questionable projects, from China’s South-North Water Transfer Project (the world’s biggest hydraulic initiative) to India’s now-stalled proposal to link up its most important rivers.

With the first two of its three legs already operational, the $62 billion Chinese undertaking is aimed at moving water from the south to the parched north, all the way to Beijing and Tianjin. But the environmental costs are mounting: Energy-hogging treatment plants along the transfer routes seek to tackle water degradation and pollution, even as water quality deteriorates in the source river, the Yangtze. Given the project’s energy intensity, swelling costs and environmental impact, a better alternative for China would have been desalination, wastewater treatment and recycling, and reduced irrigated farming in its arid north.

Asian cities have little choice but to tap unconventional sources for their water supply. One such option is recycled — or “reclaimed” — water. Singapore has embraced, on a commercial scale, the use of chemical processes to turn wastewater into clean water. The water-scarce city-state has found this option to be less expensive than desalinating seawater.

The toilet-to-tap concept has long been in use in manned spacecraft. Still, the public is far less keen on recycled water than on desalinated water. To help ease the “yuck factor” among reluctant citizens, Singapore — like London and San Diego — mixes treated wastewater with conventional water in the city’s supply system.

Even if the reclaimed water is channeled strictly for nonportable uses, such as gardening, flushing toilets and doing laundry, it can help alleviate a city’s water crisis. Reclaimed water can also be used to artificially replenish aquifers, rivers and reservoirs and for ecological purposes, such as restoring or enhancing wetlands and riparian habitats. With many Asian cities increasingly desperate for additional water resources, more metropolises will likely be forced to recycle wastewater to augment their supplies.

Another option for Asian cities is rainwater harvesting, a relatively low-cost technique invented in Asia in the 9th or 10th centuries. Some cities are already trying it. For example, new apartment complexes and commercial buildings in the southern Indian metropolises of Bangalore and Chennai are required to have rainwater-harvesting systems. In much of Asia, heavy rains in the monsoon season make it easier to trap and store rainwater for dry-season use.

Most Asian cities also need greater public and private investment to upgrade and maintain water-distribution networks so as to plug leakages and prevent contamination. In Asia, losses of treated water from leaky distribution were conservatively estimated at $9 billion in 2011, according to the Asian Development bank.

Water scarcity is set to become Asia’s defining crisis, creating an obstacle in the continent’s path toward continued economic growth. Competition between cities, industries and farms over limited water resources is already intensifying. Addressing these challenges demands new skills, technologies, management practices and approaches, including building demand-side efficiency and tapping nontraditional water sources.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of “Water, Peace, and War,” and the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” among other books.

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Why Japan and India must be partners in Myanmar


A Japan-India partnership on major projects in Myanmar can help reduce the salience of Chinese influence there.


BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Japan Times, October 19, 2016

Myanmar’s de factor leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is seeking to carefully balance relations with major powers as part of her commitment to revive the country’s tradition of employing a neutral foreign policy. Suu Kyi’s India visit this week follows trips to Beijing and Washington.

Myanmar’s geographic, cultural and geostrategic positioning between India and China makes it critical to the long-term interests of both these powers.

Crippling U.S.-led sanctions since the late 1980s pushed resource-rich Myanmar into China’s strategic lap. Sanctions without engagement have never worked. During his 2010 Indian tour, U.S. President Barack Obama criticized India’s policy of constructive engagement with Myanmar, only to return home and pursue, within months, a virtually similar policy. The shift in U.S. policy helped to spur Myanmar’s reform process, thereby ending half a century of military-dominated rule.

Yet today the Obama White House is ignoring that lesson by pursuing a sanctions-only approach toward North Korea, which recently carried out its fifth and most-powerful nuclear test and then conducted a failed missile test launch last weekend.

On her first visit to a major capital since her National League for Democracy (NLD) party came to power almost seven months ago, Suu Kyi in August visited Beijing, not New Delhi where she was educated. Her aim was to smooth over the frayed relationship with China. Ties with China have been roiled by Myanmar’s 2011 suspension of the $3.6 billion, Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam project. The suspension on the eve of China’s national day constituted a slap in the face to Beijing — a loss of face made worse by the fact that the action became a turning point for Myanmar’s democratization and reintegration with the outside world.

The bold move, by demonstrating to Washington that Myanmar was no client state of China and by helping to both change U.S. policy and accelerate the country’s own transition to democracy, set in motion an easing of Western sanctions and ending Myanmar’s international isolation — best symbolized by Obama’s 2012 visit.

After work on the Myitsone Dam was halted midway, China’s relations with Myanmar perceptibly cooled, with several energy and other dam projects also put on hold. Beijing, however, managed to complete multibillion-dollar oil and gas pipelines from Myanmar’s western coast to southern China.

With the rise of a democratically governed Myanmar that is being wooed by all powers and by international investors, China can no longer push its strategic and resource interests by brushing aside questions about the environmental and human costs of its mining and other projects there.

