Asymmetric Security Challenges

Jul 24th, 2011 | By | Category: Development and Climate Change, Experts Speak, Government Policies, India, M-20 CAMPAIGN, Opinion, River
Map of the Brahmaputra/Yarlung Tsangpo river.

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Syed Iqbal Hasnain : The predominance of bureaucracy and coalition politics in India since 1989 has stunted the growth of strategic thoughts in India. As a consequence, the country does not have a grand strategy or template for its security.

That is precisely the reason India is pursuing a highly reactive foreign policy Whenever it is confronted with an asymmetric regional security challenge in the form of terrorism, or trans-boundary river and climate change issues.

In recent years, on numerous occasions, we have seen the nation finding it unprepared to respond adequately to security challenges without a policy template. A case in point is the construction of a series of dams by China on River Brahmaputra or Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet. When asked for comments, often the stock answer by the Foreign Minister or the spokesperson is on predictive lines — that “we have asked detailed report from our mission”.

India being the largest democracy and aspiring to become a global power with more than $1 trillion GDP, has not invested much to build policy architecture of the country both on traditional and non-traditional security challenges. India does have a few quasi-government think tanks and universities working on security issues and they are doing pretty good job.

Standing Committees of Parliament on various Ministries do exist but they never prepare policy documents as done routinely by the United States Congress. US lawmakers (senators and congressman) are well prepared on policy issues through these reports.

In February 2011, the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations released a report on water wars in South Asia. It details the United States foreign policy on water and deals with south Asia’s critical challenges in glacier monitoring and changes in monsoon rains. The United States will support the development of basin-level water modeling and scenario analysis through technical exchanges and partnerships with Indian universities.

Interestingly, the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies (IDSA), a quasi-government Delhi based think tank, prepared a report in 2010 on the “Water Security of India: The External Dynamics” and chapter 3 of the report deals with water issues between India-China and describe succinctly Beijing’s intention on Brahmaputra River. I wish the so-called’ security “coterie” of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) should have gone through the IDSA report before responding to media.

China aims to build 59 reservoirs on the Tibetan Plateau to save glacier runoff. Construction is in full swing at Zangmu for a 540 MW run of the river power project and feasibility studies have been completed to construct five more similar projects further upstream on the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Tapping the power of the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) river as it bends and plunges from the Himalayan roof of the world down towards Indian and Bangladeshi flood plains has long been a dream of Chinese politicians and hydro-engineers. Metog will be the site of a mega project to divert water at the huge bend inside a canyon which is about 3.1 miles deep and 198 miles long.

This will involve the construction of a series of tunnels, pipes, reservoirs and turbines that will generate 40,000 MW of power and will exploit the spectacular 2,000 meter fall of the river as it curls down towards India.

The Brahmaputra has always been considered the very soul of the Indian state of Assam, as poets and ordinary people alike consider the river as a part of their folklore and culture. China, in her own interests, could withhold water for power generation and irrigation during the dry season and release water during the rainy season, with catastrophic consequences for the lower-riparian countries.

Further, this whole region would be starved of nutrient-rich sediments that enrich the soil, but which would be held up in the reservoir instead of reaching the downstream areas.

In India and Bangladesh, water resources are already overstretched by increasing demand from growing populations, new economic growth and intensifying levels of cultivation. The proposed dams on the Tsangpo will likely reduce Brahmaputra flows by 20 to 30 percent during “shoulder months.”

Currently, there is lack of political will in India to take up issues related to reservoir construction and the diversion of water. The reality is that China has already commenced the project by using a stimulus package fund of $580 billion for infrastructure development to create more jobs in its economic downturn. India’s muted protest will not change China’s intentions.


Author: This article has been written by Prof. Syed Iqbal Hasnain for Climate Himalaya Initiative’s Expert Speak Column. Prof. Hasnain is a Distinguished Fellow at Stimson Center in Washington, DC .

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.


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One Comment to “Asymmetric Security Challenges”

  1. Pabitra says:

    What beats me Prof. Hasnain, is what should be a stand for India of for that matter any country. Existing supra governmental bodies are weak. The current political structure of the world is of structured anarchy. In UN, India having 18% of world population and Bangladesh having 2.% of world population have the same voice and one vote each. By sovereignty, none have ascendency over other. When this is contrasted against the fiscal power of nations, do you see any hope?
    Ultimately everything is connected environmentally. Just wondering.

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