Written By: Farzana Yaqoob
“No army, with bombs and shellfire could devastate a land as thoroughly as Pakistan could be devastated by the simple expedient of India permanently shutting off the sources of water that keep the fields and the people of Pakistan alive. India has never threatened such a drastic step… but the power is there nonetheless.” said David E. Lilienthal. And, these words of David are dangerously true.
Call it good luck or bad, the two nations India and Pakistan are intrinsically connected to each other not just by culture, heritage and history but also by water. By and large this is a significant relationship that the two countries have managed to maintain. They have fought over territorial issues and keep fighting legal battles over water. Both are unhappy with this situation but as of date they have not abrogated the single water distribution treaty that the countries are signatory to i.e., the Indus Water Treaty. On April 1, 1948 India tried to stop the flow of water to Pakistan. Before the Treaty, the Indus waters were apportioned as per the Inter-Dominion Agreement of May 1948. Pakistan wanted the International Court of Justice to settle this issue. India refused to do so, and wanted a bilateral resolution of the issue. In 1951 David Lilienthal, formerly the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission visited the region to write a series of articles for Colliers Magazine. Lilienthal was deeply interested in the subcontinent and was welcomed by the highest levels of both Indian and Pakistani governments. In his articles he insisted the World Bank get involved in resolving this issue in the best interest of both the countries. At that time the World Bank was called International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Lilienthal’s idea was appreciated by the two countries as well as the World Bank. And so began negotiations that finally culminated into the signing of the Treaty by both the countries.
The Indus Waters Treaty was signed between the Republic of India and Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Karachi on September 19, 1960 by the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then President of Pakistan Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan. The World Bank signed as a third party.
Under the Treaty, the waters of Eastern Rivers are allocated to India and the waters of Western Rivers are allocated to Pakistan. The Indus system of rivers comprises three Eastern Rivers (Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and their tributaries) and three Western Rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab and their tributaries). India is under obligation to let flow the waters of the Western Rivers except for the following uses: (a) Domestic use, (b) Non-consumptive use, (c) Agricultural use as specified, (d) Generation of hydro-electric power as specified. Both the parties are required to share flow/data of rivers, canals and streams.
Under the Treaty, India and Pakistan have each created a permanent post of Commissioner for Indus Waters. They together constitute the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC), which is entrusted with the implementation of the Treaty.
The article which has played a significant role is Article IX of the Treaty related to Settlement of Differences and Disputes. In the case of non-resolution of disputes, action can be taken for resolution through a Neutral Expert, negotiators or Court of Arbitration under this article.
India was supposed to pay for construction of canals and storage facilities that would transfer water from the Eastern Indian Rivers to Pakistan. As expected India refused to pay for the construction. The World Bank formed a plan for external financing given mainly by the USA and United Kingdom. The negotiations for the Treaty took over a decade to be formalised and finalised.
The major construction works done in the years after the Treaty are the only water storage related works that Pakistan succesfully completed. Other than these, any significant improvement or enhancement related to water storage is yet to be seen. Following is the list of work done so far:
Mangla Dam was constructed on Jhelum River at Mangla and Mirpur. It was completed in 1968.
Tarbela Dam was constructed on Indus River. It was completed in 1977.
Marala Barrage was constructed on Chenab. It was completed in 1968.
Qadirabad Barrage was constructed on Chenab. It was completed in 1967.
Sidhnai Barrage was constructed on Ravi. It was completed in 1965.
Rasul Barrage was construced on Jhelum. It was completed in 1967.
Chashma Barrage was constructed on Indus. It was completed in 1971.
Mailsi Siphon was constructed on Sutlej. It was completed in 1964.
From Jhelum to Chenab link canal Rasul-Qadirabad.
From Chenab to Ravi link canal Qadirabad-Balloki.
From Ravi to Sutlej link canal Balloki-Suleimanki II.
From Indus to Jhelum link canal Chashma-Jhelum.
From Indus to Ravi link canal Trimmu-Sidhnai.
From Ravi to Sutlej link canal Sidhnai-Mailsi.
From Indus to Panjnad link canal Taunsa-Panjnad.
There are other barrages on River Indus which were constructed after the Treaty was signed.
