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India Revs Up Hydropower Plans on Pakistan Rivers

The Indus river in Pakistan's northern mountains.
The Indus river in Pakistan's northern mountains.

In a move seen as likely to aggravate already tense relations between the two neighboring countries, India plans to accelerate its building of new hydropower plants along three rivers that flow into Pakistan.

Disagreements over how to share the waters of rivers such as the Indus have plagued relations between the nuclear-armed archrivals since their independence in 1947.

On September 26, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told officials that India should use more resources from the Indus River. His comments came a week after the Sept. 18 attack on an army base in the disputed region of Kashmir, which New Delhi has blamed on Pakistan.

India promised a response to the raid, which saw at least 18 of its soldiers killed, but some officials have called for a diplomatic offensive over any military option.

On September 24, Modi said India would mount a global campaign to isolate Pakistan, including through the United Nations, where Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke on September 26.

India accuses its neighbor of supporting militant groups that operate in the Himalayan state of Jammu as well as Kashmir. Several of the rivers shared by the two countries flow through these areas.

Pakistan has denied the allegations, maintaining that India has no evidence to back its claims. Pakistan's foreign office did not respond to a request for comment about Modi's hydropower plans.

At the September 26 meeting, Modi and other officials talked about how to further take advantage of the Chenab, Jhelum, and Indus rivers without violating a longstanding water treaty with Pakistan.

"We want to see that all these (hydropower) projects are put on a really fast-track basis," a source told Reuters, speaking on the condition he was not named because of the sensitivity of the meeting.

"Our entire approach was done to create an atmosphere of goodwill. But in this atmosphere, we want to exploit all our rights under the (Indus Water) treaty," the source said.

India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty in 1960, but Pakistan has been annoyed by India's ambitious irrigation plans and construction of thousands of upstream dams. Pakistan relies on snow-fed Himalayan rivers for everything from drinking water to agriculture.

India says its use of upstream water is strictly in line with the 1960 agreement.

Observers have long feared the potential for a military conflict between the countries over water. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over the disputed region of Kashmir.

India currently generates about 3,000 megawatts of energy from hydropower plants along rivers in its portion of Kashmir, but believes the region has the potential to produce 18,000 megawatts, the source said.

Reporting by Tommy Wilkes for Reuters