The recurrent issue of the water dispute between Pakistan and India has been in talks since 1948 with little significant development. The Indus Water Treaty was signed in 1960 with the help of the World Bank as a signatory, and provided the two nations with a framework for irrigations and hydropower development. But disagreement on the construction of the Kishengana and Ratle hydroelectric power plants being built by India led to a failure to draw up a resolution that would benefit both the nations.
Islamabad fears these plants could severely deplete its water resources as they will be built on a tributary of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers, water flow from which has been allocated to Pakistan according to the treaty. If this happens it would result in a major setback for Pakistan as it is primarily a ‘water economy’ with 65 per cent of the population having agriculture as their only means of subsistence. With Pakistan already facing existential problems — an increasing water demand owing to the growing population, climate change and mismanagement of water for industrial and agricultural consumption — the construction of the projects would not only further strain its water resources but also lead to a food shortage.
Although the treaty has survived the test of time, last year, Indian premier Narendra Modi used the water conflict as a diplomatic weapon when tensions between the two nations were escalating. He issued a statement that said ‘water belonging to India cannot go to Pakistan’. However, it comes as welcome news that Pakistan and India displayed cooperation during recent talks hosted by the World Bank to resolve the pending issue with them agreeing to discuss it further in September. Over the years, neither the democratic nor the military leadership has been able to provide Pakistan with a formal water policy to resolve the increasing water shortage. Reconvening the dialogue on Indo-Pak water conflict could be a step in the right direction.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2017.