But with China still wielding more leverage over Myanmar than any other power, President Xi Jinping is pushing for the Myitsone project’s revival — or the undoing of the 2011 humiliation. To deflect Chinese pressure, Suu Kyi, before visiting Beijing, appointed a 20-member commission to review Myitsone and other dam projects on River Irrawaddy, the country’s lifeline.

After her China trip, Suu Kyi, as part of her balancing act, visited Washington, where she was warmly received Sept. 14 at the White House. But it was only on Oct. 7 — about 11 months after the NLD won a landslide election victory — that Obama lifted U.S. economic sanctions on Myanmar through an executive order terminating an emergency directive that deemed the policies of its former military government a threat to U.S. national security. Military-related sanctions, however, have been retained.

Suu Kyi, accompanied by key ministers, traveled to India to attend a weekend multinational summit in Goa and then hold bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top officials in New Delhi.

Her visit was part of India’s invitation to member states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) for a joint summit with the five-nation BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Goa. Suu Kyi thus met with a host of world leaders in Goa, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi.

Bringing together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, BIMSTEC holds more promise than the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which is likely to remain a stunted organization, largely because of regional concerns over terrorism emanating from one of its members, Pakistan. A SAARC summit scheduled for next month in Islamabad collapsed after India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency of orchestrating recent terrorist attacks within their borders.

Myanmar is India’s gateway to the east. It was at the India-ASEAN summit in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw in late 2014 that Modi launched India’s U.S.-backed “Act East” policy.

When Suu Kyi was in the opposition, India supported Suu Kyi’s democracy movement and sheltered many Myanmar refugees and dissidents, despite engaging with Myanmar’s military government in a carefully calibrated manner to promote political reconciliation and to stem China’s growing clout there.

Today, a key challenge for both Myanmar and India is to manage a difficult and complex relationship with China. Just as India’s northern neighbor historically was Tibet, not China, Myanmar’s neighbor for much of its early history was the independent kingdom of Yunnan, with Tibet also sharing a border with Myanmar until 1950.

Myanmar, like India, has long complained about the flow of Chinese arms to local guerrilla groups, accusing Beijing of backing several of them in its north as levers against it. Still, recognizing that Beijing holds the keys to ending decades of armed conflict in Myanmar, Suu Kyi has given China an important role in her new initiative to promote ethnic reconciliation. Yet, despite China playing mediator, a Suu Kyi-sponsored peacemaking gathering attended by ethnic warlords in Naypyitaw ended in early September without any headway.

China values Myanmar as a strategic asset, viewing its long shoreline as a gateway to the Indian Ocean, where it is seeking to chip away at India’s natural-geographic advantage. Having established a foothold in Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal port of Kyaukpyu, from where new energy pipelines lead to southern China, Beijing is now seeking to open a shorter, cheaper trade route to Europe via Myanmar’s River Irrawaddy, which flows in a southerly direction from near the Chinese border to the Andaman Sea.

Against this backdrop, India can ill afford to neglect Myanmar or persist with its sluggish implementation of projects there. It must actively involve itself in Myanmar, including by collaborating with Japan, with which it enjoys fast-growing strategic cooperation. The giant Thilawa industrial zone southeast of Yangon symbolizes Japan’s investment campaign in Myanmar to gain access to a new market and counterbalance China.

Greater Indian investment in and counterinsurgency cooperation with Myanmar, coupled with an India-Japan partnership on major projects in that country, can help reduce the salience of Chinese influence there and further Suu Kyi’s agenda for a balanced, neutral and pragmatic foreign policy.

Brahma Chellaney is a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin and a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.

© The Japan Times, 2016.

BRICS reduced to a “talk shop”?


The real winner from the two BRICS-initiated financial ventures is China, with BRICS left carrying the can.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review


On paper, the five BRICS countries — Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa — look like a powerful grouping: the member states combined represent more than a quarter of the earth’s landmass, over 42% of the global population, almost 25% of the world’s gross domestic product, and nearly half of the global foreign exchange and gold reserves. In reality, though, BRICS is still struggling to define a common identity and build institutionalized cooperation among its members. Their just-concluded summit, held in the Indian beach resort of Goa on Oct. 14-15, underscored inherent challenges.

As the first important non-Western global initiative of the post-Cold War world, BRICS reflects ongoing global power shifts, including the slow retreat of Atlantic dominance.

If BRICS can get its act together, it will be able to exercise significant geoeconomic and geopolitical clout and evolve into a major instrument to bring about fundamental changes in the architecture of global finance and governance. By serving as the building blocks of overhauled financial and governance systems, the BRICS economies would be a catalyst in the qualitative reordering of power and in reshaping the entire international order.

After all, in a spectacular reversal of fortunes, the developing economies, with their large foreign reserves, now finance the mounting deficits of the wealthy economies. More importantly, the BRICS economies are likely to remain the world’s most important source for future growth.

