By Babar Khan Bozdar
The most liberal water-sharing pact known as Indus Water Treaty was signed by Pakistani President Ayub Khan and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on September 19, 1960, in Karachi and the water of six rivers-Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum was shared between two countries.
This landmark pact was brokered by World Bank. Since this agreement, India and Pakistan had fought three major wars and there was a constant strain in their diplomatic relations but treaty survived despite severe nature of relations between both countries.
Recently, Indian Premier Narendra Modi stated that “Blood and Water can’t flow simultaneously” but in fact, this Indian move will flow blood over water simultaneously.
Historically, the partition of subcontinent created a conflict over the water of Indus Basin. The newly born states were unable to share water and manage an essential and cohesive network of irrigation. Moreover, during partition, the tributaries of Indus basin were given to India and Pakistan felt its livelihood threatened by the possibility of Indian control over the tributaries that bolstered water into the Pakistani portion of Indus Basin.
The IW system of rivers comprises of three Eastern Rivers, the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi while three western rivers are the Indus, the Jhelum, and the Chenab. As per arrangements, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej which constitute eastern system are exclusively allocated to India, Similarly Pakistan had allowed exclusive use of western rivers and India was bound to supply water to Pakistan for 10 years, Until Pakistan will be able to construct canal system for the utilization of water of Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab.
Initially, the water was divided by Inter-Dominion accord of May 4, 1948. This understanding obliged India to release sufficient waters to the Pakistani regions in return for annual payment from Government of Pakistan. The accord was meant for the permanent solution of water between India and Pakistan but none of them was eager to trade off their particular positions and arrangements achieved a stalemate. Pakistan attempted to take the matter to the International court of Justice (ICJ) for the peaceful settlement of dispute but India refused to argue that it will be resolved bilaterally.
The treaty has placed limitations on design and operation of hydroelectric plants, storage works and other river works that are to be constructed by India on the western rivers. India is bound to provide information relating to these works in advance while Pakistan has right to communicate its objection with India.
Indus water treaty was meant for resolving their issues bilaterally, but now water dispute is intensely politicized in India because hawks in India publically demanding for abrogating the treaty without realizing the side effects or rationality of their demand. Indeed, their demand is an attempt of pushing both countries on the brink of war. Which is not in the favor of both countries?
Following the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in 2001, Key Policymakers in India asked the government for scraping Indus water treaty but Atal Bihari Vajpayee government made no intimation because such move would be considered as a violation of Indus Water Treaty. Prior to this, Kargil conflict happened and a transition was seen in their defence posture from conventional to nuclear. In this situation, Indian Premier Atal-Bihari Vajpayee felt the need for normalizing ties with Pakistan and visited Lahore where he signed Lahore declaration with Nawaz Shareef. It was a wise decision praised by social and political leaders of both countries.
The legal instrument had so far sustained and delivered despite ups and downs in Indo-Pak relations, but it is the first time that Modi’s government called for abrogating IWT. The possible reason behind this statement is that Modi government lost his credibility and capability in delivering good governance. It also lost his support within. Hence, it came down to terrorist activities likes abrogating IWT. In this way, Modi’s statement is an attempt to divert the mind of people and gain anti-Pakistan sympathy.
It is not so easy to scrape Indus water treaty because World Bank is the Mediator while certain restrictions are implemented on both Parties in case of violating the treaty. The article nine of IWT provide its better explanation and restrict both countries from violating Indus water treaty. Simultaneously treaty couldn’t be scraped unilaterally. Without consultation with Pakistan Indian move will be treated as an act of war and again it might trigger conflict between hostile neighbors over water which has serious consequences for both countries.
Pakistan is an agricultural country and water is the source of survival. Similarly, Indian robbery over water will never be accepted from Pakistan side. In fact, it is the matter 180 million lives. In this situation, Indian ambition of scraping Indus water treaty will be dangerous.
Linking water with security, I think it is a narrow minded approach because there is no connection war and wide. So, such policies will not only suffer India and Pakistan but region too. In this situation, leaders should come up with durable solutions rather than triggering hostility.
By summarizing up, Modi’s claiming withdrawal from Indus Water Treaty is not more than a political and strategic stunt. Modi’s statement is a Major blow within the country and it is not more than a political suicide on international forums.
Babar Khan is a Research Affiliate at Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad