Last week, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan met in New Delhi to end a “diplomatic freeze” between the two countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. According to Reuters’ Myra MacDonald, they did “what they were expected to do — laid out all the issues which divide the two countries and agreed to ‘keep in touch.’” However, the issue of water-sharing has been cause for contention between India and Pakistan over the years [it is also an internal issue in Pakistan among the provinces]. Below, Tariq Tufail, from Karachi, delves into the issues that stem from the 1960 Indus Water Treaty:
The Pakistan-India foreign secretary-level talks took place as scheduled. But curiously, apart from the usual rhetoric of “terrorism” from the Indian side and “Kashmir” from the Pakistani side in the run-up to the talks, water became the more prominent issue.
Though the water issue has been raised in the past, and is one of the sustaining factors behind Pakistan’s continued interest in Kashmir, the articulation of water as a core India-Pakistan dispute in such a distinct and clear manner is unprecedented. Within the space of two weeks, water was mentioned as one of the principal disputes between India and Pakistan by our Prime Minister, our foreign minister, our Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and curiously, even Hafeez Sayeed of LeT/JuD. In order to understand the issue better, it is important to first provide a background of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT).
Broadly speaking, the IWT grants exclusive use of the three eastern tributaries of the Indus River – the Sutlej, Ravi and Beas Rivers - to India and the three western tributaries – Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab Rivers to Pakistan. India is entitled to use all of the 33 million acre feet (MAF) of water from the eastern tributaries, of which it currently uses 30 MAF. Of the three western tributaries, the Jhelum, Chenab and Indus itself, which carries a flow of 143 MAF, India is entitled to store 3.6 MAF and is allowed to irrigate 13,43,477 acres of land. India does not store any water as of now and irrigates 7,92,426 acres. In addition, India is entitled to build “run of the river” hydroelectric projects, which do not store water on the western tributaries. The rise in the country’s usage of the water allocated to India (which used to flow to Pakistan earlier) is stressing the water availability in Pakistan. In addition, reduced snowfall and shifting weather patterns is reducing the water inflow.
Cutting through the usual rhetoric of India “stealing” water, several possibilities have to be analyzed:
- Pakistan is heightening the water issue to moderate the Indian negotiating tactic of focusing on terrorism
- India is really stealing water and violating the treaty
- India is not violating the “letter” of the treaty but the “spirit” of the treaty
- India is neither violating the letter or the spirit of the treaty, but due to increased water requirements, Pakistan is laying the ground to re-negotiate the Indus Water Treaty
It will be fruitless to speculate on (1), so let us concentrate on (2), (3) and (4).
At this point in time, the Pakistani government has not proven that India has stolen water. The allegation of Indian water theft has not been substantiated by either telemetry readings submitted by India or by water monitoring by Pakistan and has not been raised during the meetings of water commissioners of India and Pakistan. Moreover, because water sharing between Pakistan’s provinces is a contentious issue, water monitoring in Pakistan is a murky issue. To prevent discord among the provinces, monitoring sensors installed by Siemens are frequently tampered with and some monitoring sensors are regularly lost due to theft and sabotage. Even our Indus water commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah and ex-finance minister, Dr. Mubashar Hasan agree that no provable water theft is being committed by India.
Therefore, the inescapable conclusion is that India is not violating the “letter” of the treaty, even if it may be maximizing its usage as accorded to India by the treaty. This is not enforceable in any court of law, and stirring domestic sentiment over such perceived “violations” reduces our policy options and creates disastrous consequences as the Baglihar episode showed, (for background on the Baglihar dam conflict, see this piece).
So what are the disadvantages of the massive construction spree by India?
- The national security elements in Pakistan are concerned that even as India is not reducing the flow of water to Pakistan, it is rapidly acquiring the capability to do so by building dams. This is certainly an area of concern, but the IWT does not prevent India from being able to stop water flow into Pakistan at a future date. It only prevents India from stopping water flow. A positive aspect is that the IWT has stood the test of time, with no violations reported during the 1965, 1971, 1989, Kargil, Parakram and Mumbai standoffs.
- Increasing India’s usage of the Indus is affecting Pakistan’s water supply and power projects. That is, the water that was allocated to India, which was previously un-utilized and subsequently flowed to Pakistan and was utilized by our farmers, is becoming increasingly scarce as India builds projects to exploit its share. Even though it causes massive problems in Pakistan, this point cannot be protested, since India is not in violation of the IWT. (For example, complaints about the Sutlej and the Ravi running dry are superfluous since India has exclusive rights to use the water of those rivers.)
So what can be done?
As pointed out beautifully by lawyer Ahmer Bilal Soofi, India cannot be compelled to give “concessions” to Pakistan as long as it complies with the letter of the IWT. Furthermore, any extraneous discussions about water sharing can be stymied by India, since water sharing according to the Indian stance is already settled by IWT. From their perspective, as long as India is not in violation of the treaty, there is nothing to discuss.
Of the remaining courses of action open to Pakistan, re-negotiation of the IWT has a very small chance of success (since both sides will try to get better terms than the current treaty even if India agrees to renegotiate). The right course of action is to massively modernize our irrigation infrastructure (it is estimated that up to 40% of water drawn from our head-works are lost due to seepage in unlined canals, theft and evaporation), stringently follow the inter-provincial water sharing accord of 1991, and gain the trust of the provinces so that new water projects such as Kalabagh can proceed without their objection while seeking unofficial concessions from India to tide over the interim 5-10 year period. However, seeking unofficial concessions might be a hard task, since it has to overcome the prevailing climate of suspicion between the two neighbors, as well as India’s own domestic interests like its own water requirements as well as the impact on public opinion and Indian farmers.
At the end of the day, the wrong course of action would be to stir public sentiment through half truths and lies and to involve non-state and Jihadi actors, which reduces the space for policy flexibility in Pakistan, and further hardens the Indian position.
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