However, given that BRICS is just an extension of the BRIC concept conceived by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001, it is surprising that the grouping has stuck to an alien acronym. BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) became BRICS with the addition of South Africa in late 2010. Had the grouping pursued a more forward-looking approach, it could have simply called itself the “R-5” after the names of its members’ currencies — the real, rand, ruble, renminbi and rupee — and presented itself, in contrast to the obsolescent Group of Seven (G-7), as the face of the future.

The plain fact is that the challenges BRICS faces today are fundamental, making its future uncertain. These disparate countries have starkly varying political systems, economies, and national goals, and are located in different corners of the globe. There is little in common among the BRICS states.

For example, what is common between the world’s largest democracy, India, and the largest autocracy, China? The biggest real estate claimed by a revanchist China is an Indian state almost three times larger than Taiwan — Arunachal Pradesh, an ecological paradise of virgin forests, orchids and soaring mountain ranges. How can BRICS create rules-based cooperation among its members if international norms of behavior are flouted, as by China’s territorial creep in the South China Sea and its shielding of Pakistani terrorism at the United Nations Security Council and by Russia’s annexation of Crimea?

To compound BRICS’ challenges, the Brazilian, Russian and South African economies have nose-dived in recent years, even as China’s faltering growth and downside deflationary risks have unsettled global markets. Only India has defied the BRICS’ slump, priding itself as the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

Almost six years after it expanded from four to five member-states, BRICS has yet to evolve into a coherent grouping with defined goals and an institutional structure. Of course, it has created the Shanghai-based New Development Bank and set up, as a shield against global liquidity pressures, the $100-billion, China-dominated Contingent Reserve Arrangement. The real winner from both these initiatives is China, with BRICS left carrying the can.

Despite its utility as a non-Western grouping, BRICS cannot remain just a “talk shop.” The Goa summit was a reminder that it has yet to devise a common action plan to go forward.

To be sure, the annual BRICS summit provides a useful platform for bilateral discussions on the sidelines, as between the Chinese president and Indian prime minister on a host of issues that bedevil their countries’ bilateral relationship. Some member states, by piggybacking on the BRICS summit, hold their own bilateral summits before or after the event. For example, the annual India-Russia summit was held in Goa just before the start of the BRICS summit.

Still, BRICS faces nagging questions about whether its members, with their different priorities and interests, can unite on key international issues. If BRICS is to build collective clout, its members must frame common objectives and approaches to tackling the pressing international issues. Take the scourge of terrorism: The Goa Declaration omitted any reference to cross-border terrorism or state sponsorship of terror or even to any Pakistan-based terrorist group at the instance of China, which sought to protect its close ally Pakistan from charges that its intelligence service was behind recent grisly attacks in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India.

The G-7 began as a discussion platform like BRICS but, by defining its members’ common interests, it advanced within years to joint coordination on key international issues. BRICS, lacking the shared political and economic values that bind the G-7 members together, cannot stay relevant if it does little more than bring together its leaders and various stakeholders for discussions. Indeed, the most important bilateral relationship for each BRICS country is not with another BRICS member but with the United States.

Worse still, an overly ambitious China, seeking to dominate the grouping and emerge as America’s peer rival, has cast a lengthening shadow over BRICS. For example, as part of its quest to build the yuan, or renminbi, as a global currency that could eventually rival the dollar or euro, a cash-rich China is using BRICS as an important vehicle to expand the renminbi’s international role, including by offering renminbi loans to other BRICS members. Lending and trading in renminbi helps China to boost its exports and international clout.

China’s hidden export subsidies, however, have been systematically undermining manufacturing in the other BRICS states. Chinese dumping is blighting Indian and Brazilian manufacturing in particular. Consequently, China’s rapidly growing trade surplus, for example, with India has doubled since Narendra Modi became prime minister two-and-a-half years ago. This has armed Beijing with greater leverage over New Delhi.

For Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa, BRICS offers largely symbolic benefits, including underscoring their growing international role and their desire to pluralize the global order. By contrast, China, which needs no recognition of its rise as a world power, is milking BRICS for tangible benefits, including to advance its economic and political benefits.

Even on international institutional reforms, China is hardly on the same page as the other BRICS members. The present international order emerged in the post-1945 period as a U.S.-led hierarchical order involving a group of likeminded countries, largely in the West. Since then, the global institutional structure has remained largely static, even as the world has changed dramatically. As a result, the global financial and governance systems, ranging from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to the United Nations Security Council, no longer look truly global in terms of representation. This has made fundamental reforms to international institutions and rules imperative.

China is a revisionist power with respect to the global financial architecture, seeking an overhaul of the Bretton Woods system that emerged in the mid-1940s. It also seeks to dominate the first tangible challenge to the Bretton Woods institutions, as symbolized by the BRICS’ New Development Bank and the China-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, headquartered in Beijing.

