March 1997, pg. 25
India’s Major Gains and Losses in World Affairs
by M.M. Ali
Chinese President Jiang Zamin and Indian Prime Minister Dev Gowda have signed a long-overdue agreement for a mutual pullback of troops from the disputed Himalayan border where they have faced each other since 1962. Following the Chinese president’s visit to New Delhi, India also announced it was suspending a program to develop intermediate-range Agni missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads 1,500 miles to such Chinese cities as Shanghai and Beijing.
India had resisted American pressures in this regard and also had refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), despite the pressure of world opinion. Although the agreement signed in Delhi may not be a departure from Indian policy on nuclear proliferation, it certainly indicates India’s willingness to mend fences with its larger, nuclear-armed Chinese neighbor.
At the conclusion of Israeli President Ezer Weizmann’s recent visit to Delhi, India also signed agreements with Israel for “cooperation” in educational and scientific fields. This sends a totally different message to India’s many Islamic neighbors. In case any of them missed the point, a spokesman for the Indian Foreign Ministry added: “We are exploring areas in defense cooperation which are of interest to us.”
In the United Nations, however, India suffered a major setback when Japan won a seat sought by India in the Security Council. India received only 40 votes to Japan’s 142 votes. The lopsided result may have been related to unsuccessful Indian efforts earlier in the year to stop the Security Council from moving the CTBT to the General Assembly where it was passed by a huge majority. It is likely that the U.S. will push for a permanent seat for Japan in the Security Council.
India also suffered a setback closer to home. There Japan and other Asian countries stated that they will oppose India’s bid to join the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir, during his recent visit to Delhi, also indicated he would oppose India’s entry into the APEC group.
The Malaysian decision may result directly from the Indian flirtation with Israel, which is based on the belief that the road to favored treatment in Washington runs through Tel Aviv. This belief ignored the fact that after the election of Binyamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister, and his obvious efforts to torpedo the U.S.-backed Oslo agreements by provoking the Palestinians into renouncing them, Israel seemed for a time to be retreating into its pre-Shimon Peres status as a pariah nation, with no friendships at all except the cooling one with the United States.
India and the Farakka Dam
Defying international law and disregarding the rights of the lower riparian country, India built a dam in 1975 on the Ganges River just 11 miles from the border of Bangladesh. The dam diverted Ganges water into India’s Hugli River, causing tremendous hardship to Bangladesh. AsWashington Post staff writer Kenneth Cooper recently observed: “India’s Farraka dam added a man-made disaster to the natural ones that routinely beset Bangladesh.” But now India’s Prime Minister Dev Gowda and Bangladesh Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina finally have signed a 30-year treaty by which India agrees to release Ganges waters to Bangladesh during the dry season, when agricultural crops have to be cultivated.
Ever since India diverted the waters to its side of the border the Bangladesh side has been devastated. According to independent observers, the dam has put a serious strain on many aspects of Bangladeshi daily life, from rice paddies and paper mills to river ferries and water wells. One researcher estimates that the water diversion causes annual losses of more than $4 billion in “one of the world’s poorest countries.”
The Washington Post report noted that “some villagers have to dig wells as deep as 200 feet to obtain drinking water.” Silt has been the main problem throughout the entire Ganges River delta on both sides of the border. However, the arbitrary building of the Farraka dam has caused untold misery to thousands of people who depend on Ganges waters. Over the past 25 to 30 years, the dam also has ruined the region’s ecology. Experts estimate that it will take 50 to 60 years to repair environmental damage, and that will require great effort and extensive international assistance.
While the India-Bangladesh agreement is most welcome and can provide much-needed relief, the people of Bangladesh still are nervous because India will continue to control water flows, and previous Indian governments have displayed remarkable insensitivity to the concerns of their much smaller neighbors. In a Dec. 23, 1996 editorial, The Washington Post noted: “India’s international notices in recent months have centered on its obstinate refusal to accept the terms of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and its heavy-handed tactics in the Himalayan state of Kashmir.” The Post added, however, that India “deserves encouragement and applause when it tempers its nationalism.”