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Old Saturday, April 24, 2010
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Arrow What Indus water treaty means

What Indus water treaty means

By Dr Adam Nayyar

INDIA has indicated that one of the sanctions it is considering against Pakistan is the abrogation of the Indus Waters Treaty. The treaty is more than 40 years old and to unilaterally abrogate it is to bring about the uncertainty that followed the partition of India. To understand what the abrogation would mean for Pakistan, it is important to see how this treaty evolved and what it entails.

A Standstill Agreement was signed on December 18, 1947 which provided that the pre-partition allocation of water in the Indus Basin irrigation system would be maintained. This agreement was to terminate on March 31, 1948.

Alleging that Pakistan had failed to renew the Standstill Agreement, India on April 1, 1948 shut off water supplies from the Ferozepur Headworks to the Dipalpur Canal and to the Pakistani portions of the Lahore and the main branches of the Upper Bari Doab Canal (UBDC)

This sudden closure came as a rude shock to Pakistan. With this unilateral action, India was asserting the doctrine of upstream riparian propriety rights, completely ignoring the principle of equitable distribution. From the Indian point of view, Pakistan could not prevent India from any of a set of schemes to divert the natural flow of water from the Himalaya-Karakorum into the Indus Valley:

* Beas water into the Sutlej

* Ravi water into the Beas at Madhopur

* Chenab water into the Ravi (through the Marhu Tunnel)

* Worse, the Wullar Lake scheme commands the Jehlum just before it enters Azad Kashmir.

Pakistan’s position was dismal and India held all the cards in its hand. War appeared to be the only recourse to free the captive waters, but that could have seriously harmed Pakistan.

Pakistan therefore sent a ministerial delegation to Delhi to negotiate for the restoration of water and the Indians struck a very hard bargain. They wanted recognition of their rights to all the waters in the eastern rivers (Sutlej, Beas and Ravi). They also wanted Pakistan to pay for any water supplied by India until Pakistan could find replacement from the other (western) rivers. Consequently, the Inter-Dominion Agreement was signed in New Delhi on May 4, 1948, under which Pakistan was required “to deposit immediately in the Reserve Bank (of India) such ad hoc sum as may be specified by the prime minister of India” (Article 5 of the agreement).

This unequal agreement almost amounted to a blackmail and nothing concrete was settled by it. Put in a feeble bargaining position, Pakistan had no other choice but to acquiesce in order to extract a constricted breathing space until 1960, when the Indus Waters Treaty was signed.

Indian intentions became clearer when they started work on the Harike Barrage in 1948 at the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej, creating the capacity to cut off the whole pre-partition Sutlej Valley Project, now in Pakistan.

After the nasty jolt of the Indian water shut-off and alarmed at the construction of the Harike Barrage, Pakistan’s immediate response was the design of the now famous Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian Link Canal (BRBL), taking off from the Upper Chenab Canal, passing under the Ravi river in a siphon and feeding the Lahore UBDC near Batapur on the Lahore-Wagah road. The BRBL was completed in 1958 as an emergency measure. As the 1965 war was to prove, this canal was also an important water obstacle against an Indian invasion. In addition, it remains — in a modified form — a vital link in the Indus Basin Project to this day.

India’s actions and its assertion of propriety rights were a clear indication of its position. Pakistan’s case of prior allocation and equitable distribution was asserted, but with no ability to enforce it, even by war. Pakistan attempted to bring the case to the International Court of Justice in June 1949, but India refused to go along, maintaining that the inter-dominion agreement should now be made permanent. Pakistan was to continue to pay for the water from India and the agreement continued to hang over Pakistan’s head like the Damocles’ sword.

Finally, in September 1949 Pakistan refused to devalue its currency along with the rest of the Sterling bloc. India’s reaction was to refuse to recognize the Pakistani rupee at the old value and to impose an economic blockade on Pakistan until the end of 1950. The tactic of economic blockade threatened by India today is therefore not new.

With prodding from the World Bank, both India and Pakistan agreed to the Indus Waters Treaty, which was signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960. In brief, India received exclusive rights over the three eastern rivers (Sutlej, Beas and Ravi), while Pakistan got the three western rivers (Indus, Jehlum and Chenab).

Unilateral abrogation by India is not new. As early as 1958, Pakistan’s eminent geographer Kazi S Ahmad wrote:

“The Council of the Institute of International Law in 1911 (Madrid) decided that a state is forbidden to stop or divert the flow of a river which runs from its own to a neighbouring state, but likewise to make such use of the water of the river as either causes danger to the neighbouring states or prevents it from making proper use of the flow of the river on its part. (The) Barcelona Convention (1921) to which India was a signatory provides regulations with regard to the utilization of flow of the rivers: “No state is allowed to alter the natural conditions of its own territory to the disadvantage of the natural conditions of the territory of a neighbouring state.” However, the convention was unilaterally abrogated by India in April, 1956.” (Kazi S. Ahmad “Canal Water Problems”)

India’s unilateral abrogation clearly showed that not only did it consider the disputed territory of Kashmir as a part of India, but that it also had the intention to interfere with the flow of the western rivers four years prior to the signing of the Indus Waters Treaty.

If India were to abrogate the treaty, the central issue for Pakistan would be Article III of the treaty, the provisions regarding western rivers, whereby Paragraph 1 is relevant:.

“(1) Pakistan shall receive for unrestricted use all those waters of the western rivers which India is under obligation to let flow under the provisions of Paragraph (2).”

Paragraph 2 outlines peripheral “non-consumptive” use by India and Pakistan’s right to use these waters even if they flow into the eastern rivers.

Were India to abrogate the treaty, it would mean dangerous interference with the upper reaches of the western rivers. India would go ahead with the construction of at least two large dams:

—Khapala Dam on the Shyok River in Indian Occupied Kashmir (a tributary of the Indus entering Baltistan). This would seriously affect flows in the Indus and proportionally increase the effective silt load from the Gilgit River into the Indus downstream of the Rondu Gorge. This would create a very detrimental impact on the current design of the proposed Basha Dam on the transverse course of the Indus in Diamer District of the Northern Areas.

—Wullar Barrage on the Jehlum River, which would inundate more land than could be commanded upstream of the point where the Jehlum enters Azad Kashmir. This barrage can easily submerge Srinagar, thus ensuring a “final solution” of the Kashmir issue from the Indian point of view. This is an effective lever to intimidate Pakistan.

India would thus be free not only to starve Pakistan of water, but also to open sluice gates at will to generate devastating floods in the country.

India’s threat to abrogate the Indus Waters Treaty would destabilize the current status quo that both countries have learned to live with. Though both nations were far from satisfied with the treaty, it provides to this day a modus vivendi for them to live in peace with each other. The abrogation would mean the stirring up of resentments, fears and angers that have settled in the silt of 42 years. Even more crucial, it is a recipe to subject innocent people in Pakistan to hunger, famine and poverty.

courtesy The Dawn
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