India, IWT and looming water crisis in Pakistan
Farooq Awan


During the time majority in Pakistan was engrossed in political interests and provincial prejudices on the construction of Kalabagh Dam, India was building reservoirs on the rivers that fall in Pakistan’s share under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT).

India has ensured that its longstanding desire to convert Pakistan into a desert has legal validity by an international arbitration entity such as the World Bank. Taking into account the fact that water shortage in Pakistan has gone from bad to worse during the last few years, the threat of our riverbeds turning into dry wastelands looms awfully large in the days ahead.

Pakistan’s water problem has its basis in the very fact that the springheads of almost all the rivers that flow into Pakistan fall in the Indian territories. This geographical handicap has left Pakistan unnecessarily dependent on India, who by virtue of its traditional ill will towards Pakistan keeps on hurling threats of stopping or diverting rivers’ water every now and then. In order to negate India the freehand to adopt an exploitative posture vis-à-vis water needs of its neighbour, Pakistan struck a World Bank-sponsored mandatory binding on India under the Indus Waters Treaty in September 1960 to ensure free flow of water towards it as a lower riparian. According to the treaty, India was given complete autonomy over the use of water resources of eastern rivers – Sutlej, Beas and Ravi – while Pakistan was authorized to make full utilization of waters from the western rivers – Indus, Chenab and Jhelum. Notably, the clause of treaty pertaining to full autonomy over use of water from designated rivers does not allow diversion or redirecting the courses of the rivers by any state. On the whole, the agreement on water distribution at that time was considered a major stride to bring normalcy in relations between the two countries.

It is quite interesting to mention here that while Pakistan kept looking for avenues of enhancing cooperation and bilateral ties with its eastern neighbour in the follow-up of the pact, India on the other hand remained fully focused on issuing furious warnings to cut off water supply to Pakistan. Tensions have especially heightened since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014. In September 2016, he suspended meetings of the Indus Waters Committee with a typical tirade that “blood and water cannot flow simultaneously.” In order to transform its political tirades into practical execution, India initiated construction of Kishanganga and Baglihar dams on River Jhelum and RatleDam on River Chenab for power generation, contrary to the provisions of the treaty.

To continue using water as a coercive tool, India has planned to not only construct dams on the rivers falling in Pakistan’s share but also redirect waters of rivers Ravi, Beas and Sutlej whose surplus spill-outs were earlier allowed to trickle down to Pakistan and thus helped save these river from complete extinction. Taking a nod from Modi, Union Water Resources Minister NitinGadkari said a few days back that his country would stop water flow into Pakistan and redirect Ravi, Beas and Sutlej to irrigate northern Indian states, including Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. This transpires that the matter has gone beyond the stage of political sloganeering on the part of India as they are now determined to ensure that not a single drop of water comes to Pakistan from India’s share of rivers as well.

The World Bank, being guarantor of the treaty, has so far miserably failed in both addressing the concerns of Pakistan and effectively stopping India from ‘water terrorism’. The WB has not only sidelined Pakistan’s demand to appoint chairman of the International Court of Arbitration for resolution of its genuine apprehensions but also bowed down to strong lobbying maneuvers by India, thereby exempting itself from responsibility to be an arbitrator in the issue. Right under the nose of World Bank, India has moved ahead with two hydroelectric power facilities on Jhelum and Chenab rivers by constructing Kishanganga (330 megawatts) and Ratle (850 megawatts) dams. This all speaks for brazen neglect of the reservations raised by Pakistan as well as legal interpretations that bar construction of any IWT-related project without prior dispute resolution. What WB has failed to improve upon is its traditional stance over Indian projects vis-à-vis reservations of Pakistan which the bank always considers having no effect on Pakistan. Quite contrarily such projects do affect Pakistan being a lower riparian.

Pragmatically, what Pakistan’s Foreign Office badly required in the aftermath of the WB declaration was the realization of the fact that without bearing a tough posture on the issue at international forums and fighting a diplomatic war for our legitimate rights on water share, the issue was not going to be resolved. As a matter of fact, the more we are going to show restraint at this moment, the worse will become our state of water crisis with every passing day, besides making India more audacious and aggressive. We should learn from our arch-rival India that how it went crazy when China built a dam in Tibet on the River Brahamputraa few years back, whereas there existed no such water-sharing treaty between the two countries. Since importance of water for any nation cannot be denied, Pakistan needs to seriously focus on enhancing the capacity of its Indus Water Commission by reinforcing it with legal and technical experts who could do better homework and are able to proficiently fight a legal war against the Indian water projects being built on Pakistan’s share of rivers.