Indus water treaty: reality and myths

Indus water treaty: reality and myths

The Indus water treaty is a water sharing arrangement, which was signed in Karachi on 19 September 1960 by then Indian Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru and then Pakistan President General Ayub Khan. The World Bank (formerly the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) is a signatory to the said treaty, as a third party.
The Indus system of rivers comprises of three western rivers—Indus, Jhelum and Chenab—and three eastern rivers Sutlej, Beas and Ravi. With a minor exception, the treaty gives India exclusive use of all the waters of eastern rivers and their tributaries, before these waters enter Pakistan.
Similarly Pakistan has exclusive use of western rivers and it has also received one-time financial compensation for the loss of water from the eastern rivers.
The waters of Indus basin begin in the Himalayan Mountains of J&K. The flow from the hills through the arid and dry states of Punjab and Sind, converging in Pakistan, empties in Arabian Sea, south of Karachi.
The partition of the Indian sub-continent created a conflict over the waters of Indus basin. The newly formed two dominions were at odds, over how to share and manage, what was essentially a cohesive and unitary network of irrigation. The geography was however such that the Source Rivers of Indus River were in Indian controlled area of J&K. Some water was also coming from China as well. Pakistan felt its livelihood threatened by the prospect of Indian control over the tributaries that fed water into the Pakistan portion of the basin.
During the first years of partition the water of the Indus were apportioned by inter-dominion accord of 04.05.1948, which required India to release sufficient waters to Pakistani regions of the basin in return for annual payments from the Govt. of Pakistan. The accord was however meant to meet the immediate requirements and was to follow by negotiations for a more permanent solution. Pakistan always wanted that the water be allowed to run its own course without being hindered. India however wanted otherwise. The negotiations between the two countries, however, reached a stale mate, as no side was willing to compromise their respective positions. Pakistan wanted to take the matter to the International court of Justice but India didnot agree, stating that the conflict should be settled amicably.
By 1951, the two sides were no longer meeting and the situation seemed intractable. There was total deadlock and an atmosphere of hostility was visible. It was around this time that one David Lilienthal, Former Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and of the UN Atomic Energy Commission, visited the region to write a series of articles for Collins magazine. Lilienthal had however a keen interest in the sub-continent, which was known to both India and Pakistan. He was therefore, welcomed by the top level officials of the two countries. India also briefed him and requested to help India to bridge its gap with United States. During his visit it became clear to Lilienthal that tension between India and Pakistan was at its peak and both the countries were at the verge of war over Kashmir. He accordingly wrote in his journal that one way to reduce hostility between India and Pakistan was to work out a joint programme to develop and operate jointly the Indus basin river system, which according to him would also lead to a Kashmir settlement. He also suggested that World Bank should use its good offices to bring the parties to agreement and also finance Indus water development programme.
Lilienthal’s programme was well received by World Bank’s officials and accordingly Eugene R Black, President of the World Bank informed the two countries that the bank was interested in their economic progress to which Indus water dispute was a big impediment. He proposed a working party, made up of Indian, Pakistani and World Bank Engineers with World Bank group acting as a consultative group, offering suggestions and speeding of the dialogue. The proposal was agreed to, by both the countries.
The World Bank had expected that the two sides would come to an agreement of the allocation of the water but both India and Pakistan showed utter unwillingness to compromise their positions. It was however after nearly two years that World Bank offered its own proposal stepping out of the role, it has assigned to itself and offered a proposal according to which India was to use the three eastern tributaries of the basin and the Pakistan the three western, also permitting the Pakistan to construct canals and storage dams to divert water from the western rivers, so as to replace the eastern supply lost.
This offer of the World Bank being more in line with the Indian plan, which is also stated so, by Rao Farman Ali, in his book “Jammu & Kashmir Resolution through Reconciliation for Peace and Dignity” as such it angered Pakistan, which threatened to withdraw from the working party.
On the other hand India was eager to settle the dispute, as its large developmental projects had been put on hold due to the ongoing negotiations. It was in December 1954, that the two sides returned to the negotiating table and continued their meetings for next six years. After discussing the matter during this entire period it was finally found that one of the stumbling block in reaching an agreement was as to who would finance for the construction of the canals and storage facility that would transfer water from eastern rivers to Pakistan. The World Bank initially asked India to pay for these works, but when India refused, the World Bank evolved a plan for external financing mainly by USA and UK. This plan cleared the remaining obstacles and paved the way for signing of the treaty by the Prime Ministers of both the countries.
Alastair Lamb in his book “Kashmir a disputed legacy 1986 – 1990” states:
In September 1960, while in Pakistan for the signature of the agreement over Indus waters, Nehru radiated hints of a new benevolence. He discussed Kashmir with an unprecedented degree of clam and detachment and he did so without a public condemnation of Pakistani aggression. So impressed was Ayub Khan, by the diplomatic progress made in this period that he began to explore the fundamental restructuring of the basic architecture of India and Pakistan relations by means of an agreement for the joint defense of sub-continent.
