Renegotiate the Indus Treaty

By Manzoor Chandio
Nov 11, 2008
THAT India has not refrained from drawing waters from the rivers allocated to Pakistan for its exclusive use under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) has caused much concern in Pakistan.
Moreover, India’s denial of compensation for the loss of 0.2 million acre feet of water that Pakistan claims it suffered while the Baglihar dam was being filled has disturbed Pakistani farmers who now worry about far-reaching effects of the water shortage in the country.
With the national economy slowing down, the shortage of water will be more painful. And at a time when the economic managers are predicting that it will take several years to recover from the current crisis, Pakistan cannot afford the loss of any more water.
The Pakistani position on the Chenab water issue has been clear: a minimum of 55,000 cusecs of water should flow into Pakistan at the Marala headworks near Sialkot in peak season; however, a flow of only 22,000 cusecs was recorded this year, affecting the output of the kharif crops.
When the Indus water commissioners of India and Pakistan met in New Delhi amid Pakistan’s deepening anxiety about the Chenab water, the bureaucratic-level delegation from Islamabad simply demanded compensation for the water Pakistan did not receive. New Delhi rejected the charge despite the fact that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani that Pakistan would be compensated for Chenab water losses.
The blocking of the Chenab river was feared in 2003 when a team of the Pakistan commission for Indus waters alleged that the Baglihar dam, some 150 km north of Jammu in Indian-controlled Kashmir, was being built in violation of the IWT brokered by the World Bank. Chenab is that tributary of the Indus river to which India has no water rights under the treaty signed in Karachi by Jawaharlal Nehru and Ayub Khan in September 1960.
The roots of the India-Pakistan water dispute can be traced to Partition which not only divided people but also the waters of the Indus basin. The border between the two states divided the world’s largest irrigation system into two parts.
The current situation is reminiscent of the water crisis Pakistan faced immediately after Partition. India being the upper-riparian country stopped the flow of water from the headworks falling on its side, causing severe water shortages in Pakistan.
To end the crisis, the World Bank acted as an intermediary in the negotiations that led to the accord on the sharing of water between the two countries, which gave India exclusive control of the waters of the Beas, Sutlej and Ravi while Pakistan was given the rights to the waters of the Chenab, Jhelum and Indus.
While there were free-flowing rivers, the water in the Indus was enough to flood the delta. But the burgeoning population in the two countries enhanced their need for water. Since the signing of the treaty, India has built several dams and barrages not only on the rivers allocated to it but also on the rivers to which Pakistan has exclusive rights.
Unfortunately, the construction of dams and barrages by India triggered an inter-provincial spat in Pakistan between Punjab and Sindh. According to Sindh, Punjab would divert water meant for Sindh to its own farmlands in a bid to make up for the water allegedly lost on the Indian side of the international border. Sindh being the lower-riparian province and a tail-end user of the Indus system claimed it was unable to stop Punjab from drawing water in excess of its quota.
According to some estimates, 80 per cent of the water in the Indus system is diverted to farmlands, a diversion which, according to Sindh, has resulted in soil erosion, salinity, deforestation, desertification and encroachment by the sea in Sindh.
India benefited greatly from the IWT by reclaiming more lands in East Punjab and in the desert of Rajasthan. Sindh, however, lost its precious katchha forests and two million acres of fertile land in Thatta and Badin districts and the Indus delta as the loss of the three rivers to India was compensated for by link canals which diverted water from the Indus. Thus the Chashma-Jhelum link canal channelled water from the Indus river to the Jhelum, then onward to the Chenab and Ravi and ultimately to the Sutlej command area.
This diversion of water has devastated the whole aquatic ecosystem and culture of Sindh. The subsoil water across Sindh and the water in fresh-water lakes have turned brackish and unfit for human or agricultural use. This has not only affected the livelihood of fishermen but it has also disturbed the natural habitat of many species of animals, birds and fish.
In the wake of the gathering gloom on the water front, Pakistan must understand that there is no substitute for this precious commodity. Therefore, there is a need for renegotiating the IWT instead of merely demanding compensation from India. The decades-old treaty brokered by a military ruler handed over three rivers to India at Sindh’s expense.
This is a perfect opportunity for the present democratic government to think beyond compensation and renegotiate the treaty keeping in mind the construction of the post-treaty dams and barrages, the recent flooding in the Sutlej valley, and devastation caused by water shortages in the Indus delta.
It is important for India and Pakistan to establish channels of effective diplomatic dialogue to resolve the water dispute instead of depending on bureaucratic parleys. When the treaty was brokered concerns such as global warming and climate change did not exist. Now India should be asked to release water from its own share to save the Indus delta which has its own importance for keeping the regional ecosystem healthy.
Throughout the world rivers flow through several countries and the riparian states share the waters by negotiating effective treaties. Since India and Pakistan are not locked in a state of hostility they can follow the example of other countries and hammer out a new treaty for posterity.


Anonymous said...

Dear Manzoor,
This is an excellent and well researched article on water dispute not only between India and Pakistan but its effects on lower riparian in Pakistan that is Sindh.
I sincerely appreciate this serious work which is not just based on commentary and opinions, you have defended your views with arguments and hard historic evidence.

Great man,

Mushtaque Rajpar

Jeetendra said...

Saaen, I must say your posts are a real eye opener about what is happening in Pakistan.

Very well written Saaeen, keep up the good work