Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.
Ramaswamy Iyer makes an excellent point about the Indus Waters Treaty in his op-ed in The Hindu. Everyone, including the saner voice in Pakistan, has expressed apprehension about the mechanics of sharing the Indus waters between India and Pakistan. Some of these, are indeed, attributable to lower riparian anxiety, while others are more malicious in intent. However, it is very premature for India to accede to any compromise on the treaty, particularly given Pakistan’s own callous attitude towards terrorism in India, much of which is perpetrated — directly, or indirectly — by agents of Rawalpindi.
Quite simply, there is no need for India to express enthusiasm towards a recalibration of the treaty; moreso, as I’ve argued in December’s Pragati, when Pakistan is unwilling to take steps to help itself in managing its own water resources more efficiently. The best India can do is abide by the terms already articulated in the Indus Waters Treaty.
The only circumstance which will ensure a total absence of anxiety on Pakistan’s part would be a total absence of Indian structures on the western rivers, but that is not what the IWT says. It permits Indian projects on the western rivers, but stipulates restrictions and conditions that safeguard Pakistan’s interests. The best reassurance that Pakistan can have is full Indian compliance with those Treaty provisions, and this is zealously watched by the Indus Commissioner for Pakistan in the Permanent Indus Commission.
Incidentally, the myth that there was a serious and deliberate violation of the Treaty by India during the initial filling of the Baglihar reservoir is now an established belief in Pakistan. This writer has dealt with this elsewhere and will not go into the details here. Assuming that the flow at Merala during the filling period fell below the prescribed minimum level (this itself is debatable because there is no joint observation), the important point is that the lapse, if any, was a minor one and lasted only for a short period — less than a day — and could not possibly have caused serious damage.
Why was this minor matter blown up into a huge controversy by Pakistan? The answer is perhaps that Pakistan was deeply disappointed over the Baglihar arbitration and was ready to take advantage of an opportunity to put India on the mat for an alleged deviation from the Treaty. The Indus Commission has now closed this issue.
Pleas are also made for holistic, integrated management of the entire system, joint watershed management, etc. These are unexceptionable ideas, but it was because this kind of approach was not found possible that the system was partitioned into two in 1960. Even today, it cannot be said that the relationship between the two countries has dramatically and durably changed for the better. For the present, what one can ask for is the operation of the existing Treaty in a constructive, cooperative spirit. [The Hindu]