Indus Waters Treaty is unfair on India, scrapping it can't be ruled out

The government must make it clear that it is not going to be business as usual if Pakistan continues to bleed India.

 |  6-minute read |   29-09-2016
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Ever since the Indus Waters Treaty has come into the current discourse of India-Pakistan relations, some have called for abrogation of the lopsided treaty, while others have warned against it citing a range of consequences that would follow. But any evaluation of this matter must be cognisant of the fundamental fact that the treaty is grossly unfair to India.

Signed in 1960 by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then Pakistan President Ayub Khan, the Indus Water Treaty was brokered by World Bank. It is an extraordinarily generous water-sharing treaty, and is the only pact in the world that compels the upper riparian state to defer to the interests of the downstream state.

The treaty gives Pakistan control over the three so-called "western" rivers - Indus, Jhelum and Chenab that flow from Jammu and Kashmir before entering Pakistan. On the other hand, India gets to control the three eastern rivers - Ravi, Beas and Sutlej that flow from Punjab.

This parity in the number of rivers is, however, quite misleading. The three rivers that India gets to control have an awfully low volume of waters compared to the other three. In all, Pakistan gets a whopping 5,900 tmcft volume of water every year which is a massive 80.5 per cent share of the total waters, while India gets to use only 19.5 per cent.

What’s ironic is that Pakistan gobbles up all of this water even though its actual requirement is much less. It is egregious that annually about 40 million acre feet (maf) of water flows into the Arabian Sea absolutely unutilised, according to a study by a Supreme Court advocate.

If even some of these waters were allowed to be utilised by India, the water crunch in the states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan could probably be solved. Further, the state most affected by the treaty is Jammu and Kashmir. The people and government of J&K have time and again raised this issue.

In 2002, the state Assembly passed a unanimous resolution demanding the abrogation of the pact, when Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was the chief minister. Given the power shortages in the state, full access to Indus waters has the ability to boost self-reliance which is key to solving the state’s problems. Pakistan, however, has a vested interest in continuing the status quo because it harms the people of J&K and undermines their economic growth.

nehruayub_092916013739.jpg Late former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru with Pakistan's President Ayub Khan signing the Indus Waters Treaty on September 19, 1960. [Photo: Agencies]

Even though under the treaty India has the right to "non-consumptive" use of the three western rivers, which is for purposes such as hydropower generation and even storage upto 3.6 million acre feet, India has hardly made any use of these waters, allowing Pakistan to benefit from the surplus.

Even for the few projects that India has undertaken, such as the Kishanganga and Ratle projects well within the treaty framework, Pakistan has unabashedly taken them to international arbitration over petty objections, in effect stalling the projects resulting in obvious implications such as cost overruns.

Meanwhile as the Indian projects are halted, Pakistan itself is busy erecting dams to make its case stronger. Ironically, China too has stealthily built a dam on the Indus at Demchok in Ladakh.

The Indus Waters Treaty came into recent spotlight when MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup on September 22 hinted at a press briefing that India may revisit it. "I am sure you are aware that there are differences between India and Pakistan on the implementation of the Indus Waters Treaty," he said before adding that the issue is being addressed bilaterally and that all cooperative measures call for mutual trust and goodwill on both sides. "For any such treaty to work, it is important there must be mutual trust and cooperation. It can't be a one-sided affair," Swarup said.

Largesse be it in the case of river waters or other resources like land, marine resources, etc is not uncommon in diplomacy. India has a proven track record of making magnanimous overtures to its neighbours.

The recent land boundary agreement with Bangladesh is a fine example of how India is willing to walk the extra mile if the partner country is able to reciprocate with a sense of goodwill and positivity. But Pakistan is no Bangladesh or Bhutan.

There is neither mutual trust nor goodwill, which were the foundational basis of the Indus Waters Treaty, between India and Pakistan today. For 56 years of uninterrupted and unquestioned flow of waters from India to Pakistan, all India has got in return is the blood of its citizens.

As strategist Brahma Chellaney wrote in his recent article, "If India jettisons the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), it can fashion water into its most potent tool of leverage to mend Pakistan’s behaviour. Pakistan has consistently backed away from bilateral agreements with India - from the Simla Agreement, to the commitment not to allow its territory to be used for cross-border terrorism… It cannot selectively demand India’s compliance with one treaty while it flouts a peace pact serving as the essential basis for all peaceful cooperation, including the sharing of river waters." Chellaney has also pointed out that Pakistan’s use of state-reared terrorist groups can be invoked by India, under Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, as constituting reasonable grounds for withdrawal from the Indus treaty.

The government has for now not decided to abrogate the treaty, but would be "maximising" the use from the western waters under the ambit of the treaty. In the high level review meeting held on Monday (September 26), Prime Minister Modi said that "blood and water cannot flow at the same time", indicating a firm stance.

The government has also decided to suspend the meeting of Indus Water Commission until further notice, pointing out that such engagements need an atmosphere free from terror. But the government’s policy on the treaty must in no way stop here. This must only be the first step and future course of action must be contingent on whether Pakistan mends its ways – which is predictably quite unlikely.

Therefore, a step-by-step escalation would work well indicating to Pakistan that with every misadventure it undertakes, the costs will be raised. Come what may, abrogation as an option should not be ruled out because only then will India be able to make it clear that it is not going to be business as usual if Pakistan continues to bleed India.

Also read: Disastrous for India to break Indus Waters Treaty over Uri attack

Watch video: Pakistan's MFN status comes under scanner as India prepares for an economic war


Kamal Madishetty Kamal Madishetty @kamalmadishetty

The writer is a research associate at Vision India Foundation, New Delhi.

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