INTRODUCTION: Water is likely to be the most divisive issue between India and Pakistan. Or water could, with imagination and political will, become the basis for enduring bilateral cooperation. The irony is that despite the many wars that India and Pakistan have fought over a variety of issues, water is the one area where the two countries had found accommodation through the Indus Water Treaty of 1960. The challenge for the two governments, therefore, is to now ensure that cooperation in this respect is not derailed.
Rebuilding trust over the sharing of the Indus waters could even become the precursor for generating trust in other areas of conflict.
Understanding the Indus River System: The Indus Water Treaty sets out the legal framework for the sharing of thewaters of six rivers: the Indus River and its five tributaries. All six rivers -Indus, Chenab, Jhelum, Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi – flow through northern Indiainto Pakistan.
Under the pact, the waters of three rivers – the Indus, theChenab and the Jhelum, which pass through Jammu & Kashmir – are to beused by Pakistan, while India has rights to the waters of the Sutlej, the Beasand the Ravi before these three enter Pakistani territory. The Chenab is the keytributary, as it carries the waters of the rest four rivers into the Indus. The complicated origins of the Indus river system plays a key role in thewater debates, as the rivers originate in and pass through a number ofcountries.
According to the Indus Water Treaty, the following three rivers arefor use by Pakistan: The Indus River: originates in Chinese-controlled Tibet and flowsthrough Jammu & Kashmir.
The Chenab: originates in India’s Himachal Pradesh state, travelsthrough Jammu & Kashmir. The Jhelum: rises in Jammu & Kashmir and flows into Pakistan, finallyjoining Chenab. The Treaty affords India use of the following three rivers: The Sutlej: originates in Tibet, flows through Himachal Pradesh andPunjab before joining the Chenab.
The Beas and the Ravi: originate in Himachal Pradesh state and flowinto Pakistan, emptying into the Chenab. Taking into account the flow of the rivers, the importance of theChenab and the Indus becomes clear. The Chenab combines the waters offour rivers, the Jhelum, the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi, to form a singlewater system which then joins the Indus in Pakistan.
The Indus River isconsidered to be the lifeline of Pakistani economy and livestock. The distribution of water of the Indus River system between Pakistan and India was settled through the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960.
Ever since India has been building or planning big and small hydropower projects and reservoirs, numbering as many as 671, on the principal rivers – Indus, Jhelum and Chenab – that were allotted to Pakistan under the IWT. For instance, there is the Kishenganga dam, the Tulbul dam (Wullar barrage) and the Uri-II hydroelectric plant on River Jhelum; Baglihar, Salal and Bursar dams on River Chenab; and Kargil dam, Nimmo Bazgo hydroelectric project on River Indus and Chutak hydroelectric plant on a tributary of Indus.
These can cause major water shortages in Pakistan in times to come.
Also, these can be used to hold back water in days of scarcity or flood the country during excess flows. The natural flow of water is essential for Pakistan’s agricultural economy and a willful obstruction thereof has a potential for serious conflict between the two states. The IWT does not allow India to obstruct the flow of the run of river by storing or diverting the water. There is a security dimension as well.
For instance, the Chenab canal network in Pakistan is the first-line of defense against India’s conventional attack. If these canals are dried up, they would afford easier passage for an infantry-armor assault, adversely affecting the defense of the country.
For these reasons, Pakistan should be taken into confidence when such projects are being planned to ensure that they do not violate the Indus Water Treaty. There is no alternative but to settle mutual concerns through dialogue and consultation with a neighbor. Pakistan-Indian Talks:
Under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, India is not permitted to build dams for the purpose of water storage on the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum rivers, but it is allowed to make limited use of their waters, including developing run-of-the river hydroelectric power projects. India is required to provide Pakistan with the technical details of any water project it wants to develop on these rivers before building begins. Pakistan has formally raised objections on the technical specifications of the Baglihar dam, including design, size, gated spillways, and water capacity.
Over the past decade, India and Pakistan held a series of talks on the issue of the Baglihar dam but could not resolve the matter within the framework of the 1960 treaty. In 2003, Pakistan formally served a final notice to the Indian government, urging it to resolve the Baglihar issue by December 31, 2003, a process that failed to yield results. In 2005, Pakistan approached the World Bank for mediation. The World Bank noted that it was “not a guarantor of the treaty,” but had the authority to appoint a neutral expert.
In 2007, the appointed neutral expert Professor Raymond Lafitte of Switzerland delivered a verdict rejecting most of the Pakistani objections.
However, Professor Lafitte did require India to make some minor changes, including reducing the dam’s height by 1. 5m. Significantly, Professor Lafitte’s judgment classified Pakistani objections as “differences” and not a serious “dispute,” which could have paved the way for the issue to be taken to a Court of Arbitration as envisaged in the treaty. To this day, Pakistan remains dissatisfied over the Lafitte verdict.
Though India has facilitated visits by Pakistani officials to the dam site and Indian delegations have visited Pakistan to examine Pakistani claims of a water shortage in the Chenab river, the countries remain at an impasse.
Bilateral talks between the two countries are now increasingly focused on water disputes. Pakistan has accused India several times of completely stopping Pakistan’s water from the Chenab River. In March 2008, Hafiz Zahoorul Hassan Dahir, the IBWC chairman, charged that India “completely shut down the Chenab river from the 1st to the 26th of January 2008, with not even a drop of water moving. India was also accused of curtailing the water supply from the Chenab River during September-October, 2008. Due to a precedent set in the 1978 case of the Salal dam construction by India in Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan has requested the payment of compensation for any water shortfall.
In June 2009, the Pakistani government declared that India had rejected its demand for monetary compensation for the loss of water from the Chenab River. Pakistan alleged that the waters of the Chenab had been stopped by India during August 2008; however India refuted these claims, citing unreliable Pakistani statistics regarding water stoppage and loss. If India continues to build dams on our rivers and stop our water, then the day is not far when our lands will become barren and this nation, that has a spectacular history of agricultural production, will be forced to import food. ” On June 6, 2009, two years after the Lafitte verdict, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi accused India of violating the Indus Water Treaty. Qureshi further warned that any failure to resolve the water disputes “could lead to conflict in the region.
” Sentiment is now emerging in Pakistan that the 1960 Indus Water Treaty has proven to function to the sole advantage of India.
Ayub Mayo, the president of the farmers’ lobby group Pakistan Muttahida Kisan Mahaz, declared that the 1960 pact is simply “a conspiracy to deprive Pakistan of its due share of water. ” While the talks between the two nations regarding water-related issues are continuing into the second half of 2009, public debate in Pakistan on the subject continues to be vigorous and sentimental, raising complicated concerns of national security, traditional rivalry with India, as well as historical anti-Semitism.