Pakistan should respond to India’s latest moves on the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) in a responsible manner aimed at achieving its core concerns over the shared water resources of the Indus Basin, its sole source of fresh water. In this regard, an analysis of the decisions taken by a high-level meeting convened by Prime Minister Modi on September 26 is called for. In the absence of an official statement, we have to rely on the summary of the outcome of the meeting carried by The Hindu on September 27.
Happily, India has decided to neither seek a review of, nor abrogate, the IWT amid speculations in the Indian media on the likely renunciation of the agreement that has survived three wars and recurring tension between India and Pakistan since it was signed in 1960.
India’s decision to utilise “to the fullest possible extent” its share of waters under the Treaty is unexceptionable but innocuous. The IWT gives India the three eastern rivers for unrestricted use and permitted it to use the flows in the three western rivers (the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum) for limited irrigation, domestic consumption and run-of- the-river (ROR) projects for electricity generation, irrigation and domestic consumption. Pakistan has never questioned India’s entitlements and need not do so now. However, a decrease in the water flows of the western rivers has occurred perhaps due to long periods of drought in the catchment areas of the rivers and the effects of climate change. In order to prevent the declining flows from causing tension in their relations, India and Pakistan should jointly probe the quantum of reduction in the flows and the factors responsible for it. India should also share the findings of its hydrometric and telemetric systems for monitoring the flows in the western rivers with Pakistan as a confidence-building measure.
The New Delhi meeting is reported to have decided to “suspend the Indus Waters Commission until the ending of (Pakistan-supported) terror)”. The suspension of the Commission is likely to adversely affect India more than Pakistan. The Commission is the conduit of communication on all aspects of the implementation of the IWT, including settlement of objections raised by Pakistan to the Indian hydro-electric projects on the western rivers. In fact, the time and energies of the Commission have been expended largely on the Indian hydro projects. Pakistan has reportedly objected to five Indian hydro power projects, in addition to the three decades old dispute over the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project which must be settled before India can start or resume work on them .The disabling of the Commission will prolong the delays in the completion of the Indian projects.
Another decision referred to “a review of the 1987 suspension of the Tulbul Navigation Project at the mouth of the Wullar like where the Jhelum originates. Pakistan had opposed the project contending that the proposed barrage violated the IWT, rejecting India’s claims that it was a navigation project meant to facilitate transportation linking several Kashmiri towns. Discussions at several high-level meetings have failed to resolve the differences and the dispute is included in the agenda of the bilateral composite dialogue. We do not know what the proposed review holds for this project but India should refrain from resumption of work on the project.
Another decision taken at the Delhi meeting mentions the intention “to build more run-of- the-river projects on the western rivers to exploit their full potential”. This is a curious move since India has tried to exploit the full potential of the flows of the western rivers for producing electricity, the only impediments being lack of money and Pakistan’s objections to projects it considers impermissible under the IWT. The decisions taken by Prime Minister Modi also include the resolve to “expedite” construction of the Pakal Dul, Sawalkot and Bursar dams on the Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has reportedly objected to one of these projects, namely the Pak Dul project and India should not start work on it pending a settlement of Pakistan’s reservations.
Yet another decision taken by India mentions the “full use of the 20% of the water allowed to it by the IWT in order to benefit farmers in Jammu and Kashmir”. The so-called 20% of the Indus Basin’s water given to India probably refers to the flows of the three eastern rivers, totalling 33 MAF representing one-fifth of the Basin’s waters. India has fully exploited its share.
In short, the decisions taken by India on September 26, especially its renewed adherence to the IWT are inconsequential and do not justify the angry outbursts of our Senators against the Treaty. Pakistan should respond to the Indian moves by not only reiterating support for the full implementation, in letter and in spirit, of the Treaty but also express readiness to discuss measures to ensure more expeditious processing of Indian hydro projects. We should also propose a comprehensive dialogue on all aspects of the looming water crisis facing the Indus Basin, including climate-change impacts. The proposed dialogue should consider issues related to the Indus Basin which were not anticipated or fully understood when the IWT was negotiated — nearly half a century ago. These issues have been jointly identified by Indo-Pak Track 2 dialogue in recent years, including joint studies on the adverse impacts of climate change and cooperation in mitigating them; protection of the watershed of the rivers; preserving the sustainability of transboundary aquifers being over-exploited on both sides of the Indo-Pak divide; agreeing a procedure for dealing with any notable decrease in the water flows so as to preclude any misunderstanding ; the desirability of ensuring environmental flows in the eastern rivers; and, above all, broader cooperation in promoting integrated water resource management. Let the Indus, which had nourished the shared and glorious Indus Valley Civilisation, serve to foster peace and amity in our subcontinent.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2016.