China, however, is a status quo power in regard to the U.N. system and wishes to remain Asia’s sole country with a permanent seat in the Security Council, which means keeping fellow BRICS member India (and Japan) out. China’s strategy, by extension, also seeks to shut out India from other political institutions, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group, where it has almost singlehandedly blocked a U.S.-led push for India’s entry.

Against this backdrop, if BRICS remains just a “talk shop,” it will not only fail to fulfill its true potential but will also wither away under the weight of its contradictions. The Goa summit did little to belie the contention of cynics that BRICS is just an acronym with little substance.

Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist and author, is Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin and professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Why India must not neglect Myanmar


Brahma Chellaney, The Times of India, October 15, 2016

downloadThe visit of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de factor leader, to India is significant. Myanmar’s geographic, cultural and geostrategic positioning between India and China makes it critical to long-term Indian interests. Yet it took 25 years for an Indian prime minister to visit Myanmar, India’s gateway to the east.

Since that visit in 2012 by Manmohan Singh, India has upgraded its Myanmar policy from constructive engagement to comprehensive interconnection. It was at the India-ASEAN Summit in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw in late 2014 that Narendra Modi launched India’s “Act East” policy. Yet, for his own inauguration in office, Modi invited leaders of all regional states, including Mauritius, but not next-door Myanmar, in a reminder of how India episodically neglects an important neighbour.

Suu Kyi’s visit is part of India’s invitation to member-states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) for a joint summit with BRICS at Goa. Bringing together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, BIMSTEC is a better alternative for India than the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which is likely to remain a stunted organization. Indeed, SAARC boxes India in an artificial regional framework; India’s natural strategic compass is broader.

Suu Kyi, committed to reviving her country’s old tradition of a neutral foreign policy, is seeking to carefully balance relations with major powers. On her first visit to a major capital since her party won a landslide election victory less than a year ago, Suu Kyi in August visited Beijing, not New Delhi where she was educated. Her aim was to smooth over the frayed relationship with China. Ties with China have been roiled by Myanmar’s 2011 suspension of the $3.6-billion, Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam project.

The suspension on the eve of China’s national day constituted a slap in the face to Beijing — a loss of face made worse by the fact that the action became a turning point for Myanmar’s democratization and reintegration with the outside world. The bold move, by demonstrating that Myanmar was no client state of China and by helping to accelerate the country’s transition to democracy, set in motion an easing of Western sanctions and ending Myanmar’s international isolation — best symbolized by Barack Obama’s 2012 visit, the first ever by a U.S. president.

But with China still wielding more leverage over Myanmar than any other power, President Xi Jinping is now pushing for the Myitsone project’s revival — or the undoing of the 2011 humiliation. To blunt Chinese pressure, Suu Kyi, before visiting Beijing, appointed a 20-member commission to review the project.

After her China trip, Suu Kyi, as part of her balancing act, visited Washington, where she was warmly received. But it was just last weekend that Obama lifted U.S. economic sanctions on Myanmar, while retaining military-related sanctions.

Myanmar, like India, has long complained about the flow of Chinese arms to guerrilla groups, accusing Beijing of backing several of them in its north as levers against it. Still, recognizing that Beijing holds the keys to ending decades of armed conflict in Myanmar, Suu Kyi has given China an important role in her new initiative to promote ethnic reconciliation. Yet, despite China playing mediator, a Suu Kyi-sponsored peacemaking gathering attended by ethnic warlords in Naypyidaw ended early last month without any headway.

China values Myanmar as a strategic asset, viewing its long shoreline as a gateway to the Indian Ocean, where it is seeking to chip away at India’s natural-geographic advantage. Having established a foothold in Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu port, from where the new energy pipelines lead to southern China, Beijing is seeking to open a shorter, cheaper trade route to Europe via Myanmar’s River Irrawaddy.

Against this backdrop, India can ill afford to neglect Myanmar, or persist with its sluggish implementation of projects there, or unilaterally conduct cross-border military strikes on Naga guerrillas. While being sensitive to Myanmarese concerns, India must actively involve itself in Myanmar through greater trade, investment and counterinsurgency cooperation to help reduce the salience of Chinese influence and to further Suu Kyi’s agenda for a balanced, neutral and pragmatic foreign policy.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War.”

© The Times of India, 2016.

The Pakistani Mecca of Terror


How the world’s first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, Pakistan, became the Mecca of terrorism and a global threat.

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

Almost seven decades after it was created as the first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, Pakistan is teetering on the edge of an abyss. The economy is stagnant, unemployment is high, and resources are scarce. The government is unstable, ineffective, and plagued by debt. The military — along with its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, comprising the country’s spies and secret policemen — is exempt from civilian oversight, enabling it to maintain and deepen its terrorist ties.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is now at risk of becoming a failed state. But even if it does not fail, the nexus between terrorist groups and Pakistan’s powerful military raises the specter of nuclear terrorism — a menace so large that the United States has prepared a contingency plan to take out the country’s fast-growing nuclear arsenal should the need arise.

