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Tag Archives | indus waters treaty

Be careful, where ye tread

India has no business granting Pakistan an NOC on the Diamer-Bhasha dam.

So it seems that the Asian Development Bank has put paid to Pakistan’s desire in building the Diamer-Bhasha dam, which was expected to produce 4,500 MW of electricity for the energy-starved country.  According to the Express Tribune:

After initially placing two conditions for financing the dam, estimated to cost around $12 billion, the ADB has lately asked Pakistan to get a no-objection certificate from India, which is not being received well in government circles. Initially, the ADB called on Pakistan to acquire land and develop national consensus in a bid to avoid hurdles during construction work. However, when both the conditions were met, the ADB retreated from its commitment. [Express Tribune]

The Asian Development Bank is right in stalling the project, given that Pakistan’s intended construction of the dam lies in disputed territory.  Requiring an NOC from the other disputant, therefore, is only fair.  The danger here isn’t so much gauging how Pakistan or the ADB would react than reigning in India’s historic proclivity for being magnanimous with regard to Pakistan.

In the pursuit of magnanimity and peace with Pakistan (whatever that means), the Government of India might feel compelled to grant such an NOC to Pakistan.  However, Diamer-Bhasha dam falls within the region of Gilgit-Baltistan, which was unequivocally declared as Indian territory in India’s Parliamentary resolution in 1994.

Thus, issuing an NOC enabling Pakistan to proceed with the Diamer-Bhasha dam has implications beyond the construction of the dam itself.  New Delhi would be wise in treading very carefully on the issue.  Altering our stance here could have a larger implications on our claims on J&K as well as our position on the status of territory illegally usurped by an aggressor state in 1947.

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Paani-pat, the fourth battle

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]

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In Pragati: Don’t tinker with the treaty

In December’s Pragati, I caution against any attempt to substantially alter the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan.  The framework provided by the treaty has stood the test of time and has withstood the pressures of three wars.  While there is no doubt that Pakistan faces a water crisis, we in India need to tread carefully when it comes to altering aspects of IWT to accommodate Pakistan’s problems.  India’s national interest should be the only consideration in determining where we go with IWT in the future. Magnanimity is not always a virtue.

Unfortunately, the undeniable benefits of the treaty to Pakistan have been obscured by misplaced apprehension and aggression.  Ayub Khan’s fears of Pakistan’s water insecurity did not prevent him from waging war against India in 1965. Since then, Pakistan has imposed war on India twice and provokedIndia through insurgencies and terror. Yet, India continues to respect the IWT in letter and spirit, not denying Pakistan its share of water even during times of war.

Certainly, transnational water sharing is a complicated subject. In our own region, the sharing of water between states and provinces has been an emotive issue, as evidenced by the disputes over the Kalabagh dam between the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Sindh, and the Kaveri dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. There is no denying that Pakistan’s water challenges are real, notwithstanding the dubious causes suggested. And it behooves India, as a neighbour, to help Pakistan address some of these challenges, where possible.

However, one must recognise that Pakistan’s water problems are its own and that to a great extent, the solutions to these problems lie in Pakistan. India cannot be expected to display magnanimity towards Pakistan when Pakistan itself has not demonstrated a basic desire to tackle structural and governance issues in water management. [Pragati]

Read the article in its entireity in Pragati ( PDF; Web page).

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Battle of Paani-pat

Where is the need for such magnanimity?

John Briscoe’s piece entitled “War or Peace on the Indus” was published on The News a couple of weeks ago, but only came to my attention via The Interpreter.  Prof. Briscoe contends the following with regard to what he believes is an issue of perception (emphasis added):

Living in Delhi and working in both India and Pakistan, I was struck by a paradox. One country was a vigorous democracy, the other a military regime. But whereas an important part of the Pakistani press regularly reported India’s views on the water issue in an objective way, the Indian press never did the same.

I never saw a report which gave Indian readers a factual description of the enormous vulnerability of Pakistan, of the way in which India had socked it to Pakistan when filling Baglihar. How could this be, I asked? Because, a journalist colleague in Delhi told me, “when it comes to Kashmir – and the Indus Treaty is considered an integral part of Kashmir — the ministry of external affairs instructs newspapers on what they can and cannot say, and often tells them explicitly what it is they are to say.

This apparently remains the case. In the context of the recent talks between India and Pakistan I read, in Boston, the electronic reports on the disagreement about “the water issue” in The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express and The Economic Times. Taken together, these reports make astounding reading. Not only was the message the same in each case (“no real issue, just Pakistani shenanigans”), but the arguments were the same, the numbers were the same and the phrases were the same. And in all cases the source was “analysts” and “experts” — in not one case was the reader informed that this was reporting an official position of the Government of India.

Equally depressing is my repeated experience – most recently at a major international meeting of strategic security institutions in Delhi – that even the most liberal and enlightened of Indian analysts (many of whom are friends who I greatly respect) seem constitutionally incapable of seeing the great vulnerability and legitimate concern of Pakistan (which is obvious and objective to an outsider). [The News]

My INI co-blogger at Polaris has a clinical, comprehensive rebuttal of some to the claims made by Prof. Briscoe.  There are a couple of points that I’d like to make, however.

Primarily, with regard to the notion that India’s news media has been coerced by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) into presenting a largely “Indian slant” on the issue, “substantiated” by Prof. Briscoe’s claim that data presented by several media houses in India were the same.   Certainly, the numbers were the same.  But only because they were based on factual data, and not on David Copperfield type concoctions disseminated to the world by folks in Pakistan.

The Indus Waters Treaty provided for an arbitration clause in the event of dispute.  Pakistan exercised that right during the Baglihar Dam controversy (and may likely do the same in opposition to the Kishen-Ganga project).  The Neutral Expert upheld some minor Pakistani objections (whereby poundage capacity was reduced by about 14%, and the height of the dam was reduced by 1.5 meters) but Pakistan’s claims on the height and gated control of spillway were emphatically rejected.

The very same Pakistani press, which Prof. Briscoe lauded as having reported “India’s views on the water issue in an objective way,” spun the results of the arbitration and led the Pakistani awam to believe that the World Bank had ruled in favor of Pakistan.  Objective, indeed.

A second point revolved not around the terms of the treaty, but on its spirit, whereby it was contended that India, big brother and upper riparian, show magnanimity towards the smaller, more fragile state. Prof. Briscoe asserts that Indians did not see the great vulnerability and legitimate concern of Pakistan. Had this been the case, India could have, within its right, tapped all 33 million acre feet (MAF) of the eastern rivers and stored 3.6 MAFs of western rivers — it has done neither, allowing Pakistan access to, at the very minimum, 3 MAF not required by the Treaty.  Even the compensation that India is entitled to, per the terms of the treaty hasn’t been sought from Pakistan. Magnanimous enough?

To be sure, both India and Pakistan do need to work out aspects of current dynamics not explicitly addressed by the Treaty, such as water sharing in periods of shortage.  No one denies that Pakistan faces a severe crisis on the water issue.  The solution to this is for Pakistan to try and optimize design and efficiency of existing dams and develop more efficient solutions for water management by partnering with those willing to offer assistance, such as the U.S., via the Signature Energy Program and initiatives provided for by the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation.

While Prof. Briscoe may be an expert on water management issues, Pakistan’s accusations have to be considered within the ambit of its antipathy towards India that is, ultimately, its raison d’être.

Numbers and intricacies  can confuse the brightest intellect — simply painting India as the hydra-headed monster stealing water from the honest Pakistani  is a simpler, more direct sales pitch to the awam already reeling from the effects of decades of water mismanagement by its own rulers.

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