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The Indus Water Treaty revisited March 22, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : Future Directions International, India, Pakistan, Weigold, Auriol , trackback

Auriol Weigold

This post first appeared on the FDI web site on 21 March 2012.

The Indus Water Treaty (IWT) (1960), negotiated by Indian Prime Minister Nehru and then President of Pakistan, Field Marshall Mohammad Ayub Khan under the eye of the World Bank, agreed on the utilization of the six rivers of the Indus Basin to benefit each country. The Treaty, intended to settle inter-country water disputes and govern water usage, allocated the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum Rivers to Pakistan, and the Ravi and Beas (Sutlej in Pakistan) to India. These rivers have, however, been the subjecs of on-going disputes and failed arbitration under IWT provisions.

Differences over water-sharing were evident pre-independence and persist in disputes today as both countries prove unable to resolve issues in the ever more rapidly escalating water resource rivalry, increasing tension across other already fraught issues in their bilateral relationship.

In terms of water scarcity caused by inadequate management of a decreasing supply, including the proposed construction of dams deemed inappropriate at both inter- and intra-country levels, India is moving into what has been described as a “danger zone” with the availability of per capita water declining rapidly. Pakistan is also Pakistan nearing a “water stress” limit. These alarming trends are clearly observed at political and social levels and demand solutions.

The IWT has re-emerged in an internal dispute in Pakistan about the building of the Kalabagh Dam following the country’s worst floods in 2010, to aid in future flood mitigation and management of the annual water flow for irrigation use. To be situated in the Mianwali District of the Punjab, the dam was supported in that province but rejected by Sindh and Khyber for a raft of reasons including population displacement and the adverse impacts on the environment caused by any dam.

The Kalabagh issue was re-raised in the Punjab Assembly in the first week of March causing the flurry of articles in the past week, on 15 March in Dawn  and on the previous day in Daily Times . This intra-state conflict was a reminder of the bigger conflict between India and Pakistan, exacerbated by the the gap between water demand and availability in both countries.

According to Wirsing and Jasparro, Water security and how to ensure it are a diplomatic nightmare in these “demographically explosive societies” [“Spotlight on Indus River Diplomacy: India, Pakistan, and the Baglihar Dam Dispute”, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, May 2005, at www.apcss.org].

The question of an alternative approach to the Indus basin’s water resources has been canvassed: it involves an integrated development plan for its conservation that factors in the links between water, land, its users, the environment and infrastructure, remarkably similar to the 1960 Treaty.

The 1960 Preamble stated that the two governments “being equally desirous of attaining the most complete and satisfactory utilization of the waters of the Indus system of rivers and recognizing the need … of fixing and delimiting, in a spirit of goodwill and friendship, the rights and obligations of each in relation to the other concerning the use of these waters … in a cooperative spirit …”. This formulation is arguably as utopian as the alternative approach.

Water scarcity however, has many causes that affect both India and Pakistan and, in the absence of a practicable alternative to the Treaty, arguable impossible to negotiate in today’s political climate, an updated, two-country water resource management body within the original framework might usefully succeed the Permanent Indus Commission as initially instituted.

That the Indus River “runs through the history of India-Pakistan relations” (again to quote Wirsing and Japarro) and the fact that the IWT is widely viewed as an excellent example of the settlement of inter-country water disputes, offers both a carrot and a stick. Water security on the sub-continent, however, including the Indus Basin, appears ever-more elusive and arbitration ever more urgent.


























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