A simmering water dispute between India and Pakistan seems to be turning towards another boiling point as both sides continue to stick to their guns despite the World Bank’s call to resolve the issue bilaterally, experts say.
While Indian experts insist the World Bank-brokered 1960 treaty was a huge mistake from the start since it allocated less water to India, Pakistani experts eye their neighbor’s motives with suspicion, claiming the other side only wants to revoke a longstanding treaty to suit its domestic political agenda. Kashmiris, meanwhile, fear they may literally end up drowning if both sides don’t deescalate tensions soon.
Dispute Over Indian Dams
The main contention between the two nuclear neighbors is over the “Indus Water Treaty” that allocated three eastern rivers to India – Beas, Ravi and Sutlej – and three western rivers – Indus, Chenab, Jhelum – to Pakistan in 1960.
Islamabad is objecting to New Delhi’s plans to construct two hydropower dams – the 850-megawatt Ratle and the 330-megawatt Kishanganga hydropower scheme — on the Chenab River on the Indian side, saying the projects would adversely impact on the flow of rivers on its side.
The two countries recently initiated two separate processes under the treaty to resolve the dispute over India’s threat to build the dams. However, on Dec. 12, the World Bank announced a temporary pause in the appointment of a neutral expert, as requested by India, and the chairman of the Court of Arbitration, as requested by Pakistan.
“Both processes initiated by the respective countries were advancing at the same time, creating a risk of contradictory outcomes that could potentially endanger the Treaty,” the bank said in a statement.
The bank’s Group President, Jim Yong Kim, urged both sides to resolve the issue mutually instead.
“We are announcing this pause to protect the Indus Waters Treaty and to help India and Pakistan consider alternative approaches to resolving conflicting interests under the treaty and its application to two hydroelectric power plants,” Kim was “ed as saying in the statement.
“This is an opportunity for the two countries to begin to resolve the issue in an amicable manner and in line with the spirit of the treaty rather than pursuing concurrent processes that could make the treaty unworkable over time. I would hope that the two countries will come to an agreement by the end of January,” he added.
Pakistan to Not Accept ‘any change’
Following World Bank’s declaration to pause the processes, New Delhi announced it was ready to bilaterally resolve the dispute with Islamabad; however, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup added that “these consultations should be given adequate time.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Special Assistant to the Premier, Tariq Fatemi, said his side will not agree to any changes in the treaty.
“Pakistan will not accept any modifications or changes to the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty. Our position is based on the principles enshrined in the treaty. And the treaty must be honored in letter and spirit,” Fatemi was “ed as saying by the local English daily, Dawn, on Saturday.
The demand for “adequate time” by the Indian side has alarmed Pakistani experts, who accuse New Delhi of using “time buying” tactics to its disadvantage.
Rabia Sultan, an expert based in the Pakistani city of Lahore, told Anadolu Agency that by insisting on more time India could complete its controversial dam projects during the consultation phase.
Sultan warned the construction of the two proposed dams may create water and food shortages in Pakistan.
“The construction of a gated structure on the upstream will give India an edge to manipulate and control the [Chenab] river, which may turn out to be very dangerous especially when the two sides are hostile to each other,” she said.
Also, the dams would hit Pakistan’s rice crops directly. “Chenab River is a major source of irrigation water for the area that is famous for its quality rice production. The construction of the two dams may cause water shortage in the area, particularly in low water season,” she said.
Central and southern parts of Pakistan’s largest Punjab province are famous for the production of the Basmati rice, which is also a major export item.
‘Blood and Water
New Delhi had threatened to stop honoring the Indus Water Treaty after a militant attack on an army base in Indian-held Kashmir left 19 Indian soldiers dead in September last. Senior figures in India accused Pakistan of sponsoring the attackers.
An emotional Indian Prime Narendra Modi had also warned “blood and water can’t flow together”.
India and Pakistan have already fought three full-scale wars in 1948, 1965, and 1971.
‘The Great Water Folly’
Indian experts such as Brahma Chellaney call the 1960 treaty “The Great Water Folly — one of the major strategic problems bequeathed to future Indian generations by the Nehruvian era.”
Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first prime minister, who was in office between 1947 and 1964.
They claim the treaty had allegedly given an unfair share of rivers to Pakistan, while India received less than 20 percent of the total Indus waters.
In an opinion piece published in the Indian media outlet Hindustan Times, Chellaney said: “India’s naive assumption that it traded water munificence for peace in 1960 has backfired, saddling it with an iniquitous treaty of indefinite duration and keeping water as a core issue in its relations with Pakistan.
“As for Pakistan, after failing to achieve its water designs militarily in 1965, it has continued to wage a water war against India by other means, including diplomacy and terrorism. Put simply, 56 years after the IWT [Indus Water Treaty] was signed, Pakistan’s covetous, water-driven claim to India’s J&K [disputed Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir region] remains intact.”
Kashmiris May ‘drown’ If Treaty Revoked
Kashmir experts on the Indian-held part of the disputed believe India’s aggressive posturing over the changes to the water treaty is merely an attempt at arm-twisting Pakistan.
Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, head of the Earth Sciences department at the University of Kashmir, said: “Legally, it [water treaty] cannot be abrogated by one party, no matter what happens. India will have to approach the World Bank to abrogate the Indus Water Treaty, and the World Bank will appoint a bench of judges who will look into the matter.
“And since the reason for calls for abrogation of the treaty are not about problems and concerns of actual water sharing but about politics, World Bank would never agree.”
About the “illegal” option to stop the water from flowing into Pakistan without approaching the World Bank, Romshoo said at the moment India did not have the infrastructure to do such a thing. But if in the future it achieves such means, then Romshoo warned: “It would simultaneously mean the drowning of us in [Indian held] Kashmir. It will be a disaster for us in Kashmir.”