INDIA’S threat to block the flow of western river’s water to Pakistan, scrap the Indus Water Treaty and withdraw the country’s MFN status, is just rhetoric, as it lacks the capability to carry them out.

The officials of the water and power ministry informed the Senate standing committee on Sept 29 that India could not stop Pakistan’s water because it had no infrastructure to do so. Some senators argued that India may develop this capability within a couple of years and, hence, the country must be prepared to counter such a possibility.

Officials are of the view that India, however, can stop the water of the Chenab River during December, January or February by storing water at the Salal Dam Lake. Having a storage capacity of around 60,000 acre feet, India can impound all of the Chenab river’s water flow for around 7-8 days, which comes down to 4,000 to 5,000 cusecs during a severe winter period.

India can also increase the use of water flowing into the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers. And it can build more reservoirs in its part of Kashmir.

Sheraz Memon, Additional Commissioner, Indus Water Commission, in a presentation, briefed the senators about the treaty and its historical perspective. He dispelled the impression that the World Bank is a guarantor of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) signed between Pakistan and India on September 19, 1960.


Even if there were no IWT, the upper riparian, under International Water Law, has no right to stop water flow to a lower riparian. In case India tries to interrupt the flow of water into Pakistan as an upper riparian, it would serve as precedence to others


The World Bank had brokered the treaty and facilitated negotiations between the two countries. Its key role today relates only to the treaty’s two articles: appointment of neutral experts in case of disputes and Chairman, Court of Arbitration.

Giving the historical perspective of the water dispute between the two countries, Shiraz Memon recalled thatIndia had stopped water to Pakistan from two barrages located in Indian Punjab in 1947. It later released this water after a payment of Rs50,000.

In 1949 India again stopped water flow to Pakistan, and when the Government of Punjab (Pakistan) approached the Government of Indian Punjab for the release of water, the Indians argued that even though they had sold water to Pakistan in 1947, they had no plans of doing so again. After this incident, differences between the two countries escalated, with the World Bank coming forward and brokering a deal.

According to Memon,setting up run of river hydroelectric projects by India, with pondage, creates issues. Pondage cannot stop the flow, but flows fluctuate for a few hours which later on bridge the flow gap.

Pakistan is, however, worried that if India continues to construct pondages, a time will come when India will be able to stop water to Pakistan, or divert it away from the country. The Senate committee was informed that an 80pc water share (approximately 137 MAF) of the Indus basin, as per the IWT, is allocated to Pakistan, and the remaining 20pc to India.

According to the treaty, Pakistan must receive unrestricted use of all the water of the western rivers, Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, which India is under obligation to let flow, without interference, under the provisions of paragraph 2 of the treaty.

Even if there was no IWT, the upper riparian, under International Water Law, has no right to stop water flow to a lower riparian. In case India tries to interrupt the flow of water into Pakistan as an upper riparian, it would serve as precedence to others.

Seen in this light, China has blocked a tributary of the Brahmaputra River as part of a major hydroelectric project, whose construction began in 2014. China’s move is in fact a warning to New Delhi against moving too far in the latter’s current tussle with Islamabad.

Pakistani lawmakers want the government to take any unilateral violation of the IWT as an act of war and the country’s security forces “must be ready to launch surgical strikes on Indian water installations.”

This was recommended by the Senate Standing Committee while discussing any threat to the Indus Water Treaty in the backdrop of statements by India’s ruling party leaders although, according to a spokesperson of the US State Department, the treaty has served as “a model for peaceful cooperation” between India and Pakistan for over 50 years.

Of late, there has been an overwhelming demand by Indian ruling party politicians and media personnel to revoke the Most favoured Nation (MFN) status granted to Pakistan in the wake of the growing political temperature.

This, though, cannot be pursued further because the bilateral trade between the two countries has since then been largely in favour of India, mainly because of non-tariff barriers that it has erected to curb imports.

India accorded the MFN status to Pakistan in 1996, claiming that the status was given to honour the commitments made with the WTO. Pakistan has not reciprocated by awarding a similar status to India on political grounds, insisting that unless basic disputes between the two countries were resolved, it would not grant the MFN status to India.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, October 10th, 2016

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