The World Bank’s advice to India and Pakistan to settlebilaterally their differences that have emerged on the issue of launching of two run of the river hydropower projects by New Delhi on Chenab River, one of the three Western rivers allocated to Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) out of the six that flow down from the Himalayas and our Eastern neighbor’s post haste acceptance of the advice readily give rise to two very pertinent questions. One, India had earlier conditioned any bilateral discussions on the issue on Pakistan publicly renouncing what it termed as cross border terrorism. Two, It was only after it had failed to get India to understand its point of view on the issue that Pakistan had gone to the World Bank (WB) seeking arbitration while India had preferred a ‘neutral expert’ to examine the dispute. And the two processes, by WB’s own admission had advanced to a point that it suspected would end throwing up contradictory results. In that case perhaps the two or any one of the two could have gone to International Court of Arbitration (ICA) seeking a final ruling. So, one is rather intrigued by the WB’s advice for going back to the bilateral negotiations. One would surely not like to believe that the WB has proffered this advice under India’s influence; New Delhi perhaps had come to the conclusion that the verdict of the ‘neutral expert’ would not be to its liking. But then what can one make of it when a resumption of bilateral talks on the issue would, in the opinion of experts, only be a repeat of the earlier talks and nothing more allowing New Delhi all the time it needs to complete the projects?
The treaty, signed in 1960, gives India control over the three eastern rivers of the Indus basin — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej— while Pakistan has the three western rivers— the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum. The IWT also sets up a mechanism, the Permanent Indus Commission, which includes a commissioner from each country. Pakistanis argue that the designs of the two Indian projects violate both legal and technical provisions of the treaty. However, it were the Pakistani negotiators at the time of signing of the IWT in 1960 who had agreed to India officially withdrawing up to 3.6 MAF of water for local use on the pretext that this shared water would also benefit their Muslim brethren in Kashmir without even bothering to specify the size of the so-called small storages. The chances of India scrapping the treaty altogether and/or diverting the western rivers are negligible to none. But one thing seems certain: India will continue to build additional storages on the Indus Rivers to store more water than its allowed quota of up to 3.6 MAF of water. This will also provide India the option of denying the right amount of water at the right times to our farmers adversely affecting cropping and per acre yields. Therefore, while we must keep trying to get the Treaty to protect our rights allowed in it, Islamabad should take some decisions on the urgent basis on the home front. First, it should accelerate work on Diamer Bhasha Dam. Next, lining of water canals and water courses should be undertaken on priority basis as Pakistan loses almost half of its existing available water through seepage in the irrigation system. This is also the prime cause of waterlogging and salinity which are turning large areas of fertile land barren. According to WAPDA’s published figures, average cereal production in Pakistan against a meter cube of water is mere 0.13 kg. In India, the same amount of water yields 0.39 kg., yield in China is estimated at 0.82 kg, in the US 1.56 kg and in Canada 8.2 kg. Clearly better management of water resources, efficient crop yields will cancel any adverse repercussions on our farm sector in case India tried to use the weapon of water.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2016.
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