THE Senate has passed a resolution asking the government to ‘revisit’ the Indus Waters Treaty signed in 1960 with India, but the government benches opposed the move.
PPP senators, who are in the majority, proposed to make the IWT a part of the ‘comprehensive bilateral dialogue’ with India to make new provisions in the treaty to enable Pakistan get more water for its rivers. The ruling party members, however, indulged more in polemics than stating the government’s position on the issue.
The government has not yet formulated a clear policy on the treaty as is evident from a recent statement of Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif that the IWT was heavily tilted in favour of India and the government should revisit it in the greater interest of the country. But he was quick to add that he cannot give his opinion as to whether the treaty should be reviewed or not.
During the interaction with the media, top officials of the Pakistan Commission on Indus Water expressed views which were in conflict with those of the minister and his ministry’s secretary. The additional commissioner of Indus waters was of the view that India was not involved in halting Pakistan’s water and insisted that the hydropower projects that India had built so far on Pakistan’s rivers are not inflicting loss to water interests of the country.
Even the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) chairman was seen going against the traditional narrative that India was responsible for Pakistan’s water woes. Speaking at a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Water and Power last July, he said the reports in the media about India getting more water than its allocation is mere propaganda for the neighbour is using water only to produce electricity.
The Himalayan glaciers are melting at an alarming rate because of climate change. Within the next 50 years, experts believe there will be a 30-40pc drop in glacial melt. A strategy to create more storage capacity for water is the only option available
The Hindu recently observed: “New Delhi needs to factor in a new reality: More than Kashmir, it is the accusation that India is stealing water that is rapidly becoming the ‘core issue’ in the Pakistani establishment’s narrative about bilateral problems.”
The fact remains there is no provision in the treaty which allows India to construct a certain number of dams. Nor is there one that prohibits India from making dams beyond a certain number. Therefore, it is an issue outside the scope of the treaty.
In the past, Pakistan has invoked the jurisdiction of the neutral expert where it has failed to get a favourable verdict after lengthy process during which the construction was completed. Pakistan has thus ‘lost’ cases before the neutral experts who, according to legal experts, never had the legal competence to decide issues on merit.
The fact remains that the treaty was signed in an era when climate change, environmental and ecological changes were not a threat to the planet and countries. It is interesting to note the terms and language used by the neutral expert in his verdict on Baglihar project dispute such as ‘new technical norms and new standards’, ‘state of the art’ and ‘best and latest practices in the field of construction and operation’, the risks of increased floods associated with ‘climate change’. It shows that the treaty needs to accommodate the new realities in the Indus basin treaty.
Despite being largely successful and having survived severe tests there are some limitations within the IWT that require review. Michel T Klare, a noted scholar on water resource issues, is of the opinion that the treaty does not allow for joint development of the Indus basin, nor does it eliminate the grounds for conflict over water distribution since it is a plan for the separate development of the basin.
Similarly, it does not create mechanisms to address issues specified in the treaty such as groundwater use, changes in flow due to climate change, changing domestic demand due to population increases. This lack of cooperative sharing of water, he says, has considerable negative consequences for the ecology and societies of the Indus basin and calls for a review of the IWT.
Besides, the Himalayan glaciers are melting at an alarming rate because of climate change. Within the next 50 years, experts believe there will be a 30-40pc drop in glacial melt. A strategy to create more storage capacity for water is the only option available.
As pointed out by Ahmer Bilal Soofi, an eminent lawyer, “We can blame India’s conduct as an upper riparian state only up to a point. What of our own conduct and responsibilities? Lamentably, we have been wasting our water resources with almost criminal negligence and abandon.”
Hence, there is no escape from building several water reservoirs. Latest official estimates show that per capita water availability in the country has come down to 1,032 cubic metres in 2016 from 5,260 cubic metres in 1951.
It is obvious that Pakistan is feeling alienated from the IWT after repeated failures to get redress of its grievances and, hence, would like to replace it with a new treaty. But India does not need an amended or new treaty. And without its consent, the IWT cannot be revisited. A pragmatic approach would be to hold bilateral talks outside the treaty to remove the lacuna it suffers from.
Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, March 21st, 2016