Indus Waters Treaty: Favouring the Favourite

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Jamil Chughtai

OLD folk tales and fables had one very common moral
lesson for their respective communities that ‘those who
slumber at the most critical of the times, end up losing best of their assets to those who kept themselves awake’. While the entire Pakistan was fully engrossed in playing musical chair of its national politics, World Bank (WB) thought it the most opportune time to dole out a quick yet lasting favour to India by allowing her construction of controversial dams on rivers that fall in Pakistan’s share under Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). In cahoots with the WB, India this time ensured that her longstanding desire to convert Pakistan into a desert should have legal validity by an international arbitration entity.
The problem for Pakistan is that the springheads of almost all the rivers that flow into Pakistan fall in the Indian Territory, including country’s lifeline river Sindh. This geographical handicap has made Pakistan dependent on India unnecessarily, and India by virtue of her traditional ill will towards Pakistan continued to hurl threats of stopping or diverting its share of rivers’ water at will.
This awkward reliance on India as well as her aggressive posture compelled Pakistan to seriously feel the need of putting in place some sort of mandatory binding on India not to usurp – or for that matter – divert, the water rights of Pakistan being a lower riparian in the river lines.
Accordingly World Bank’s sponsored IWT was signed between India and Pakistan in September 1960, categorically documenting the distribution of water of six rivers (Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Indus, Chenab, Jhelum) flowing down from India into Pakistan’s territory. As per agreement, India was given complete autonomy over the use of water resources of eastern rivers Sutlej, Beas and Ravi while Pakistan was authorized to make full utilization of water resources of western rivers Indus, Chenab and Jhelum.
Despite two wars between Pakistan and India and many escalations during this period, the treaty some how remained intact despite Indian desire to shelve the agreement for good. As expected under PM Modi, India slipped back to its hegemonic disposition and contrary to the provisions of the treaty, it has initiated construction of Kishanganga and Baglihar dams on River Jhelum and Ratle dam on river Chenab for power generation.
Naturally, to prevent India from carrying out its evil designs of ‘water terrorism’, World Bank being the guarantor of the treaty, was approached by Pakistan in last September to appoint Chairman of International Court of Arbitration for resolution of Pakistan’s concerns. For ease of manipulation, India kept convincing the international body for resolution of the matter by ‘technical and professional experts’ from both sides.
Owing to successful diplomatic maneuvers and lobbying by India, the World Bank rather obligingly declared in February this year that Pakistan and India should bilaterally resolve the issue. What Pakistan’s Foreign Office badly needed in the aftermath of this declaration was the realization of the fact that without bearing a sturdy and tough posture on the issue at international forums and fighting a diplomatic war for our legitimate rights on share of river waters, the issue was not going to resolve.
Instead our government, in the most precious meantime, remained fully engaged with essential business of self-survival. With the World Bank allowing India to move ahead with two hydroelectric power facilities on Jhelum and Chenab rivers by constructing Kishanganga (330 megawatts) and Ratle (850 megawatts) dams, the reservations raised by Pakistan stand brazenly neglected.
A clear legal interpretation bars construction of any IWT-pertaining project without its prior dispute resolution, however, for the WB there was nothing that contravened the treaty or the two countries disagreed over including the technical design features of the two hydroelectric plants.
What WB has badly failed to improve upon is its traditional stance for India vis-à-vis Pakistan that whenever India has raised objections to any project in disputed territory their version has always been supported by the Bank, but on the other hand in case of similar reservations of Pakistan over Indian projects, WB always considers them to have no effect on Pakistan. Quite contrarily such projects do affect Pakistan being a lower riparian.
Picking strings from the views of some renowned analysts in Pakistan, it can be opined that in case of our water share under IWT we should have taken a firm stance and exerted pressure on WB to remain within its mandate while resolving the issue. Based on precedents, a strong case could have been taken up against the world lending body highlighting the fact that it never allowed Pakistan funding for any such project over India’s objections, while despite Pakistan’s fact-based reservations, India is given free-hand to do whatever she likes on the rivers that are accepted share of Pakistan.
For that however, we also failed to strategize our course of action because neither did we learn from our past failings on the issue, nor did we lobby our point effectively at the international forums. On the other hand Indian strategy was to halt the process at the Indus Water Commission’s level thereby buying time required to develop the projects, which could only be countered by Pakistan has it been proactive in moving to the next level so that India was denied time for their construction.
As a matter of fact, the more we are going to show restraint at this moment, the worse will become our state of water crisis every passing day, besides turning India more audacious and aggressive. We can even learn from our very archrival that how it (India) turned crazy as a lower riparian when China built a dam in Tibet on the river Brahamputra whereas there existed no such water-sharing treaty between the two countries.
Water holds such great importance for any nation. Pakistan needs to seriously focus on enhancing the capacity of our Indus Water Commission, and for that it should be reinforced with legal and technical experts who are better able to explore and take up other aspects of the Indian water projects, such as violation of human rights and environmental impacts. We can only stop our adversary’s free forward march by doing our homework on the subject proficiently and much in advance before the two parties meet again for discussions on the issue in September.