Can the US help solve our water woes?

The Indus Water Treaty is now under stress, the treaty’s utility in resolving conflicts could have ramifications.


Syed Muhammad Ali March 12, 2011

Arecently released US Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, “Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, has caused quite a stir in our part of the world.

The longstanding Indus Water Treaty is now under increasing stress and a breakdown in the treaty’s utility in resolving water conflicts could indeed have serious ramifications for the broader regional stability. International experts have also begun questioning this treaty’s effectiveness, given its inflexibility to adjust to changes in water levels.

Proposals to expand irrigated land and the drive to meet energy demand through hydropower development are putting new strains on the sharing of water by India and Pakistan. Continued water mismanagement and increased inefficiencies in the existing irrigation systems are compounding the problem. As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, agrarian populations in both countries, which are dependent on monsoons and glacial melt for irrigation, will be profoundly affected. Any reduction in water flows will only serve to magnify the prevailing distrust.

Pakistan and India have already resorted to third party arbitration over the construction of the Baglihar Dam, and the same will be the case for the Kishanganga Dam. India, however, has an even more ambitious dam-building agenda, yet it claims to be strictly adhering to the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty. The US Senate report, however, admits that even if no single Indian dam along the waters controlled by the Indus Waters Treaty will affect Pakistan’s access to water, the cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season. India has, however, squarely rejected these findings. Instead, India continues to suspect Pakistan of exacerbating conflict within Kashmir, motivated largely by the need to secure control over its water resources.

In Pakistan, India is suspected of not only unfairly damming up the Indus but also convincing and helping Afghanistan to build a dam on the Kabul river and set up a hydroelectric project, which will have serious repercussions on Pakistani water flows. The US involvement in this process to encourage Afghanistan and Pakistan’s joint-management of the Kabul River Basin may help lessen existing suspicions.

Given these escalating pressures, the US Senate report has aptly recommended the need for basic technical input to all concerned countries to gather benchmark data, which in turn could help improve water management and reduce overall pressure on shared water resources. Whether the US will be able to nudge the concerned reluctant state actors to step up to the negotiating table so that more comprehensive agreements can be devised to share water, still remains to be seen.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2011.

COMMENTS (23)

An Indian | 11 years ago | Reply My Pakistani brothers and sisters - please tell us why we should trust your government to keep its promises? It doesn't keep its promises to its own citizens and lets them get killed by terrorists (Bhatti / Taseer / etc.) Your government has lied to India many times. India needs to have Pakistan show some confidence building measures first. Show us we can trust you. Then come and shake our hand and ask for our friendship.
SKChadha | 11 years ago | Reply Shed Muhammad Ali Sahib: “The US Senate report, however, admits that even if no single Indian dam along the waters controlled by the Indus Waters Treaty will affect Pakistan’s access to water, the cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season.” What stops Pakistan to build dams, pondage downstream for its need? If you do not store water for rainy day how India can be blamed for that? The problem with Pakistan is that during mansoon it wants India to stop spillage and in draught India should release the water which it has stored for its own requirements. What is your government’s responsibility towards its citizenry? Are they not require to build dams downstream? The problem with Pakistan is that its every new regime fails to ratify any international treaty/ arbitration made by its previous regimes. The new regimes fail to abide by international agreements entered by their predecessors. Even in one regime there are more than one establishments and its not clear with whom one should negotiate. This is a big problem faced by India, whether it is Indus Water Treaty, Tashkent Agreement, Shimla Agreement or undertaking of not to allow territory for terrorist acts. This is the precise reason that few leaders in India go upto quoting Pakistan as rogue state. Nobody in the world knows how to solve such problems with Pakistan? The decision on Baglihar Dam was pronounced by World Bank appointed neutral experts (to whom Pakistan also gave their node) on 12th July, 2007. The issue is still racked time and again for no reason.
VIEW MORE COMMENTS
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ

Most Read