Many issues arose after the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, including one over the sharing of the Indus River system. In 1960, both countries agreed on the Indus Water Treaty, which effectively divided up the water in the region. Although the IWT has remained intact, recent developments have brought this water dispute back into the spotlight. Below, Zain ul-Arifeen, a science teacher in Mansehra, [a city in Pakistan’s NWFP], discusses the history and current status of the Indus Water Treaty, and why it’s significant:
The total area of the Indus Basin, the area draining the , Himalayan water into the Arabian Sea, is about 365,000 square miles (934,000 sq.km), larger than the Pakistan’s total area of 310,000 square miles (794,000 sq. km). Pakistan covers the major part of the Indus Basin (about 217,000 squares miles out of 365,000 square miles). The Indus River system consists mainly of the Indus River and its major eastern tributaries, the Jehlum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej Rivers. A number of relatively small rivers join the Indus on its west side. The largest is Kabul with its main tributary, the Swat River.
The Indus and its tributaries easily make up the most important river system in the world. The basin was converted into an extensively cultivated area during the British colonial period, with millions of acres irrigated by large canals. At the time of Pakistan and India’s Partition in 1947, boundaries were drawn without first considering the realities of the region. The part of the Punjab to the west of this boundary become a part of Pakistan, while the east was incorporated into India. The immediate effect of this partition was that the Indus Basin became divided and conflicts subsequently arose between the two countries over the sharing of water resources.
In 1948, after India obtained control of the headwaters and halted the water flow into Pakistan, the dispute drew international attention. In 1960, after years of negotiations, the World Bank brokered the Indus Water Treaty, [IWT] which regulated the use of the Indus Basin rivers. The agreement was signed on September 19, 1960 by Pakistan’s President Mohammad Ayub Khan, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the World Bank’s Mr. W. A.B Iliff.
The IWT consists of three parts: the preamble, twelve articles and annexure A to H. The principal subjects covered in the treaty’s annexure are: the exchange of notes between the governments of India and Pakistan, India’s agricultural use of certain tributaries of the Ravi, India’s agricultural use of the upper reaches of the western rivers, India’s generation of hydroelectric power and the storage of water from the western rivers, a procedure to solve disputes and differences through a commission, a neutral court of arbitration, and allocation to Pakistan of some waters from the eastern rivers during the period of transition.
The Treaty gave India exclusive use of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers. Pakistan was given access to the western rivers – the Indus, Jehlum and Chenab. Under the agreement, India has to allow these rivers to flow to Pakistan without any hindrance or interference, except as specifically allowed by the Treaty. This includes the use of water for domestic and other non-consumptive purposes, as well as the generation of hydroelectric power. However, the agreement precludes the building of any storage by India on the rivers allocated to Pakistan. For example, if India wanted to generate hydroelectric power it could only build run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects (unlike a dam or a reservoir), which does not create any storage [in the Treaty, Paragraph 2(c) (d) of Aricle III allows and Annexure C and D explains that how India can use the water of western rivers].
The Treaty established a Permanent Indus Commission, led by two high-ranking engineers, one from either country. The commission’s job is to monitor that neither country violates the treaty, and smooth out any differences that may arise. It can refer to either the World Bank [in the case of the Baghliar Dam dispute] or the Court of Arbitration for help in settling a conflict.
At the time the IWT was signed, Pakistani President Ayub Khan stated:
The sources of the rivers are in India…and India had made arrangements to divert the waters…every factor was against us, the only sensible thing to do was to try and get a settlement; though it might be the second best, but if we did not we stood to lose everything.
Although the Indus Water Treaty has survived hostilities between India and Pakistan over the years, recent developments threaten to undermine this agreement. On October 10, 2008, India inaugurated the controversial Baglihar hydro-electric dam project in Indian-administered Kashmir. Although India says the dam would be crucial for meeting the country’s power needs, it is located on the Chenab River [one of the western rivers given to Pakistan in the IWT], and is a clear violation of the 1960 agreement.
Islamabad has claimed the dam would reduce the flow of water to Pakistan, depriving its agricultural regions of irrigation. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari recently told the Associated Press of Pakistan, “Pakistan would be paying a very high price for India’s move to block Pakistan’s water supply from the Chenab river,” adding that any violation of the Indus Water Treaty “would damage the bilateral ties the two countries had built over the years.” The question over the future of the IWT is a very serious issue and is only marginally addressed in the media. The sharing of the Indus River system is significant for Indian-Pakistani relations and disputes over this issue could further complicate tensions between the two countries.
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