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50 years of Indus Water Treaty: Will it Survive?

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  • August 27, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Satish Chandra
    Discussants: B. G. Verghese and D.K. Mehta

    In an attempt to question whether the Indus Water Treaty holds any tangible ground in today’s day and age, this paper tracks the origins of the basic conflict, its origins and the detailed history that eventually led to it being drafted and signed in 1960. In the light of the history of the treaty, the authors have laid emphasis on the first proposal of the World Bank which was based on three very prominent principles: “The Indus basin water resources were sufficient to meet all existing and further uses of both countries; the water resources of the Indus basin should be cooperatively developed treating the Indus basin as a unit; and that the problem of Indus basin water resources should be resolved on a functional and not on a political plane.” The authors however do go on to say that the nature of the treaty did become political in due course of time, which is why one is obliged to question its survival.

    The paper dwells on why exactly the treaty was signed and what it meant for both India and Pakistan and what other options either country had during the time of signing. For instance, the paper elucidates that India as the upper riparian could have chosen not to sign the treaty and use the waters of the Indus river system flowing through its territory, but it also states rather categorically that India also had its own compulsions to sign the treaty. The building pressure from the US and the World Bank for instance.

    As the political relationship between the two conflicting nations has seen its ups and down, the study brings to light how the political dynamics is directly corresponding to the survival of the Indus water treaty. Especially given that now Pakistan has given a notice to India to take the Kishanganga hydroelectric proposal to a neutral expert and also sought to invoke a court of arbitration for the interpretation on the treaty.

    Another aspect that this paper seeks to draw attention to is the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, which the authors feel is one that is often missed. It brings out the strong perception that India’s generosity towards Pakistan (Pakistan getting 80 per cent of the water resources), was at the cost of the welfare of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, despite there being a general opinion to change the treaty in certain respects, the paper is very clear in stating that neither side has officially communicated any desire to modify the treaty despite the increasing resentment in public opinion.

    External Discussant: Mr. D K Mehta

    One fact that was brought out very coherently by Mr. Mehta was that as a matter of fact, perception needs to be corrected. The main shortcoming from India’s side was that there has been no storage of water. At least 3 to 6 feet of water needs to be stored. He stated that it is absolutely imperative if India actually wants to make use of even the 20 per cent of the water that it does have from the Indus water treaty and a daily or a weekly balance needs to be maintained. States affected especially Jammu and Kashmir need to come up with some policies and facilities for storage. As far as the widely acknowledged generosity of India is concerned, it could be said that India should have probably asked for more at the time of the signing of the treaty.

    External Discussant: Mr. B.G. Varghese

    Mr. Varghese took a rather clear stand on the issue by saying that government secrecy between ministries needs to be done away with for good. And that this very problem has led to the downfall of many policy implementation programmes. Also the ideas of water storage need to be made clear, for example, a dead storage where water is stagnant is not a storage, but a silt trap. According to him, India was not being generous, but had an acute problem of refugees post partition. Therefore from the point of view of rehabilitation, India needed to provide some irrigation for the land in question and as an upper riparian India has delivered on the treaty.

    Internal Discussants

    One of the internal discussants was of the opinion that this paper very lucidly brings out the “lie that it was a successful treaty.” Also India has not explored the opportunities of hydroelectricity and storage with the water available. The review of this paper must be driven by certain important factors. For instance, at the time of the signing of the treaty, short term gains were looked at, Pakistan has had a hand in politicizing it. Also Ms. Ray asks of the authors to expand on exactly why India accepted the so called unfair terms of the treaty and also to state what “counter measures” can or may India take in the future.

    Another discussant raised the doubt whether India was only generous or was just a bad negotiator.

    General Discussion

    In response to some of the questions raised by the internal discussants, one member said that contrary to popular belief, per capita availability is not the issue in Pakistan. It is actually the mismanagement of water made available by this treaty. Emphasis was also laid on sources of information in Pakistan which has made water a very important issue in the country. It has also been instigated by non-state actors like the chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, whose main source of information comes from Urdu dailies that are not particularly pro-India. Furthermore, the fact that these newspapers have a wide readership does not help matters either.

    Chair’s Summary

    The Chair concluded that what was required was effective policy implementation, which needs to be reviewed on a regular basis. The chair also spoke at length on how both countries need to evolve and revise the treaty with the changing times.

    Report prepared by Shahana Joshi, Research Assistant, IDSA.