“No army, with bombs and shellfire could devastate a land as thoroughly as Pakistan could be devastated by the simple expedient of India permanently shutting off the sources of water that keep the fields and the people of Pakistan alive. India has never threatened such a drastic step… but the power is there nonetheless.” said David E. Lilienthal. And, these words of David are dangerously true. India and Pakistan are energy starved countries. Pakistan completely depends on the River Indus for its water. The Indus River and its tributeries originate in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. They then flow through India into Pakistan and fall into the Arabian Sea. One can also understand why India will never resolve the Kashmir conflict. The lifeline of Pakistan originates in Kashmir, and so it must recognise the threat that was mitigated by the Indus Water Treaty. Although to-date after the signing of the Treaty India has not openly tried to stop the waters of the rivers but it has been busy constructing blockades on the rivers in the name of harnessing the energy potential through hydro-power projects. Two disputed projects–Baglihar and Kishan Ganga–received a lot of media attention. These issues were taken to the International Court of Arbitration as the Indus Water commisioners were unable to resolve these disputes amongst themselves.
Pakistan has been unable to build any other big dam. Pakistan is a water starved country and climate change is adding to this issue. Torrential rains lead to flash floods. All this extra water then flows into the Arabian Sea instead of being stored. So the internal crisis that is staring Pakistan in the face is not just terrorism. It is also the lack of storage facilities for water.
On the other hand, Pakistan has been unable to build any other big dam. Pakistan is a water starved country and climate change is adding to this issue. Torrential rains lead to flash floods. All this extra water then flows into the Arabian Sea instead of being stored. So the internal crisis that is staring Pakistan in the face is not just terrorism. It is also the lack of storage facilities for water. Water crisis needs to be resolved on a war footing because only when Pakistan is internally strong and well-sustanied will it be able to stop India from its obvious aspirations of increasing the conflict in this region.
The Indus Water Treaty does not address climate change. Kashmir is located mostly in the earthquake prone zone. The structures being built by the Indian government on the River Indus are not only a problem for Pakistan as they decrease the flow of water but a huge scale earthquake could acually make these structures unstable or worse, demolish them. The breakage of these structures could then lead to flash floods which would not only harm Kashmiris who are already facing the brunt of climate change and conflict but these floods could then cause major destruction in the areas around Indus water basin. All this might sound like fiction but in reality there is a high probability that it can happen.
Royal Institute of International Affairs also known as Chatham House launched a survey of the attitudes towards water of South Asia in 2013, “Discussion about water in South Asia–in particular the shared rivers of the region–is vociferous, antagonistic and increasingly associated with national security”, observed Dr. Gareth Price, Senior Research Fellow, Asia Programme of the Royal Institute on International Affairs. The report highlighted the fact that the neighbouring countries had severe trust deficit issues when it came to water related matters, “For Bangladesh and Nepal, Indian approaches to water are a primary source of distrust. Conspiracy theories and blame are prevalent throughout South Asia–Afghanistan blames Pakistan and Iran for its water problems, while Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan blame India”.
John Briscoe was the Senior Water Advisor for the World Bank who dealt with the appointment of the Neutral Expert on the Baglihar case. He wrote an article about the increasing tensions between India and Pakistan over the waters of Indus. He shared his insights about the Indian Government control over media reporting on water issues, and expressed his concern over the Indian attitude towards Pakistan’s just concerns over the different hydro projects being constructed on the rivers in Kashmir.
It was stated in The News on April 5, 2010 by John Briscoe Gordon McKay, Professor of Environmental Engineering, Harvard University, “Equally depressing is my repeated experience–most recently at a major international meeting of strategic security institutions in Delhi–that even the most liberal and enlightened of Indian analysts (many of whom are friends who I greatly respect) seem constitutionally incapable of seeing the great vulnerability and legitimate concern of Pakistan (which is obvious and objective to an outsider)”. He further stated, “As a South African I am acutely aware that Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison, chose not to settle scores but to look forward and construct a better future, for all the people of his country and mine. Who will be the Indian Mandela who will do this–for the benefit of Pakistanis and Indians–on the Indus?” Pakistan not only needs to be extra vigilant about the existing water resources but it must execute well-planned projects to safeguard its future from natural calamities such as floods and unnatural calamity such as war over waters.
The writer is the former Minister for Social Welfare and Women Development for the state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Her Services have won her the title of “Young Global Leader 2017” by World Economic Forum.