ISLAMABAD has asked the World Bank to honour the Indus Water Treaty executed between India and Pakistan in 1960. This is in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark that India is free to use the water which flows into the sea. This is not correct because according to the treaty India cannot use more than 20 percent of the Indus water. The World Bank spent many years to persuade New Delhi and Islamabad to reach an agreement. I recall that afterwards Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Mohammad Ayub travelled in the same car. Mian Iftikharuddin suggested if they could sign an agreement on Kashmir in the same spirit, both remained silent. Iftikharuddin was then the top Muslim League leader who had joined it after being a Congressman for many years.
According to the treaty, India could draw water from the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej while Pakistan from the Indus, the Chenab and Jehlum. Even though both counties felt that they could utilize the water which was flowing through their country, they refrained from doing so because of the treaty. In fact, the Indus Water Treaty is an example before the world that it held the ground even when the two countries went to war. Modi’s off-the-cuff remark has created consternation in Pakistan, forcing it to appeal to the World Bank to “fulfill its obligation” relating to the treaty. In a letter to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Pakistan Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has said the treaty did not provide for a situation wherein a party can ‘pause’ performance of its obligations and this attitude of the World Bank would prejudice Pakistan’s interests and rights under the treaty.
I think that the fear of Pakistan is exaggerated. The country does not want any alteration in the treaty. In its reaction, the World Bank has said that it has paused its arbitration in the water dispute between India and Pakistan, saying it is doing so to protect the Indus Water Treaty. India would take no unilateral step to stop the water going unused into the Arabian Sea. However, there is a case where the two countries should sit and hammer out another treaty because the old one is outdated. Then it was thought that the water given to Rajasthan would be utilized by the rest of the country because the state, part of the desert would not be able to do so. But this has turned out to be wrong. The state has utilized the water allotted to it and wants more.
When Prime Minister Modi wants to have good relations with Pakistan and has wished his counterpart Nawaz Sharif on this birthday last week, Modi would not take any step which would harm Pakistan. There were enough of provocations from Islamabad like the attacks on Pathankot and Uri that killed many civilians to act unilaterally. Even otherwise, it is in the interest of both countries that peace should prevail in the region. Both would benefit. Kashmir is the problem which divides the two countries. Representatives of both countries should sit across table sort it out. Nawaz Sharif unnecessarily harangued Kashmir on Pakistan television networks that Kashmir belonged to Pakistan and there would be no peace in region until it became part of his country.
This irresponsible statement, coming as it does from a country’s Prime Minister, has affected the tourist season in the valley still further. So much so that even Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat leader, joined a procession to appeal to the tourists to return to the valley. Both he and Yasin Malik, who wants the valley to be independent, were part of the procession. They were particular that the message should reach New Delhi so that it takes steps to see that tourists return to Kashmir.
The separatists in the valley do not realize that the tourists flocked to the valley as if they were visiting part of India. The demand of independence or threat of disturbance has scared them. They have picked up some other hill resorts in India which may not be as beautiful as valley but compares favourably with it. They would wait and see whether peace had really returned before drawing up their itinerary for next year.
It is in the interest of Kashmiris not to disturb the status quo until they can have something better. This is possible if the three parties, India, Pakistan and the people in Kashmir, come together for a dialogue. New Delhi is not prepared for that because Islamabad has gone back on its promise not to allow its territory to be used by terrorists. This was also agreed upon when Pakistan was under General Musharraf’s rule. He went to Agra and almost signed an agreement with Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee, until news had leaked, that India’s then Information Minister Sushma Swaraj changed the draft agreement omitting Kashmir from the text. Since then the two countries have stayed distant. Mushraff’s misadventure at Kargil only aggravated the matter further.
It must be said to the credit of Vajpayee that he took a bus to Lahore. I was sitting behind him when he showed me New Delhi’s telegram which said that several Hindus had been killed near Jammu. He said he did not know how the country would react about his trip to Lahore but he was determined to pick up the thread with Nawaz Sharif. The rest is history. The Indus Water Treaty can be replaced with another treaty but the consent of Pakistan is necessary. When it has not been willing to allow getting electricity from the run of the river it is difficult to imagine that it would agree to the use of rivers in the Indus system even though water from them is pouring into the Arabian Sea without being used for either irrigation or hydroelectric projects.
There is a tendency in Pakistan to link everything with Kashmir, which is a complicated problem and it would take many years to solve. The revision of Indus Water Treaty, which can satisfy both the countries, would add to the peace prospects. Let the treaty be discussed separately. The rest can follow. The only point to be taken into account is how the two countries can come closer to each other.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.