By Ashish Joshi
Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was signed between India and Pakistan to determine the share of water flowing through the six major rivers in the Indus Basin. According to the agreement, the control of the three eastern rivers, the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej, was given to India and the control of the three western rivers, the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum, was given to Pakistan. The treaty was a result of Pakistan’s fear that India, in times of war, could inflict artificial droughts or floods in Pakistan as the origins of all the rivers in the basin lie in India.
Before the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan, the Indus river system was the backbone of the agriculture-intensive economies of the states of Kashmir, Sindh and Punjab. After partition, most of Punjab and Sindh became a part of Pakistan but the source of their most important rivers remained in Tibet and parts of India Occupied Kashmir.
Before the signing of Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, the water of the river Indus was apportioned by the Inter-Dominion Accord of 1948. This accord required India to release sufficient waters to the Pakistani regions of the basin in return for annual payments from the government of Pakistan. This accord was never thought of as a long-term solution and negotiations began between the two countries immediately after its adoption. These negotiations soon reached a state of stalemate as none of the parties was willing to give up on an advantageous position. It was only after an interference from the World Bank that an agreement could finally be brokered. The treaty was finally signed on 19th of September 1960 by the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan.
Indus Waters Treaty is internationally regarded as one of the most successful and generous water-sharing agreements to this date. Successful because the treaty has even survived three wars fought between the two countries post-1960 and all the disputes on the matter to this date have been settled by only by legal actions well within the frameworks of the treaty. One of the most distinguishing features of the IWT is its Article 7 that says that Future Cooperation shall be carried out with joint discussions and negotiations to optimise the potential of the Indus River System jointly.
IWT is extremely generous as well because to this date there is no such treaty across the globe which compels an upper riparian state to adhere to the needs of a downstream state. Moreover, India has not only never deprived Pakistan of its legitimate share of water but until the late 1990s maintained a very generous consumption from the basin. India has never even shown an intention of having a forceful hand up until very late and that too only after the geopolitical menace that the Pakistan-borne terrorism has inflicted on the subcontinent.
Objections from India
However, there has always been a growing discontent in India on the terms of the agreement of this treaty. As per the terms, Pakistan is entitled to almost 80 percent consumption of water that flows in the basin and India only 20 percent. According to a study conducted by an Indian Supreme Court Advocate, more than 40 million acre-feet of water annually flows through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea without any consumption. Considering the fact that India’s most water-deprived states like Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujrat are neighbours to the basin, such statistics of severe under-utilisation from Pakistan do raise objections from Indian forefront. Even the few projects that India has undertaken on the basin and are well within the accords of IWT, like the Kishanganga and Ratle projects, have been subjected to a halt due to Pakistan’s petty objections.
The Indian State that has suffered the most due to this treaty is Jammu and Kashmir. In 2002, the state assembly passed a unanimous resolution demanding the abrogation of the pact, when Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was the Chief Minister. India’s rights in the basin are mostly non-consumptive. However, Jammu and Kashmir, on the other hand, needs to maximise the use of these rivers to give a much-needed boost to the state’s economy. Both the people and the government of the state have time and again raised this issue and expressed discontent on the subject.
Terrorism and fading mutual trust
In the 21st century world, terrorism has probably become one of the most important geopolitical concerns of world leaders and Pakistan has emerged as a breeder of terrorism. It is no secret that India and Pakistan have had a hostile history. Pakistan’s agenda of inflicting terrorism on its neighbours has not only tarnished its image globally but also brought the state on the verge of an international isolation except for its new-found friend China. In a statement post the Uri Attacks which were carried out by four terrorists of Pakistani origin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that “Blood and water cannot flow together.”
India is now making threats of reviewing the treaty. India unilaterally suspended the Indus Commission. Indus Commission is a body that has representation from both the countries and meets regularly to resolve any arising disputes with regards to IWT. A high-level inter-ministerial task force to review the existing provisions of the treaty and propose changes has been established instead.
Projects under construction
Looking to fast-track utilisation of India’s rights under the Indus Waters Treaty, the Central Water Commission (CWC) has finalised a detailed report on Ujh multi-purpose project. The government made it clear that the proposal aims to harness water that was flowing untapped across the border. The project report has been submitted to the J&K government for evaluation so that construction may begin at an early date.
The project, which is to come up in Kathua district, will store around 0.65 million acre-feet (MAF) of water from Ujh (a tributary of Ravi) to irrigate 30,000 hectares and produce over 200 MW of power. Although the project strictly remains within the boundaries set under the IWT, India now has acquired an aggressive stance to put pressure on Pakistan.
Hostility of the parties
India sees itself as the big brother of South Asia but most of its neighbours see a bully. India has water-sharing treaties on the Ganges basin with both Nepal and Bangladesh. Dishonouring the IWT would raise questions about India’s future credibility and enhance its image as a bully in South Asia. Meanwhile, for Pakistan, the treaty falling apart will be catastrophic. Pakistan’s economy is already crawling and Indus is the backbone of what is left. The Indus Waters Treaty was signed on the foundations of trust and goodwill but Pakistan’s behaviour has cost it both. What Pakistan needs is to somehow get India back on the table in the Indus Commission and resolve the disputes within the provisions of IWT. If the time ever comes to complete the renewal, Pakistan might be at a bigger loss.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt
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