Make no mistake: Pakistan is “ground zero” for the terrorist threat the world faces. The footprints of many terrorist attacks in the West have been traced to Pakistan, including the 2005 London bombings and the 2015 San Bernardino killings. Two key actors behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States — Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed — were found ensconced in Pakistan. In the recent Manhattan and New Jersey bombings, the arrested suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was radicalized in a Pakistan seminary located near the Pakistani military’s hideout for the Afghan Taliban leadership.

But it is Pakistan’s neighbors that are bearing the brunt of its state-sponsored terrorism. Major terrorist attacks in South Asia, like the 2008 Mumbai strikes and the 2008 and 2011 assaults on the Indian and US embassies in Afghanistan, respectively, were apparently orchestrated by the ISI, which has reared terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Haqqani network to do its bidding. This is no hearsay; former Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf has largely acknowledged it.

In India, in particular, the Pakistani military — which, despite being the world’s sixth largest, would have little chance of winning a conventional war against its giant neighbor — uses its terrorist proxies to wage a clandestine war. This year alone, Pakistani military-backed terrorists have crossed the border twice to carry out attacks on Indian military bases.

In January, Jaish-e-Mohammad struck India’s Pathankot air base, initiating days of fighting that left seven Indian soldiers dead. Last month, members of the same group crossed the border again to strike the Indian army base at Uri, killing 19 soldiers and prompting India to carry out a retaliatory surgical strike against militant staging areas across the line of control in disputed and divided Kashmir.

Afghanistan and Bangladesh also accuse ISI of undermining their security through terrorist surrogates. They blame Pakistan for the recent grisly attacks in their respective capitals, Kabul and Dhaka, in which a university and a café were among the targets.

Such activities have left Pakistan isolated. Just recently, its regional neighbors — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka — pulled the plug on a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit that was scheduled for next month in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has warned that “cross-border terrorism” imperils the very future of SAARC.

But diminished international standing and growing regional isolation have been insufficient to induce Pakistan’s dominant military to rethink its stance on terrorism. One reason is that Pakistan retains some powerful patrons. Beyond receiving financial support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has, in some ways, become a client of China, which provides political protection — even for Pakistan-based terrorists — at the United Nations Security Council.

This month, China torpedoed, for the fifth time in two years, proposed UN sanctions on Masood Azhar, the Pakistan-based head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which the UN designated as a terrorist outfit years ago. The sanctions were backed by all other members of the Security Council’s anti-terror committee, not least because India had presented evidence linking Azhar to the terrorist killings at its two military bases.

In terms of financial aid, however, it is the US that serves as Pakistan’s biggest benefactor. Yes, even after finding the likes of Bin Laden on Pakistani soil, the US — the country that has spearheaded the so-called War on Terror — not only continues to deliver billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, but also supplies it with large amounts of lethal weapons. US President Barack Obama’s administration also opposes a move in Congress that would officially brand Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism.

This approach reflects Obama’s commitment to using inducements to coax the Pakistani military to persuade the Taliban to agree to a peace deal in Afghanistan. But that policy has failed. The US remains stuck in the longest war in its history, as a resurgent Taliban carries out increasingly daring attacks in Afghanistan with the aid of their command-and-control structure in — you guessed it — Pakistan. No counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when militants have enjoyed such cross-border havens.

Achieving peace in Afghanistan, like stemming the spread of international terrorism, will be impossible without making the Pakistani military accountable to the country’s civilian government. The US has a lot of leverage: Pakistan has one of the world’s lowest tax-to-GDP ratios, and is highly dependent on American and other foreign aid. It should use that leverage to ensure that the Pakistani military is brought to heel — and held to account.

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

Fashioning water as a weapon



39510d2200000578-3833294-image-a-1_1476223932637China’s cutting off the flow of a Brahmaputra tributary is just the latest example of its emergence as the upstream water controller through a globally unparalleled hydro-engineering infrastructure centred on dams.

Earlier this year, Beijing itself highlighted its water hegemony over downstream countries by releasing some of its dammed water for drought-hit nations in the lower Mekong basin.

Blocking the flow of the Xiabu river, a Brahmaputra tributary, through a dam project is a significant development, a forewarning that China intends to do a lot more to re-engineer flows in the Brahmaputra system by riding roughshod over the interests of the lower riparians, India and Bangladesh.

Just as it has heavily dammed the Mekong, China is now working to complete a cascade of dams in the Brahmaputra basin.


On the Mekong, China has erected six giant dams, with the smallest of them bigger than the largest dam India has built since Independence.

For the downriver countries in that basin, the release of water from the Chinese dams to combat drought was a jarring reminder of not just China’s new-found power to control the flow of a life-sustaining resource, but also of their own reliance on Beijing’s goodwill and charity.

With a further 14 dams being built or planned by China, their dependence on Chinese goodwill is likely to deepen – at some cost to their strategic leeway and environmental security.

