The mighty Indus and its eastern most tributary, River Sutlej, share their birth place in western heights of Tibetan plateau near Mount Kailash (21,778ft), Lake Manasarovar (15,060ft) and Lake Rakshastal (15,010ft). Meandering through the Upper-Himalayan mountains in Indian administered Kashmir for 400 miles (650 kilometres), the Indus contributing mean average flows of 90 MAF finds its bearing into Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Sutlej carrying mean average flows of 13.5 MAF hits the plains of Indian Punjab at Rupnagar finally entering into Pakistan north of Kasur. Jehlum with annual flows of 22.3 MAF, Chenab 23.5 MAF, Ravi 6.4 MAF and Beas 12.4 MAF rise in Himalayan ranges of Indian administered Kashmir and Hamachal Pradesh flowing through deep gorges, bound by steep cliffs enter Azad Kashmir and Pakistan after very short runs
The friction between India and Pakistan over sharing of started on April 1,1948, when India stopped flows from Ferozepur Headworks in eastern Punjab to the Dipalpur and BRBD canals in western Punjab (Pakistan). A clear cut result of a folly of Muslim League negotiators led by Chaudhry Mohammad Ali who did not bother or insisted upon canal water distribution at the time of Punjab Arbitration and the Radcliffe Award.
Supplies were however restored on May 19, 1948. But not before Pakistan agreed to pay compensation for the water. This incident also highlighted an urgent need for an equitable water sharing formula to avoid future friction or clash between the two newly independent states.
David E. Lilienthal, former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, was instrumental in helping the seven riparian US states sharing the Tennessee River and Mississippi River Basins to successfully establish formulae for water sharing of common rivers. He was also the spiritual father of IWT and was initially invited by Jawaharlal Nehru to India for advice on issues and challenges of water sharing confronting the new born state.
Even in those days, Americans had a keen interest in the future of India. In 1949, China had already been lost to the Communist camp. A self-avowed secular and socialist, Nehru was a real cause of concern to them. Lilienthal briefed by both state department and executive branch officials thus flew to India with full support of President Truman to help devise a formula for water sharing between India and Pakistan.
Lilienthal remained a proponent of sharing of waters of common rivers not dividing the rivers between states. He published his plan in Colliers magazine for trans-border cooperative development in 1951. He also wrote in his journal that “I proposed that India and Pakistan work out a joint program to develop and to operate the Indus Basin river system, upon which both nations were dependent for irrigation water”. He also suggested that the World Bank consider financing the needed infrastructure.
Enticed by Lilienthal’s ideas, the World Bank offered India and Pakistan help to devise an arrangement for equitable sharing of the water of six Indus rivers passing through Indian-controlled areas between India and Pakistan. For the first two years, the Indian negotiating team was headed by Mr Khosla and assisted by Mr N.D Gulhati – a seasoned engineer who initially asked for the River Beas for exclusive Indian use.
However, after Mr Khosla’s departure, Gulhati became the head of the Indian delegation and demanded all three eastern rivers —Sutlej, Beas and Ravi — for exclusive Indian use. Mr Gulhati’s tried to justify his demand by arguing that since 33 MAF of water of the three eastern rivers constitute 20 percent of the average flows for Indus river system – a share corresponding to the 20% of the watershed in India, it will facilitate independent management of the six rivers by India and Pakistan respectively.
Against vehement opposition by technical experts, the Pakistani delegation headed by a bureaucrat agreed to the skewed logic presented in the World Bank paper. The Bank also committed foreign exchange component credit for replacement water storages lost due to surrender of the three eastern rivers.
In 1956, Mr Gulhati demanded that India be allowed to build small storages on western rivers for cultivation and to generate electricity. The political leadership and head of Pakistan’s delegation most generously agreed to the Indian demand against the better advice of technical experts, which was also being supported whole-heartedly by the Bank’s bureaucracy. All through the years till 1960 the Indian side kept on adding innocuous looking demands that later proved to the determent of Pakistan, its farmers and its people.
The fateful Indus Waters Treaty was signed on September 19, 1960. It was hailed as a great success and a peacemaker between the two countries. In Pakistan, no one in the bureaucracy or technical experts were allowed to speak against the highly contentious treaty.
Amongst the politicians only Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and in the bureaucracy, the then Federal Secretary for Food and Agriculture, the famous Masood Khadar Posh, were the sole voices against the ‘Treaty’. Khadar Posh was also the author of highly acclaimed note of dissent to the Hari Report presented to the Government in June 1949 which was also never made public by the powers that be. It is widely claimed that Ayub Khan threatened Masood Khadar Posh to ‘either keep his trap shut or Ayub would put Khadar Posh against the wall and shoot him personally’.
Since independence till the signing of the IWT in 1960, Pakistan remained under severe political instability. Seven prime ministers were sacked between 1951 and 1957 before Ayub Khan took over as president in 1958. On the other side of the border, Jawaharlal Nehru worked as Indian prime minister for 17 years — from 1947 till 1964.
While none of the Pakistani leaders demonstrated the requisite understanding for future water security for their people, India offered formidable opposition led by PM Jawaharlal Nehru and an able negotiating team. The Indian chief negotiator Gulhati’s wife lay dying in Delhi and finally passed away, he would not return well after the signing of the treaty.