Will India scrap India-Pakistan Indus Water Treaty?

India-Pakistan Indus Water Treaty

By Haider Abbas

It is not even a week when Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo broke the news, reported BBC 1 on January 26, from his book, Never Give An Inch: Fighting for the America I Love, that after the Balakot strikes from India on Pakistan, in February 2019, there were apprehensions from India that Pakistan was preparing for a nuclear-strike on India, which Pompeo after his deft-diplomacy could avert and US could save the region from the ultimate catastrophe. But, after the news had hit the public domain, only a day later on January 27, as per The Hindu 2 report that India wants to modify the India-Pakistan Indus Water Treaty (IWT) signed between the two nations in 1960.

The biggest salvo has been fired by India on Pakistan, as now this 63 years treaty, which had weathered even the wars between India and Pakistan (1965, 1971, 1999) stands to be modified! The same report informed, that India was compelled for the move, made officially on January 25, ‘owing to Pakistan’s persistent objections regarding India’s Kishenganga and Ratle hydropower projects in Kashmir. The notice was sent through Commissioners for Indus Waters that both sides have appointed under the treaty.’ The Indian step has come after Pakistan had approached the Permanent Court of Arbitrage at The Hague over two hydropower projects in Jammu & Kashmir which Indian officials claim that Pakistan stance is against the agreed mode of dispute resolution.

This issuance of notice of this kind, directly to Pakistan, perhaps for the first time since Independence, has quite understandably sent shock-waves across the whole spectrum, as India has been forced towards this step due to Pakistan actions, tells NDTV 3 that ‘ India is seeking modifications in the treaty to make it easier for Pakistan to enter into intergovernmental negotiations, within 90 days, and rectify the ‘material breach’ of IWT. This process would also update IWT to incorporate the lessons learned over the last 62 years.’ Therefore, Pakistan has been issued a 90-days deadline to ‘respond’ or else supply of water to Pakistan might be in jeopardy. Nothing bigger of such kind has ever happened between India and Pakistan. Precisely it is the biggest step which has ever been forwarded to Pakistan.

When treaties are broken it is a sign of war. The Second World War had started when Treaty of Versailles was violated, but unlike any other treaty, this IWT had always been considered to be one of the world’s most-sustained treaties, yet now the threat of it getting-scrapped is being largely speculated in the public domain. What constitutes it? It was signed by Pakistan President Ayub Khan and PM JL Nehru negotiated by World Bank and despite conflicts India did not stop water from Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Sutlej, Beas and Ravi and in fact had given unfettered access to them for Pakistan. It can be anyone’s guess that had India blocked the waters of these rivers, Pakistan was to be instead in great-troubled-waters! Jhelum, Chenab and Indus were to be for Pakistan to exercise its control while India contended with Sutlej, Beas and Ravi and even in it, Pakistan had to right to put-into any objections, as sanctioned through the IWT. If in case India was to build any power plant or a dam on these last three, Pakistan had every right to raise its objections, initiate a dialogue and discuss its modalities.

But, there has now been many views, particularly from Right-Wing associations, even by Parliamentarians too, that it is high time India scraps the treaty and starve Pakistan. All of these rivers pass through Kashmir, which quite understandably makes Pakistan all the more jittery over the Kashmir issue. In case Pakistan is to stamp its control on the Indian part of Kashmir, on hypothetical terms, the entire water issue of Pakistan was to be easily solved. But, that is not to happen.

Pakistan became complacent and did not make compatible dams in the last six decades to meet its needs, while now India, had started to build Kishenganga Power Project (330 Megawatt, 5783 Cr, completed) and Ratle Hydro Electric Project ( 850 Megawatt, 5281 Cr and due to be completed soon). This raised the Pakistan eye brows and Pakistan contests that these two projects would hinder the water flow towards Pakistan and that India has breached the IWT. India contends that India was to ally Pakistan fears, as partners and as per sanctions of IWT, but Pakistan went ahead to call for a neutral expert by the World Bank in 2015, and also a separate arbitration into it too, to the angst of India. Pakistan wants India to stall these projects, which is impossible, as according to India, Pakistan has from its side broken the IWT, as it has gone unilaterally for arbitration. In a series of tweets Kanchan Gupta, senior advisor to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has spelled the Indian position, about the impeding dangers that India has now made its mind to make a final adieu to IWT.

Courtesy: Twitter

Pakistan has retorted on the Indian ultimatum, and a war of words has ensued between the two nations. Pakistan has accused India to have engaged into attention diversion, from the proceedings of the court of Arbitration, already in place at Hague, As per Tribune India 4 on January 28, the notice from India had come hours after it. Pakistan has submitted through its attorney, that the ‘resolution of disputes raised by Pakistan was a demonstration of India’s characteristic bad faith. Pakistan, on the other hand, has also said that ‘any risk of conflicting outcomes that India apprehends can be arrested through coordination and cooperation between the two fora. Therefore, Pakistan is engaging with both fora.’ Pakistan has sought that the treaty cannot be unilaterally modified.

What however, ought to be referred is that on November 25, 2016, India’s PM Narendra Modi, had already signaled, according to The Hindu 5 that ‘the water that rightfully belongs to India under the Indus Water Treaty cannot be allowed to go to Pakistan and government was working towards a mechanism for optimum utilisation of every single drop of water from Satluj, Ravi and Beas rivers. Under the Indus Water Treaty, India has the right over water of Satluj, Beas and Ravi rivers. It rightfully belongs to our farmers, but this water is not reaching the farmer’s field, instead the water is flowing to Pakistan. ’ Therefore, the lines are now drawn. The PMs statement had come after the Uri attack, on September 18, 2016, in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed.

It is now only a matter of days when IWT will be a fig leaf of the past. What will be the result after the 90-days deadline is to complete is only time would tell, but the treaty which had withstood the three- wars is now slated to become a relic of the past, that too, in times of the apparent peace (sic). Let’s see what happens as next.


The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on international politics.


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