Armed with such leverage, Beijing is pushing its Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) initiative as an alternative to the lower-basin states’ Mekong River Commission, which China has spurned over the years.

Indeed, having its cake and eating it, China is a dialogue partner but not a member of the Mekong River Commission, underscoring its intent to stay clued in on the discussions, without having to take on any legal obligations.

The Mekong, Southeast Asia’s lifeline, is just one of the international rivers China has dammed.

It has also targeted the Arun, the Indus, the Sutlej, the Irtysh, the Illy, the Amur and the Salween, besides the Brahmaputra.

These rivers flow into India, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Russia or Myanmar.

Asia’s water map changed fundamentally after the communists took power in China in 1949.

It wasn’t geography but guns that established China’s chokehold on almost every major transnational river system in Asia, the world’s largest and most-populous continent.


By forcibly absorbing the Tibetan Plateau (the giant incubator of Asia’s main river systems) and Xinjiang (the starting point of the Irtysh and the Illy), China became the source of trans-boundary river flows to the largest number of countries in the world, extending from the Indochina Peninsula and South Asia to Kazakhstan and Russia.

Beijing’s claim over these sprawling territories, which make up more than half of China’s landmass today, drew from the fact that they were imperial spoils of the earlier foreign rule in China.

Before the communists seized power, China had only 22 dams of any significant size. But now, China boasts more large dams on its territory than the rest of the world combined.

If dams of all sizes and types are counted, their number in China surpasses 85,000. Strongman Mao Zedong initiated an ambitious dam-building programme, but the majority of the existing dams were built in the period after him.

China’s dam frenzy, however, shows no sign of slowing. The country’s dam builders, in fact, are shifting their focus from the dam-saturated internal rivers (some of which, like the Yellow, are dying) to the international rivers, especially those that originate on the waterrich Tibetan Plateau.

This raises fears that the degradation haunting China’s internal rivers could be replicated in the international rivers.


China, after all, has graduated to erecting mega-dams.

Take its latest dams on the Mekong: the 4,200- megawatt Xiaowan (taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris) and the 5,850- megawatt Nuozhadu, with a 190-square-kilometre reservoir.

Either of them is larger than the current hydropower-generating capacity of the lower Mekong states combined.

Despite its centrality in Asia’s water map, China has rebuffed the idea of a water-sharing treaty with any neighbour. The concern is thus growing among is downstream neighbours that China is seeking to turn water into a potential political weapon.

After all, by controlling the spigot for much of Asia’s water, China is acquiring major leverage over its neighbours’ behaviour in a continent already reeling under low freshwater availability.

China is clearly not content with being the world’s most dammed country, and the only thing that could temper its dam frenzy is a prolonged economic slowdown at home.

Flattening demand for electricity due to China’s already-slowing economic growth, for example, offers a sliver of hope that the Salween river could be saved from the cascade of hydroelectric mega-dams that Beijing has planned to build on it.

Even so, China’s riparian might will remain unmatched.

© Mail Today, 2016.

India’s critical test on Pakistan


Brahma Chellaney, Open magazine

pakistan_mapDoes the military operation conducted by Indian para commandos across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the wee hours of September 29 change the fundamentals of India’s strategic dynamic with Pakistan? The answer is no. A single military operation, however successful at the tactical level, cannot by itself impose sufficient deterrent costs on the enemy or demonstrate India’s strategic resolve, which has been found wanting for years. New Delhi has a long way to go before it can hope to reform the Pakistani military’s conduct or deter its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency from staging more cross-border terrorist strikes, whether in India or on Indian targets in Afghanistan.

The Indian Army had conducted cross-LoC operations previously, often in reprisal to military provocations, such as when intruding Pakistani forces chopped three Indian soldiers in 2011, taking away the severed heads of two as a “trophies”. What broke new ground on September 29 was the scale of the cross-LoC military action (hitting multiple targets located several kilometres deep) and its public disclosure by the Indian Army and government.

Yet, despite the frenzied hype, the set of surgical strikes on cross-LoC terrorist launchpads was a limited military operation, with limited military objectives, and yielding limited military benefits. The operation cannot by itself dissuade the Pakistani military from continuing to wage an undeclared war against India through terrorist proxies. Indeed, the Indian military must now exercise utmost vigilance to ward off likely Pakistani retaliation, including through terrorist surrogates.

To be sure, the political, psychological, diplomatic and strategic benefits from the Indian surgical strikes are greater than the tactical military gains. The strikes represented a break from India’s “do nothing” approach, which came to define its policy for long. By symbolizing an end to Indian indecision and inaction, the action has helped lift the sense of despair that had gripped the country over the lack of any tangible response to Pakistan-backed terrorist attacks. Politically, by signalling an end to the era of Indian inaction, the operation has put the Pakistani military on notice that India would henceforth respond in punitive, hard-to-anticipate ways.

