Dr Muhammad Khan
FINALLY, Indian Prime Minister, Narindra Modi inaugurated the 330 MW hydroelectric power plant on Kishanganga (Neelum river) on May 19, 2018. This project which initially started in 2007 is considered to be one of the ‘fast-tracked’ projects, India completed in a period less than ten years, against all odds. At this occasion, Mr Modi said to a gathering that, “This region cannot only become self-sufficient in power but also produce for other regions of the country. Keeping that in mind we have been working on various projects here for the past four years.” India has already constructed many other dams on the three western rives, which were totally dedicated for Pakistan, as per the Indus Water Treaty-1960. Pakistan is seriously over the development and has requested the World Bank to intervene and resolve the issues as per IWT-1960. “Pakistan believes that the inauguration of the project without the resolution of the dispute is tantamount to violation of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT).”
The much awaited two days talks were held between World Bank and four-member Pakistani delegation, led by Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali on May 22-23, 2018. Pakistani delegation met ‘Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank Chief Executive Officer, and the regional management for South Asia and shared with them the Pakistani concerns about the recent inauguration of the Kishanganga hydroelectric plant.’ These talks covered four key points of the Indian project; “the height of the dam built on the Kishanganga River, its capacity to hold water, Pakistan’s demand for setting up a court of arbitration to settle the dispute and India’s counter-demand for an international expert.” As per latest reports from Washington, there have been no consensus agreement between Pakistan and the World Bank during these negotiations. Indeed, the strong Indian lobby in US has played its decisive role towards sabotage of any consensus.
As per Washington-based lender, “An agreement on the way forward was not reached at the conclusion of the meetings” between Pakistani delegation and the officials of World Bank. On its part, the World Bank promised to continue “to work with both the countries to resolve the issues in an amicable manner and in line with the treaty provisions,” indeed a lollypop given to ill-prepared Pakistani delegation. Pakistani delegation however, ‘claimed that the World Bank has assured to bring resolution to the longstanding dispute.’ It is to be noted that, upon its construction Pakistan approached ‘The International Court of Arbitration (ICA)’ which announced its verdict over the controversial Kishinganga Hydroelectric Power Project on December 20, 2013. As per that decision of ICA, India was allowed 50% flow of water downstream in the Neelum River, after it completes the Kishinganga project; a storage and divergence of water of the Neelum River. The ICA has also ruled that, “India cannot take the water on a very low level in the dam.”
Pakistan has recently completed the construction of 969 MW, Neelum-Jehlum hydro-electric power project on the same river (Neelum, Known as Kishinganga in IOK). Pakistan objected to the Kishinganga project by India on the ground that, after its completion, there would be drastic reduction in the supply of downstream water in the Neelum River. Pakistani technical experts were also of the view that, “diversion of Kishanganga near Bandipurah area in Occupied Kashmir and installation of power house gates on lower level was violation of Indus Water Treaty and demanded that the project should be closed or its design must be changed. The Kishinganga project, has affected Pakistan in two main aspects. Firstly, there would be severe water shortages for the vast Kashmiri population residing all along the Neelum River, in the Neelum Valley. The locals of the area make use of this water for domestic purposes as well as for the agricultural purposes. Diverting this water has started depriving the locals from this most essential source of earning and usage, which may leads to an internal displacement, causing a humanitarian crises. As experienced in last six-decades, UN, WB and international community has not been sympathetic to address the Kashmiri’s grievances to include; their migrations, displacements and human rights violation by India.
Secondly, the Kishinganga project is seriously affecting the Pakistani Neelum-Jhelum Hydro Electric project, which has already been operationalized. Kishinganga Project would cause 33% decrease in the water for Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric power project. This would reduce 700 million units energy generation of the Neelum-Jhelum project. Indeed, the “The gross capacity of the reservoir is 18.80 million cubic meters or 14,900 acre feet with dead storage of 8,755 acre feet.” The final award of ICA “specifies that 9 cusecs of natural flow of water must be maintained in the Kishenganga River at all times to maintain the environment downstream. Indeed, this is much lower than the 100 cusecs of natural flow that Pakistan wanted to be maintained at all the time. Both India and Pakistan claimed their victories over this verdict in 2013, but in reality, Pakistan lost its case and today upon inauguration of Kishinganga hydro electric project Pakistani officials have rushed to WB in vain.
Unfortunately, the World Bank and other so-called neutral international mechanism have not work in the favour of Pakistan, not even the ICA or other experts like Prof Raymond Lafitte, a World Bank nominee in the case of Bagliar Dam. Resultantly, being the upper riparian, India does, what it desire. India never took Pakistani authorities into confidence while initiating such projects. In most of the cases, Pakistan learnt about the Indian dams, hydro-electric projects and water diversions on Western rivers only after these were half way or in their last stages of completion.
The Pakistani Indus Commissioner(s) have been slow in their assessments and initiations of timely reaction to Indian water manipulation of the Western rivers, where Pakistan maintains the exclusive rights. The Indus Commission of Pakistan has to be reinforced with a dedicated team of water and international law experts on the issue. Besides, there is a need of dedicated intelligence system for the monitoring of the water catchment areas in the IOK. Since India is planning to construct more dams on all three rivers of Pakistani share, the question arise, do the Ministry of Water and Power and Indus commission is ready to take timely actions against those or will they protest ICA and World Bank after India complete those?
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International Relations, is based in Islamabad.