[dropcap]P[/dropcap]rime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting to review the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan amidst heightened tension between the two countries. Principal secretary to PM, Nripendra Misra, NSA Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar also attended the meeting in the PM’s residence.
For 56 years, both India and Pakistan are peacefully sharing the water of Indus and its tributaries. At a time when states within India are unable to find an amicable solution for sharing water from rivers that flow between them, India and Pakistan are living examples of how water resources can be shared through legal frame work.
The Indus Waters Treaty was signed on September 19, 1960 by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan. It was brokered by the World Bank. The treaty administers how River Indus and its tributaries that flow in both the countries will be utilised. According to the treaty, Beas, Ravi and Sutlej are to be governed by India, while, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum are to be taken care by Pakistan. However, since Indus flows from India, the country is allowed to use 20 per cent of its water for irrigation, power generation and transport purposes. A Permanent Indus Commission was set up as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the Treaty. The Commission solves disputes arising over water sharing. The Treaty also provides arbitration mechanism to solve disputes amicably. Though Indus originates from Tibet, China has been kept out of the Treaty. If China decides to stop or change the flow of the river, it will affect both India and Pakistan. Climate change is causing melting of ice in Tibetan plateau, which scientists believe will affect the river in future. It may be noted that both India and Pakistan are still at loggerheads over various issues since partition, but there has been no fight over water after the Treaty was ratified.
More controversial, however, were the provisions on how the waters were to be shared. Since Pakistan’s rivers flow through India first, the treaty allowed India to use them for irrigation, transport and power generation, while laying down precise regulations for Indian building projects along the way. The treaty was a result of Pakistani fear that, since the sources of rivers of the Indus basin were in India, it could potentially create droughts and famines in Pakistan, especially at times of war. Since the ratification of the treaty in 1960, India and Pakistan have not engaged in any water wars. Most disagreements and disputes have been settled via legal procedures, provided for within the framework of the treaty. The treaty is considered to be one of the most successful water sharing endeavours in the world today, even though analysts acknowledge the need to update certain technical specifications and expand the scope of the document to include climate change. As per the provisions in the treaty, India can use only 20% of the total water carried by the Indus River.
The agreement set up the Permanent Indus Commission to adjudicate any future disputes arising over the allocation of waters. The Commission has survived three wars and provides an ongoing mechanism for consultation and conflict resolution through inspection, exchange of data and visits. The Commission is required to meet regularly to discuss potential disputes as well as cooperative arrangements for the development of the basin. Either party must notify the plans to construct any engineering works which would affect the other party and to provide data about such works. In cases of disagreement, a neutral expert is called in for mediation and arbitration. While neither side has initiated projects that could cause the kind of conflict that the Commission was created to resolve, the annual inspections and exchange of data continue, unperturbed by tensions on the subcontinent.
India does not have the enough storage facility to create a supply problem immediately for Pakistan. Despite the huge media debate, the silence of the principal parties—be it the Indian government or the World Bank—seems to indicate that the treaty is safe for the time being. One major reason for this is that India is itself a middle riparian country for two of the six rivers mentioned in the treaty. The Indus and the Sutlej flow from Tibet, and there is no treaty between China and India to manage the relationship. One senior Indian commentator has even claimed that China has indicated it would act to divert waters from India if India decided to divert waters from Pakistan. Such a scenario, though, would lead to flooding and huge damages to all three countries. This highlights the fact that, more than anything else, such treaties survive not just because of trust or goodwill, but because they serve the interests of all the nations involved.
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