The IWT was admittedly the one that favored India in many respects. However, the treaty is the longest agreement that has been upheld and implemented by both countries with sincerity. The agreement set up a commission to adjudicate any future dispute over the allocation of water. The commissions have also survived two wars. The commission is required to meet regularly to discuss potential disputes and provides a mechanism for consultation and conflict resolution through inspection, exchange of data and visits. There is a provision for mediation and arbitration, by a neutral umpire in case of any disagreement.
The Indus Water Treaty has so far been implemented by both the countries faithfully. It has not gone for any modification till date, even though Article XII of the Treaty allows for any kind of modification, when both parties agree. The current tension between the two sides might however lead to a flash point.
Pakistan has however always been apprehensive of India blocking water and causing problems to Pakistan. Pakistan’s Indus Basin Water Council (IBWC), though sounding like a Govt. authority, is a pressure group, whose central purpose is to address Pakistan concerns over water. Its Chairman Zahoorul Hassan stated on May 6, 2008, that “India, working in conjunction with the Jewish lobby is using most of the river waters, causing a shortage of food, water and electricity in Pakistan”. Criticizing India for constructing dams on rivers providing water to Pakistan, the members of Pakistan National Assembly very recently said “that the actions were causing deficiency of water in Pakistan, which could result in drought situation in Pakistan.”
Pakistan columnists, religious leaders and policy makers are increasingly articulating their concern over the water dispute, some of whom have very candidly stated that “insisting on our water rights with regard to India must be one of our corner stones of our foreign policy because the disputes of the future will be about water.”
The Pakistan concern has turned graver, regarding the sharing of water from rivers from 1990, says Rao Farman Ali, after India began constructing a hydroelectric power project on the Chenab River in the Doda District. Since Chenab is the key tributary of the Indus water basin, Pakistani policy makers and political commentators fear that India could exert control over the waters, which could be used to injure the Pakistani economy and livestock or could be used to cause floods in Pakistan by the release of waters, during times of war. Discussions of Pakistan concerns are most often centralized around Baghliar dam, though it is only one of the several water projects which are being developed by India in J&K, the other being Kishan Ganga, etc. Baghliar Dam was inaugurated in October, 2008 and even though Pakistan objected to the dam being in clear violation of the Treaty on Chenab River, the World Bank to which the matter was referred, held otherwise.
The comment made by Omar Abdullah that Indus water treaty was an abomination and should never have gone through because J&K has suffered long on its account, is, beside the point because of the fact that Indus water was being used by the areas now falling in Pakistan, even before partition. The treaty has neither been executed by Maharaja or by those who stepped in his shoes. It is a treaty which has been signed by two sovereign countries with World Bank, a third party to the agreement. The comment does not therefore, carry any weight.
The Indus water treaty can neither be unilaterally abandoned, nor can it be arbitrarily withdrawn or terminated. There are three parties to the treaty and the treaty itself provides a mechanism for its modification. The treaty also provides a solution to the crises and ensures no war on water between India and Pakistan possible. India cannot abrogate the treaty, because of the current tension with Pakistan, following the 18th September, attack on an Army Base at Uri. India cannot be also permitted to say that “it is within its rights to terminate the treaty because it could not be a one-sided affair”. The treaty was signed because the source of all the rivers of Indus basin, were in India. The permanent Indus Commission set up in this connection has gone through three wars between the two countries without disruption and as already stated it provides a complete bilateral mechanism and conflict resolution through inspections, exchange of data and visits. Otherwise also it is most unlikely that India will abrogate the agreement. It seems only to be a pressure tactic than any real threat to revise the bilateral agreement. The Indian intimidation is not new, India has always used this tactic in the past as well. A unilateral abrogation is bound to attract criticism from World powers and bring India in isolation rather than Pakistan. Nirmal Singh, the Deputy Chief Minister, has also without looking to the text of the treaty, assured the Indian Prime Minister of his help in abrogating the treaty. One doesnot know as to what kind of held Nirmal Singh, Deputy Chief Minister can provide Narinder Modi for abrogating the Indus Water Treaty, which has remained intact for about more than 60 years.
As rightly stated by UN Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, that Indus water treaty has survived two wars and as cooperation over water resources is an urgent and demanding challenge and that it would be a mistake to get caught up in water war rhetoric, India should respect the Indus water treaty and concede to the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir, because when the concept of treaty was conceived by Lilienthal, he had made it known to both India and Pakistan, that the sharing of Indus basin water, would not only reduce hostility between India and Pakistan, but will also lead India and Pakistan, in time to a Kashmir settlement.
—The author is president JK Bar Association.
—Views expressed are personal

2 Responses to "Indus water treaty: reality and myths"

  1. pushkar kumar   September 27, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    well as a good will gestures we provided all western waters to pakistan earlier but now focus is on just to end this good will gestures in respond to uri attack.example is tulbul dam which was cancelled earlier.but our respected prime minister of india shri narendra modi wants to revive that project.even kashmir also complained about it related to this treaty..

  2. Omar Abdullah   September 29, 2016 at 10:01 am

    tu milennga to bahut mar khayenga


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