Though located strategically in a geographically sensitive region Pakistan is the lower riparian in terms of water requirements of the country. Since centuries the areas now part of Pakistan have been predominantly a one-waterway civilisation and the River Indus has been its sustenance. The River Indus originates from Ladakh, a high mountainous region that is part of India thereby providing it with the opportunity to manipulate water flowing down to the regions belonging to Pakistan. Immediately after the inception of Pakistan matters came to a head when India stopped water supply to Pakistan giving way to a war-like situation.
International opinion was against both Pakistan and India going to war over water and under the auspices of the World Bank both countries agreed to sign Indus Water Treaty (IWT) according to which Pakistan’s right on western rivers of Chenab, Indus and Jhelum was recognised by India and Pakistan conceded the similar right to India for eastern rivers of Ravi, Sutlej and Beas. Though both countries have been the hub of never-ending bitter tensions but IWT has been able to withstand the pressures. There had been consistent complaints about some arbitrary action taken by India but by and large, things have retained balance.
Since after the ultra-right communal BJP got elected to office in India the water issue has cropped up with a vengeance. Modi government has made this issue a pressure point for Indo-Pak relations and feels no compunction in invoking it whenever tensions in the region mount. The recent spat occurred after a Kashmiri suicide attack on a reserve police convoy in Srinagar that Modi government exploited prompting Nitin Gadkari, India’s transport and water resources minister to tweet that Modi government has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan. We will divert water from Eastern Rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.
The statement is nothing but pure provocation that is hollow in content. As a matter of fact IWT provided the right to India in 1960 to use the water of eastern rivers and it was left to the Indian government to do so or otherwise. Pakistan has no issues with the diversion and usage of the unutilised water from Indian share of eastern rivers. IWT is very clear on the matter and Pakistan has never objected to such diversion and usage, and abiding by the terms of the treaty, will not object in future.
Pakistan is not unduly worried about the aggressive stance taken by a worried Modi government that faces negative prospects in the upcoming national elections in India. The position is that India wanted to construct Shahpurkandi dam at the Ravi basin but project has stayed dormant since 1995 and it was seen to be abandoned. Shahpurkandi dam was actually the stage-2 of the Ranjit Sagar dam and this project was planned to be used for irrigation purposes as well as generating power. Now if India has reconsidered its position and plans to construct the dam in a bid to use its own share of water that goes unutilised that finally flows down to Pakistan then Pakistan can raise no objections according to the terms of IWT. For all intents such water in India is natural and Pakistan cannot stop them from using it.
Pakistan will certainly have a cause of concern and will strongly object if India resorts to divert water from the western rivers that are given to Pakistan to use their water. There are continuous contacts between Pakistan and India regarding water supplies. The mechanism of bilateral contacts between water authorities of both the countries is laid down in IWT and although there occur a few hiccups in the process but the mutual negotiations continue to take place.
The delegation of Indian Commission for water visited India a short while ago and the deliberations of water authorities of both countries were widely reported in the media. In this context a three-member delegation of Pakistani experts headed by Syed Mehr Ali Shah completed its general tour of inspection beginning from 28 January and lasting till 1 February during which it visited various hydropower projects such as 1,000MW Pakal Dul, 48MW Lower Kalnai, 850MW Ratlay and 900MW Baglihar dam at Chenab Basin in India.
The jingoistic stance of India stands hollow in the backdrop that just a couple of days before Pulawama attack, Indian water authorities shared the design data of its three planned run-of-the-river hydropower schemes with Pakistan under the IWT. These included Balti Kalan, Kalaroos and Tamasha hydropower projects which are planned to be constructed at Balti Kalan Nullah and Kalaroos Nullah at the Jhelum basin and Tamasha, a sub-tributary of the Indus River, respectively. It is expected that good sense will prevail in India and it will not further raise the ante. TW
Schehram Siddiqi is an industrialist based in Lahore