Still, the benefits accruing from the action can easily be frittered away if India does not stay the course to squeeze Pakistan in a calibrated but ever-increasing manner to help bring it to heel.  The risk of India squandering the gains is real. After all, the biggest shortcoming in India’s Pakistan policy has been the country’s inability to maintain a consistent Pakistan policy. India finds it very difficult to stay its course for more than a few months, before the itch to win a Nobel peace prize or political pressure from the United States prompts whoever is the prime minister to reverse course and resume “peace” talks with Pakistan.

The focus of successive Indian governments on short-term considerations at the expense of India’s enduring interests has remained the country’s Achilles heel. This has exacerbated India’s Pakistan challenge, despite that country’s descent into a jihad-torn, dysfunctional state.

In fact, India’s own passivity and indecision played no small part in fuelling Pakistan’s proxy war by terror. There was little discussion in India as to why it should allow itself to be continually gored by a country that is much smaller than it economically, demographically and militarily. For long, India’s response to the Pakistani strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts was survival by a thousand bandages.

The illogic of India’s long-suffering, “do nothing” approach to Pakistan’s unconventional war was exposed when it finally mustered the political courage and ordered a daring cross-LoC operation. The surprise action — staged at a time when the Pakistani military, after the Uri terrorist attack, was in a state of full combat readiness — demonstrated how military power can be smartly applied below the threshold of nuclear use and without creating an undue risk of conventional escalation. In doing so, India has created strategic space for staging repeated and more-intense military forays across the LoC to inflict pain and punishment on the terror masters and their surrogates.

In fact, the imperative for further cross-LoC punitive actions in a calibrated manner — not immediately but whenever tempting opportunities open up — has been underscored by the Pakistani military remaining in denial mode over India’s September 29 operation. With Pakistan’s military generals covering up the Indian strikes, Pakistanis seem sceptical of the Indian claims. Deterrence, to be effective, must be targeted not just at the military generals but also at the elected civilian leadership and the public. No military can sustainably operate without public support at home.

In this light, to deter Pakistan’s war by terror, India must carefully but convincingly re-demonstrate its punitive conventional capability in propitious settings. Deterrence, after all, is like beauty: It lies in the eyes of the beholder. It is not what India claims but what its adversary believes that constitutes deterrence (or the lack of it). A one-off cross-LoC operation, in any event, cannot keep the Pakistani military off balance and forestall further terrorist attacks.

For that reason, only time will tell whether the September 29 action constitutes a break with India’s passive, reactive and forbearing mindset or represents just a one-off operation to salvage the Indian leadership’s credibility, which had been dented by inaction on a series of Pakistan-backed terrorist strikes that have occurred over many years, fuelling public wrath. On Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch alone since his election in May 2014, Pakistan-scripted terrorist attacks have extended from Indian consulates at Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad in Afghanistan to targets at Mohra, Gurdaspur, Udhampur, Pathankot, Pampore and Uri in India.

The attacks on Modi’s watch have suggested that the terror masters in Pakistan, learning from the international outrage over their November 2008 strikes on civilians in Mumbai, are concentrating their spectacular hits on symbols of the Indian state, including security forces.

For Modi, the pre-Uri inaction damaged his strongman image that helped bring him to power in the first place. Indeed, the apparent naiveté the government displayed in responding to the Pathankot air-base attack early this year, which killed seven Indian military men, invited public ridicule: It shared intelligence with Pakistan about the Pakistani origins of the attackers while the four-day siege of the base was still on, and then invited a Pakistani team, including at least one ISI officer, to visit the base — all in the fond hope of winning Pakistan’s anti-terrorism cooperation, despite India’s bitter experience in the Mumbai case where it presented dossiers of evidence to Pakistan.

Against this backdrop, the deadly Uri attack, by claiming the lives of 19 Indian soldiers, became Modi’s defining moment, putting his credibility at stake and eliminating inaction as a continuing option. The government had to act to redeem its image. In keeping with Modi’s fondness for springing surprises, the cross-LoC operation caught everyone by surprise, including analysts in India who had been claiming that the country had no military option even against transboundary terrorist bases.

If the latest developments bring consistency to Modi’s often erratic and meandering Pakistan policy, they would represent a potential game changer. But if India some months down the road were to return to “peace” talks with Pakistan, this would be clear proof not only that the Modi government largely designed the September 29 operation to politically save face, but also that the country is still unable to stay its course by kicking its principal weakness.

Let’s be clear: No short-term Indian strategy can help tame a scofflaw Pakistan. That country’s roguish actions spring from its foundational loathing of India. That loathing is rooted in its dual belief that it was created as an embodiment of the legacy of the medieval conquerors and plunderers who unfurled the standard of Islam over India and that Pakistanis, as the progeny of the conquerors and plunderers, are innately braver than the Indian “infidels.” Barely 10 weeks after its birth as the world’s first Islamic republic of the post-colonial era, Pakistan launched its first war against India by sending raiders into J&K while denying any such action. Today, the Pakistani military, steeped in jihadism, controls the deep state, rearing terrorists for cross-border missions and turning the country into the Mecca of terrorism.

