Hafiz Saeed, widely considered one of South Asia’s most dangerous militants, has no doubt who is to blame for devastating floods that have submerged swathes of Pakistani countryside and claimed hundreds of lives.
“India irrigates its deserts and dumps extra water on Pakistan without any warning,” the bearded Saeed said, as he surveyed a vast expanse of muddy water from a rescue boat just outside the central city of Multan.
“If we don’t stop India now, Pakistan will continue to face this danger.”
His comments will surprise few in India, where Saeed is suspected of helping mastermind the 2008 Mumbai massacre which killed 166 people, a few of them Americans. Saeed, who also has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, denies involvement.
But his presence in the flood-hit area is part of a push by Pakistani Islamists, militants and organisations linked to them to fill the vacuum left by struggling local authorities and turn people against a neighbour long viewed with deep mistrust.
Water is an emotive issue in Pakistan, whose rapidly rising population depends on snow-fed Himalayan rivers for everything from drinking water to agriculture.
Many Pakistanis believe that rival India uses its upstream dams to manipulate how much water flows down to Pakistani wheat and cotton fields, with some describing it as a “water bomb” designed to weaken its neighbour.
There is no evidence to prove that, and India has long dismissed such accusations as nonsense. Experts say this month’s floods, which also hit Kashmir region, were caused by the sheer volume of rainfall.
In fact, some Pakistanis accuse their own government of failing to invest in dams and other infrastructure needed to regulate water levels through wet and dry seasons.
But others agree with the narrative pushed by Saeed and Syed Salahuddin, head of the militant anti-Indian Hizbul Mujahideen group and also one of India’s most wanted men.
“India wants to turn Pakistan into an arid desert,” Salahuddin told Reuters in a telephone interview, describing another scenario feared by some Pakistanis – that India will cut off supplies of water in times of shortage.
Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistan ambassador to the United States and now a director at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., said that water issues are being exploited to keep relations between the two countries tense.
“The Pakistani militants’ claims about floods in Pakistan being the result of India releasing torrents of water are downright absurd,” he said.
“It is part of propaganda rooted in the belief that Pakistanis must be made to see India as their permanent enemy. Blaming India also covers up for Pakistan’s own failure in water management.” – he said.
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