Futile Indo-Pak water talks
Dr Muhammad Khan


THE Two-day water talks between Pakistan and India ended in Islamabad on August 30, 2018 without making any headway. The Pakistani side was headed by Indus Water Commissioner Mehar Ali Shah and Indian side was headed by its Indus Water Indian Commissioner, PK Saxena.

This water talks was mainly centred on construction of two water reservoirs over Chenab River by India. These reservoirs include; The Pakal Dul Dam, a concrete-face rock-fill dam on Chenab River, in Kishtwar district of the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir. This is primarily a hydroelectric power generation project designed to produce 1000 MW electricity. Its planned height is 167 meters with 4 x 250 MW Francis-type turbines. With a total water storage capacity of 108,000,000 m (88,000 acres feet), the project will produce 1000 MW electricity upon construction. This project includes diversion of Chenab river water to south through a 10 km long headrace tunnel and into power station on the reservoir of the Dul Hasti Dam. Construction on this reservoir started in February 2014 by Patel Engineering, Bharat Heavy Electricals and Limak Holding of Turkey. The Lower Kalnai hydroelectric power plant is a 48MW (2x24MW) hydroelectric power project at Lower Kalnai Nallah, a tributary to Chenab River in Doda District of Indian occupied Kashmir. The project includes construction of a dam, tunnel, powerhouse, substations and installation of generators, transformers and transmission lines. Initiated in 2013, the project was formally started in 2016. It will divert water of Lower Kalnai Nallah through 4.25 km tunnel to Thatri for power generation. To conceal it for a localized impact and to avoid objections from Pakistan, the project has been given under the Government of Indian occupied Kashmir.
There have been many debates and correspondence between Pakistan and India over the construction of these dams. The two-days meeting between Indus Water officials of Pakistan and India at Lahore has totally focused about the designs and technical aspects of these reservoirs. Pakistan strongly feels that, design of both reservoirs, being built on Chenab River was not in line with the provisions of Indus water Treaty-1960. The Indian side however, maintained that, the engineering design of Pakal Dul Dam and Lower Kalnai Nallah hydroelectric project are in line with the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty thus cannot be modified now. It was unclear that like earlier, Pakistani officials were not fully prepared or it was Indian rigidity, however, the deadlock is maintained on these two projects. It is said that, during talks, Indian Indus Water Commissioner, PK Saxena indicated to Pakistan that, it (Pakistan) has not been able to built even a single dam after Mangla and Tarbela, thus have no right to object India over the construction of these two dams on Chenab river. Furthermore, the Indian side also told Pakistani side that, changing climate has led to severe lack of water in Chenab River.
It is worth mentioning that, Pakal Dul Dam will be “the first water storage infrastructure project by India on western rivers”, whose water was dedicated for Pakistan as per Indus Water Treaty-1960. During this meeting, Pakistan emphasized India to ‘reduce the freeboard height of the Pakal Dul hydro-power project which will have an installed capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Pakistan also asked Indian delegation to reduce the height of the Pakal Dul’s reservoir up to five metres. It urged India to maintain 40-metre height above sea level while making spillways’ gates of the Pakal Dul project besides clarifying the pattern and mechanism for the water storage and releases. Indian side however, refused to accept this Pakistani demand, despite it is a violation of IWT-provisions. Likewise, on Pakistani concerns over the Lower Kalnai Hydropower Project, the Indian delegation asserted that they would follow through with the initiative. Since the Indo-Pak Talks on water issues ended without any headway, Pakistan has hinted to approach the international forums defined in the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). As per Pakistani officials, “We have categorically made it clear that we will have no option but to use international forums — appointment of neutral experts, taking the case to international court of arbitration, etc — in case India failed to address our concerns that are absolutely genuine and can be resolved amicably.”
While the construction on both projects is continuing, India is using delaying tactics to gain time. At the end of the two-day talks, India refused to accept Pakistani demand for the change of designs, however, it (Indian delegation) “assured the Pakistani side of taking up the issues in the next meeting of the commission to be held in India.” It is worth mentioning that, India used the same strategy while constructing the Baglihar Dam on River Chenab and Kishinganga Dam on Neelum River. Later, once Pakistan referred the case to international arbitration, there was no success except wastage of money and time. Indeed, on the issue of Indian water manipulation of Western rivers, Pakistan has not been able to pursue its case in front of India and the international community, especially the World Bank and the international arbitration. Failure of the two days talks in Lahore and earlier attempts to stop India from constructing dams on rivers dedicated to Pakistani, clearly indicates that Pakistan must raise the level of talks to Ministerial level, leaving aside the meagre efforts made by the officials of Pakistani Indus Water Commission. The sooner, Pakistan raises the level to seriously address the water issues, better it would be, since Pakistan has already lost substantially on account of water sources.