S Qamar Afzal Rizvi
Pakistan accuses New Delhi of not abiding by the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) and mischievously exacerbating the country’s dire water shortages, choking its agricultural production and ruining livelihoods. Justifiably, Pakistan is in dire need to revisit the fifty six years old IWT in order to make new provisions in the treaty so that Pakistan may get more water for its rivers. “Fidelity to law is the essence of peace” opined Prof. Eugene Rostow, a former Dean of Yale University Law School. India’s Indus Water Commissioner G. Arangana than says that after India fills its reservoirs in the initial stages of each project, it only uses the water it needs to run its turbines and doesn’t prevent any from flowing into Pakistan. “There is absolutely no question of interrupting or reducing Pakistan’s water supply,” he tells TIME.
But this argument is not sufficient enough to satisfy the augmented doubts raised by Pakistan regarding Indian policy of hydro-politics via Kashmir waters. “Dams are a source of significant bilateral tensions” between India and Pakistan. (The Economist, 2012).The Indus River provides water to over 80% of Pakistan’s 54 million acres of irrigated land, and farming activities provide 21% of the country’s GDP. Given organic relation between hydro-economics and hydro-politics, Pakistan’s concern regarding India’s exploitation of the Indus water is highly warranted. The core of the problem is rooted in trans-boundary water whose sensitivity can be judged by the fact that an upstream country as such being the case of India can reduce/stop/pollute the flow of water to the downstream country (Pakistan).It has been an Indian policy to make Pakistan a strategic backwater.
In 2008, after completion of the Baglihar project and subsequent reduction of the water flow in Pakistan, the project has had drawn serious concerns and gained critical attention in Pakistan’s political circles. With regard to Wullar Barrage, it has also incurred political and strategic voices from Pakistan, as it fears that with the construction of the Wullar Barrage in Indian held Kashmir (IHK), India could close the gate of Wullar Barrage during a warlike situation, enhancing the ability of Indian troops to enter Pakistan. In June 2010,both India and Pakistan bilaterally resolved the Baglihar dam dispute.
John Briscoe, a subcontinental water expert, former World Bank senior water expert and currently a professor at Harvard University, recognised Pakistan’s unhappy position in the following words: “This is a very uneven playing field. The regional hegemon is the upper riparian and has all the cards in its hands. “Needless to say, India has the strategically advantageous position with regards to control and flow of water. Pakistan, as lower riparian has apprehensions over the projects such as Salal, Baglihar, Kishanganga, Wullar Barrage, Uri Nimo-bazgo, Chutak Hydroelectric Project, Dumkhar Hydroelectric Dam etc. and it considers them as the existential threat to its inhabitants, as stored water can flush out the land and property. Secondly, Pakistan also fears that these projects will reduce the water flow in critical times, especially during the sowing seasons.
In February 2013, The Hague based Court of Permanent Arbitration (PCA) decision favoured Pakistan on three out of four points, namely the restriction on India to maintain the minimum flow of the Kishanganga/Neelum River, environmental protection and the diversion of water. Notwithstanding the fact that India raised the question of sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir, arguing Pakistan had no right to invoke the treaty to justify any adverse impact on the Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric Plant as the project was not situated in the country. In response, Pakistan had principally argued that the treaty was meant to circumvent territorial dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. However, the court established that the Indus Waters Treaty does not allow the reduction of water below the dead storage level “except in the case of an unforeseen emergency”.
Pakistan has currently decided to consult the PCA against India for alleged breaches of IWT(1960) by erecting Kishanganga and Ratle Hydropower Projects with objectionable designs. Throughout the history of the dispute, India has rarely, if ever, acknowledged that it has tampered with the supply of water flowing into Pakistan. The nexus of foreign policy and international water law, if fully explored, takes it to the Kashmir dispute, where the ultimate control of the western rivers lies. In certain cases, India is happy to conflate the Kashmir and water issues, whereas in negotiations with Pakistan it prefers to deal with them as distinct and separate.
The inescapable truth is: the Kashmir dispute and the water disputes are interwoven. Nonetheless, the IWT has certain flaws. They include its failure to address climatic variance, environmental considerations (as has been recently pointed out by the International Court of Justice) and insistence on water apportionment instead of coordinate management of natural resources as precious as watercourses of the two countries. Nevertheless, to address the issue of mistrust between India and Pakistan, there appears an inevitable need to establish an independent office of Indus Water Commission (IWC) consisting thereof a team of neutral experts— outside of South Asian region, having a proverbial record of integrity— from various international agencies such as the World Bank, the UNEP and the EU, etc.
This independent commission of experts must work directly under the UN to monitor and promote sustainable development in Kashmir. The United Nations International Water Convention (UNIWC)(1997) Article V (1) defines: ‘’Watercourse States shall in their respective territories utilize an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner. In particular, an international watercourse shall be used and developed by watercourse States with a view to attaining optimal land sustainable utilization thereof and benefits there from, taking into account the interests of the watercourse States concerned…..”
Since water plays an important role in today’s global affairs, both India and Pakistan must take this issue on the priority basis vis-à-vis the search for a viable conflict resolution on Kashmir. India-driven hydro-politics not only derails agrarian economics of Pakistan but also creates a huge energy crisis in the country. And yet it seems not a sui generis fact that as long as India holds an unjust control of Kashmir, the future of IWT remains foggy and controversial.
— The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher based in Karachi.