India’s fight to tame Pakistan thus will be long and hard. India’s Pakistan dilemma is compounded by the lack of credible military options to inflict unbearable costs on the adversary in peacetime or, in the event of a full-fledged war, to impose peace on India’s terms by decisively defeating the Pakistani military on the battlefield. India thus must exercise its conventional reprisal options in peacetime cautiously and close to the LoC or risk the outbreak of a full-blown war. This may explain why India called its September 29 action an anti-terrorist operation “not aimed at the Pakistani military”, although the military, as the sponsor and protector of terrorist groups, is the root of all terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

Still, bearing in mind that Pakistan’s activities to undermine India are largely carried out across the LoC, a proactive India can make life difficult for the Pakistani military along the LoC, without its special forces having to penetrate too deeply. India, moreover, controls the escalation ladder. The burden is on Pakistan to take any step up on the escalation ladder, knowing that India will respond to such a move by inflicting severe pain and punishment on it.

More fundamentally, without imposing significant and direct costs on the Pakistani military and, by extension, on the Pakistani state, India cannot hope to deter Pakistan’s war by terror. This means India must initiate a comprehensive campaign that uses all employable instruments to squeeze Pakistan hard. Indeed, to organize sustained and mounting pressure on Pakistan, India will have to rely more on non-military tools of leverage than on cross-border operations by its special forces. And if India wants the rest of the world to act against Pakistan, it must first act itself against that country.

Thus far, India has taken no direct action to penalize the Pakistani state, other than informally suspend the Permanent Indus Commission and cause the collapse of the SAARC summit by withdrawing from it — an action that pre-empted Bangladeshi and Afghan moves to pull the plug on the summit. India’s diplomatic relations with Pakistan have not even been downgraded; the Most Favoured Nation status granted to Pakistan on a non-reciprocal basis for two decades has not been withdrawn; and New Delhi has made no move to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism or to declare bounties on the heads of terrorist leaders operating openly from Pakistan.

How can India expect the rest of the world to isolate Pakistan while it maintains full diplomatic relations with that country and shies away from imposing sanctions on it? In fact, with Pakistan’s principal benefactors, China and America, continuing to prop it up, it will not be easy for India to internationally isolate Pakistan.

By repeatedly vetoing United Nations action against terrorist Masood Azhar since 2014, China is culpable in the killing of Indian soldiers at Uri and Pathankot. China has shown the extent to which it is willing to go to shield Pakistan’s patronage of terrorism in order to undermine Indian security. To make matters worse, Modi, by letting China double its trade surplus with India on his watch, has weakened his bargaining position with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The U.S., for its part, enforces sanctions against a host of countries, from Russia and North Korea to Sudan and Syria, yet shields from sanctions the world’s top state sponsors of terrorism — Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The White House recently went to the extent of shutting down an online petition calling for designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, after the petition had garnered 625,723 signatures. America is indirectly subsidizing a renegade Pakistan with the soaring profits from its booming arms sales to India.

Leverage holds the key to effective diplomacy. Yet India has shied away from leveraging its weapon purchases or its recent early ratification of the Paris climate change agreement (weighted in favour of the world’s top two polluters, the U.S. and China) to bring about change in the American stance of opposing any sanctions on Pakistan. If Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, India can be sure that the U.S. will continue to shield its terrorist protégé, Pakistan.

In these circumstances, the onus is on the victim, India, to act against and discipline terror-exporting Pakistan on its own. This means India must stay its course, rebuffing U.S. pressure. As the American academic C. Christine Fair has said in a recent essay in the journal National Interest, the U.S., by exerting diplomatic pressure on India after each terrorist carnage to exercise restraint, “rewards Pakistan in numerous ways,” including “from the consequences of its illegal behaviour” and by implying that “there is a legitimate dispute and that both sides are equally culpable for the enduring nature of this dispute”.

India needs to pursue a doctrine of graduated escalation, applying multipronged pressure on the adversary’s vulnerable points to inflict pain and punishment through economic, diplomatic, riparian and political instruments and its special forces. Consistent with this doctrine, India should start imposing costs on Pakistan in a calibrated and gradually escalating manner.

If Pakistan can wage an undeclared war by terror for over three decades, India, with its greater economic, military and diplomatic resources, is better positioned to spearhead a more-potent undeclared war by other means. India’s objective should be to assist a quasi-failed Pakistan in becoming a failed state that no longer has the capacity to threaten regional and international security. Realizing this objective calls for an unrelenting silent war, employing multiple tools of leverage and coercion to squeeze Pakistan on all fronts, even if it takes years to defang it.

However, if, in a year’s time or so, New Delhi returns to “peace” talks with Pakistan, it will be crystal clear that India’s biggest enemy is India.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi and Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

© Open, 2016.