An Indian government minister threatened Thursday to cut off Pakistan’s water supply, further escalating tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals following last week’s deadly attack in Kashmir.
Nitin Gadkari, India’s transport minister, tweeted: “Our Govt. has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan. We will divert water from Eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.”
Officials said Gadkari’s comments referred to decisions that had already been taken by the government to divert the rivers for major dam and irrigation projects. But the politicization of those plans marks a new escalation in the standoff.
Threats have been flying back and forth between the neighbors since the Feb. 14 attack in Pulwama, Kashmir — a region claimed by both India and Pakistan.
A suicide bomber drove a car bomb into a convoy, killing 42 paramilitary troops, the worst such attack in the history of the Muslim-majority region.
The bombing was claimed by the Pakistan-based group Jaish-e-Mohammed. India has accused Pakistan of having a hand in the attack, while Islamabad denies any involvement. On Thursday, Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan authorized the military to retaliate if India took action, insisting his country was “not involved in any way, means or form.”
Since the bombing, which has stirred up nationalistic tensions to fever pitch, India has been looking for a way to retaliate without creating a dangerous military confrontation.
The threat to divert water is a non-military option that could have a dramatic impact on the lives of millions who rely on river water in arid Pakistan. It also echoes an earlier threat by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi following a militant attack on an army base in Kashmir in 2016.
After that incident, India sped up its development of plans to dam the rivers, whose use is regulated under a decades-old agreement.
But Pakistan’s Minister of Water Resources Khawaja Shumail said Friday that his government had “neither concern nor objection” if India diverted the water, as it was entitled to do so under the agreement.
Anger in India over Pulwama has led to attacks on Kashmiris living in other parts of the country, prompting hundreds to return to the state, according to reports.
In one standoff in the northern city of Dehradun, 20 female students from Kashmir were forced to lock themselves in their hostel after an angry mob formed outside demanding they be evicted. In the wake of the incidents, India's Supreme Court ordered the government Friday to take action to protect Kashmiris.
India has also moved to impose trade restrictions on Pakistan and isolate its neighbour on the international stage. Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, claiming Pakistan had “a direct hand” in the attack, has vowed to achieve “the complete isolation of Pakistan from the international community.”
Cover Image: Dadar Trade Union Association & Shop owners hold placards as they take part in a protest rally against to condemn Terror Attack of Pulwama, on February 20, 2019 in Mumbai, India. (Bhushan Koyande/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)