India evading or embracing: Indus Water Treaty?
Khalid Iqbal
4/2/2017

 

Nearly 60 years down the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), water dispute between India and Pakistan remains contentious. Pakistani side tried to create an impression that recent Commissioner level talks on IWT were held in a conducive environment and that Indiahad acknowledgedthe objections raised by Pakistan over the controversial hydropower projects on Chenab River.Speaking to the media at the conclusion of talks, Pakistan’s Indus Water Commissioner Mirza Asif Beg said: “The Indian side has agreed to halt progress and review the design of its smaller 120-megawatt Miyar project.

India will share the new design with Islamabad before starting work on that project.”But in otiose, Indiawas quick to dispel the euphoria. Its external affairs’ ministrydenied acceptance of Islamabad’s reservations on the disputed Miyar Dam during the talks.”The reports were factually incorrect and wrong and India had never agreed to halt the project”, MEA official spokesperson Gopal Baglay said. He added: “As long as we are party to the Indus Water Treaty, it is incumbent upon us to fulfill our obligation. It is mandated to meet at least once in a year.” It appears that having realized its limitations with regard to walking away from the treaty unilaterally, it has made up its mind to erode the ITW. India may drag Pakistan into meaningless long drawn negotiations.Dr Daniel Haines, University of Bristol, in his recent article “Rivers run Wild” carried by News Week Pakistan (Feb. 25 – March 11, 2017) has made interesting comments on water dispute between Indian and Pakistan. Excerpts: “It is no secret that the Pakistani and Indian governments do not get along. A key point of tension is water… India’s plans for hydropower projects in Kashmir at Baglihar and Kishenganga had caused tensions…A neutral expert approved India’s Baglihar plans in 2006. A court of arbitration’s verdict on Kishenganga in 2013 was closer to a draw… The highly specific nature of the Indus treaty makes it fragile. Amending or renegotiating the treaty, as some commentators in both countries have recently suggested, could once again highlight basic differences in the way that the two governments view international water rights”.Pakistan has been voicing concerns over the designs of five Indian hydroelectric projects: Pakal Dul, Ratle, Kishanganga, Miyar and Lower Kalnai. India has withdrawn the design of the Miyar hydroelectric project. It was also agreed that the Lower Kalnai and Pakal Dul projects will be inspected again.Probably Pakistan had already withdrawn its objections to freeboard of the 1000MW Pakal Dul project; objections with regard to pondage, spillway and filling criteria stand. It is a storage-cum-power project and can have gross storage of about 108,000 acre feet of water. Pakistan is of the opinion that the tunnel spillway of Pakal Dul should be raised closer to the dead storage level so that it does not allow drawdown flushing. On the Lower Kalnai project, Pakistan has raised objections to its freeboard, pondage and intake. Pakistan has also challenged the discharge series of river lower Kalnai at Dunadi for winter months and its estimated permissible pondage. Pakistan has also raised objections to freeboard, pondage, spillway and intake of the Miyar hydroelectric project.The agenda of recent meeting included deliberations on Pakal Dul, Lower Kalnai and Miyar hydroelectric plants’ designs, flood data supply by India and programme of tours of inspection and meetings by Pakistan and India to the sites of their interest in the Indus basin.Ministry of Water and Powers has stated: “Indian side has agreed to re-consider Pakistan’s observations on these projects and will respond in the next meeting of the commission.””We also presented our objections over the designs of Pakul Dal and Lower Kalnai projects,” Pakistan’s Commissioner Mr Asif Baig stated that more talks on the controversial projects were likely to be held after three months in New Delhi.Indian side also agreed to a tour of inspection for Pakistan’s Indus Commission which is expected to be arranged before August. Pakistan also asked India to provide outflows from Baglihar and Salal dams during flood season to issue flood early warnings. Indian side has agreed, data will start coming-in before the forthcoming flood season.Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects over which Pakistan was seeking International Court of Arbitration through the World Bank were not discussed. “Negotiations on these two projects would be held next month in the United States,” Pakistan’s commissioner said.The two countries would hold three-day secretary-level talks on the Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects, under the aegis of the World Bank, in Washington from April 11. “The US has intervened at the highest level to help both countries resolve the issue”;there will be secretary-level talks on April 11-13.Pakistan is pressing for implementation of arbitration court’s decision on Kishanganga.However,Hindustan Timesdropped a hint just a day after the meeting that the Washington meet may be “under a cloud”.India may not attend a World Bank (WB) proposed secretary-level talks with Pakistan as it finds the proposed meet against the ‘spirit of the pact’.”India believes that there is no need to look for another mechanism to break the deadlock since the treaty already had a dispute resolution system built in.”India also believes the WB which brokered the pact in 1960 has lately been “biased” in following the treaty provisions.”And that India cannot be party to any meeting “which is against the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty”.The World Bank was playing the role of a ‘mediator’ whereas it should be a ‘facilitator’ between India and Pakistan to resolve the issues “in accordance with the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty”. “New Delhi feels the World Bank continues to work against the spirit of the pact by initiating two separate dispute resolution mechanisms,” reported the Hindustan Times.There was no commitment from the visiting side to halt construction work on the controversial projects, indicating India’s traditional time-gaining approach to project development.Pattern from all the previous controversial projects like Baglihar and Kishanganga has been that New Delhi engaged Islamabad in technicalities and kept civil and side works moving for years until reaching a fait accompli stage before the matter is challenged in international forums.Dr. Haines aptly concludes “The Indus Waters Treaty, then, deserves credit for its durability, and its role in preventing further escalation in tensions between Pakistan and India during the mid-20th century. But its legacy is a troubled one. On the one hand, it has entrenched both countries in a system of water use that neither finds satisfactory. On the other, it has represented a more or less functional aspect of an otherwise fraught problem. Whatever the national governments choose to do next, the experience of history suggests that any new solution is bound to have unintended consequences”. By jeopardizing one of the few treaties that has successfully governed how water is shared between nations, Prime Minster Narendra Modiis opening the floodgates to a new and potent source of conflict, and in so doing, is setting a bad example for the rest of the world.For Pakistani side, caution is due; we should be prepared for long drawn out legal battles at international forums for securing our water rights under the treaty.