Noreen Haider: The rivers more than any other physical feature demonstrate how nature knows no boundaries. The rivers are the lifeline of civilizations, custodians of cultures, song, music, dance, food, dress and poetry. Rivers are like the eternal guardians of cities, of cultivation and growth, of sustenance and hope, of joys and sorrow, of ebb and flow. The rivers know no boundaries. They are the symbols of progress and travel, the quest for knowledge and they represent the ever present natural channels of man’s eternal voyage.
It is indeed a reality that sixty four years ago India and Pakistan appeared as two independent countries on the map of the world and people on both side of the border accepted the existence of the two sovereign countries, but then, this is not the only reality. Another reality is that before the appearance of the border lines on the maps, from times immemorial, this land has been here on planet earth with its mountains and rivers, flora and fauna, men and beasts. No matter what the geo-political and geographical divides may be there is no way possible to separate the land and its natural resources entirely.
India and Pakistan may be two separate countries, but, they are joined together at the border line stretching across thousands of miles. In fact there is no physical divide between the two countries like mountains, or sea, or even rivers. Rather the rivers are the constant and continuous connection between the two neighbors, which are more like Siamese twins.
For centuries man has travelled on and along rivers to seek new possibilities and new lands. They rivers symbolize life itself and travelling along a river has always meant a journey from hope to hope, from people to people however far apart along the way.
In the context of India and Pakistan not even a single river creates a dividing line, rather all the rivers that flow from East Punjab to West Punjab and the rivers coming from North plunging into Indus, eventually come together and blissfully lose their identities as one as they continue their final journey and fall into the Arabian Sea.
This rhythm of life had been the heartbeat of the region called Punjab. The rivers are loved and worshiped by the people for centuries and their waters treated as sacred for they sustain the land and everything on it. These sacred rivers were cherished by the people of this land for centuries, because, they realized their importance.
Poetries were written and songs were sung praising these beautiful rivers. Hundreds of stories and romantic folklore associated with the rivers forms a major part of the literature of all the languages spoken along these rivers. But then after the partition what really happened that alienates the people from their rivers? Why they are not revered anymore? Why have they become the target of petty politics? Have they become less important?
India and Pakistan have been constantly fighting over rivers and although after the Indus Water Treaty a formula was reached regarding sharing of rivers but the bickering has not stopped to date. There is a constant tug of war between the two countries on sharing the water? There are many political and strategic reasons given for this and although there have been Water Commissions set up and constant high level delegations exchanged for deliberations but both parties seem unsatisfied over the division of river waters.
The arguments are really old, so, there is no point repeating them but the bottom line is the same. Each country wants to have the maximum benefit from the rivers for its own interest, its own people and its own geo-political strategic reasons. But, it seems that no one has as yet thought of the ‘Right of Rivers’ in all this tug of war. It is the basic right of the river to run and live as the important symbol of life and civilization. No government can be given the right to kill a river for any reason, no matter how strategically important they make them. The rivers were here much before the people, the countries, governments and politics, and they have the oldest claim to the land and the right of way to flow on its natural course and complete the cycle of life.
The global climate change are effecting regions in ever evolving patterns and people across a region have to be better prepared than ever to cope with the new dimensions of the climate changes in order to have better control over its implication like unusual natural hazards that may occur. The case in point is the torrential flooding that has now been experienced in China, Pakistan, and India. In fact the phenomenon of climate change is still being observed and its direct relation to many of the abnormal weather patterns and hazards is still not fully established, however, this makes it even more important, to be prepared for it. The climatic changes and its eventualities have to be understood and a scientific cooperation in terms of data sharing, technology sharing, planning and preparation is needed between regional countries in order to prevent and mitigate disasters.
It has to be understood that no matter how deep the political differences may be on certain issues there must be an agreement to compromise, and cooperate on issues of regional importance such as disaster mitigation, sharing of river waters and risk reduction between India and Pakistan.
The rivers know no boundaries, and they cannot and should never be detained due to political reasons. Perhaps compromises were made when the Indus Basin Treaty was signed, but, that was then. I believe the Indian stood up for Indian interests and Pakistanis stood up for Pakistan, but I wonder if there was anyone standing up for the rivers!
I believe now it’s time to stand up for the rivers, and I speak for the rivers, and I speak for my river, Ravi particularly. Due to the division of waters Ravi has now stopped flowing and turned into a sewer. The once vibrant river is almost dead. I ask India and the people of India-as they have always held the rivers sacred and revered them -to have a more benevolent stance on Ravi, no matter what the treaty says and let it flow again and flourish again. Rivers are our shared resources and our joint heritage. No matter if they are the massive rivers like Ganges and Indus or smaller rivers like Ravi and Sutlej.
Let’s not let the rivers be a target of our differences and disagreements. The only hope for future lies in cooperation and commitment for peace. The lines on the map are important but there are lines represented by rivers which are far more important. The life lines of planet Earth itself, our rivers.
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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