Before certain rivers enter Pakistan, they pass through territory administered by India, making Pakistan understandably nervous about any Indian construction on these waters. With the exception of one project (which I will talk about in a later post), none of the projects being proposed by India (or constructed to date) involve consumptive use of the waters; instead they are all run-of-the-river plants in which the water continues straight through the project. Pakistan's primary objection to these plants has not been to their existence but to their design, because the design affords India considerable control over Pakistan's water supply. This was the fundamental dispute with Baglihar, a massive Indian dam erected on the Chenab River before it enters Pakistani territory.
The officially stated purpose of the project, which cost an estimated $1 billion, is hydroelectric power generation (it is also known as the "Baglihar Hydroelectric Power Project"). The design of the project includes gated control of the spillways through which the water flows. Control of spillways, quite simply, allows for control of the flow of water. Pakistan believes that such a design allows India excessive ability to accelerate, decelerate or block the flow of the river's water, giving India considerable strategic leverage in times of tension or war. Moreover, with the ability to control the flow of one of Pakistan's most important sources of water, India essentially has the ability to dry up (literally) Pakistan's largely agrarian economy, which relies heavily on irrigation.
Baglihar Dam: water flowing through a spillway, the gates of which can be controlled
Raymond Lafitte, a Swiss national, was accepted by both India and Pakistan as a World Bank neutral expert that would investigate the claims and make a decision on the dam's fate. Pakistan, confident that the gated control of the spillways would convince Lafitte that the dam's design would give India too much control of the water flowing through it, was appalled when only minor changes to the design were recommended by Lafitte and the gated control of the spillways was allowed. Pakistan has maintained - and still maintains - that the design should be strictly run-of-the-river, giving India no control of the flow of water. Unfortunately, the neutral expert's decision has not been seen as exactly neutral and has been regarded by many experts on the Pakistani side as a gross abuse of his powers.
With Indian ministers making outrageous claims like scrapping the Indus Waters Treaty - the longest agreement that has been faithfully implemented and upheld by both India (till now) and Pakistan - altogether, Pakistan needs the support of the international community to avoid an injustice of historic proportions, which already seems to be unfolding.