India Reviews Indus Water Treaty, Pakistan Furious

A couple of days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that “blood and water can’t flow together” (while responding to Uri terror attack), India has announced that it is reviewing the Indus Water Treaty (signed with Pakistan 56 years ago). India said that it is eager to “exploit to the maximum” the water of Pakistan-controlled rivers.
Prime Minister Modi recently held a meeting with his senior officials to set up an inter-ministerial task force that would go into the details and working of the treaty with a “sense of urgency”. According to sources close to the Indian government, the meeting decided to review the “unilateral suspension” of 1987 Tulbul navigation project, apart from deciding to exploit to the maximum capacity of Indus, Chenab and Jhelum Rivers that are under Pakistan’s control in the areas of hydro power, irrigation and storage.
After partition, both India and Pakistan locked horns over the share of water in the Indus Basin as its sources remained in India. In the early years of partition, an Inter-Dominion Accord of 1948 apportioned the share. Pakistan was keen on a permanent solution. As both sides could not compromise, the World Bank (WB) negotiated a deal between them. In 1954, the WB offered a proposal to New Delhi and Islamabad under which India retains control over the three eastern tributaries, while Pakistan controls the three rivers in the west. Although India was eager to seal this deal, Pakistan turned hostile, even threatening to walk out. After deliberations, talks gained momentum in 1954 and the WB also helped to fund the construction of canals for Pakistan. On September 19, 1960, first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Pakistani President Ayub Khan signed an agreement to share water of Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum Rivers. As Indus was biggest of them, the treaty was named the ‘Indus Water Treaty’.
The Indus Treaty is considered as the world’s most generous water-sharing agreement on the basis of which Pakistan gets 80% of the water in the six-river Indus system and the volume is 90 times greater than Mexico’s share under a 1944 pact with the US. It is Asia’s only treaty with specific water-sharing formulas on cross-border flows. A virtual line on the Indian map splits the Indus basin. While India’s sovereignty lies in the lower rivers, Pakistan’s sovereignty lies in the upper rivers. The Indus Treaty is the only water pact compelling an upper riparian state to defer to the interests of a downstream state.
The treaty clearly says that India has to let the western rivers flow, but can use its water for domestic and farm work and also for generating hydel power. However, there had been disputes over the treaty. In 2010, Islamabad began international arbitration over India’s 330MW hydro project on Kishenganga River. India was ordered to suspend work in the very next year. In 2013, India was allowed to resume work under tough terms. Recently, India opposed China’s move to build the 7,000MW Bunji Dam and the 4,500MW Bhasha Dam in the Indus Basin (in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir).
After the September 18 Uri terror attack, the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi decided to use some provisions in the Indus Water Treaty to turn the heat on Islamabad. India plans to revive the Tulbul project that was suspended in 1987 after Pakistan objected. The Tulbul project is a “navigation lock-cum-control structure” at the mouth of a lake located on the Jhelum River. It is a key intra-state channel to ferry India-controlled-Kashmir’s goods and people. However, a minimum depth of water is necessary to sustain navigation through the year. India’s idea is to ensure year-round navigation along the 20km stretch from Anantnag to Srinagar and Baramullah, and on the 22km stretch between Sopore and Baramullah that becomes non-navigable in winter with water depth of only 2.5ft. The project envisages water release from the lake to maintain minimum draught of 4.5ft in Jhelum.
New Delhi is well aware of the fact that the Tulbul project will have an impact on Pakistan’s agriculture sector. It can create problems for Pakistan’s triple-canal project that connects Jhelum-Chenab with Upper Bari Doab Canal. With a barrage, India still controls release of water into Jhelum that could trigger a flood or drought in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. The Modi administration has said that India grossly under-utilises its entitlement under the 1960 treaty where it could use all the waters of Jhelum, Sutlej and Indus that carry 135 million acre feet of water. So, New Delhi has decided to step up the share of Indus River without violating the Treaty and make Pakistan pay a price for harbouring terror.
As New Delhi plans to suspend water talks with Islamabad and to maximise India’s share of river waters by increasing the use of rivers flowing through Jammu and Kashmir, Sartaj Aziz, the Adviser (on Foreign Affairs) to Pak Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has said that they will approach the UN and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in case India revokes the Indus Waters Treaty. He also said that India’s move would be tantamount to an “act of war”.
Pakistan has no other option, but to approach the UN. The Treaty provides for three-stage grievance redress. It is clearly stated in the treaty that disputes can be raised first at meetings (twice a year). If unresolved, it can be referred to neutral expert appointed by the WB. If that too fails, two sides can apply for arbitration by the UN’s Court of Arbitration. Interestingly, if the first stage of redressal is suspended, the other two steps cannot kick in and this leads to a dead end for Pakistan.
The Indian foreign policy experts have welcomed Prime Minister Modi’s decision to reclaim its right over Jammu and Kashmir rivers, saying that Pakistan cannot expect the Indus Water Treaty to survive if it refuses to honour the 1972 Simla Peace Pact with India.


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