Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan is considered as the greatest success of water diplomacy between any neighbouring countries in the world, because it has survived four actual wars and countless cold war situations between the two countries. In this World Bank –mediated Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, Pakistan received exclusive use of waters from the Indus and its westward flowing tributaries, the Jhelum and Chenab, while the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers were allocated for India’s use.
Tensions are again rising between two countries following a terrorist strike in Kashmir, and some Indian commentators (left wing) are speaking of reneging on the treaty as a non-military option to pressure Pakistan.
On September 18, 2016, an army base was attacked in the garrison town of Uri, near the Line of Control (LoC) that effectively divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Eighteen Indian army personnel and four terrorists were killed in the attack and India has blamed Pakistan-backed terrorists for it.
Since, the attack many Think tankers were suggesting Modi-led government to opt out for non-military techniques to answers Pak petty attacks and the answer that tops the list is Indus Water Treaty, even former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, too, have suggested that the treaty be abrogated.
The news website ‘The Third Pole’ got an exclusive interview with World Bank official. A World Bank spokesperson said, “The World Bank’s role in the Indus Waters Treaty is limited and strictly procedural.” World Bank is co-signatory for certain provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty and its role is limited to a dispute regarding the implementation of the treaty, not its abrogation. At most the World Bank would step into, as per the treaty, to appoint a “neutral expert”, or help set up a court of arbitration, in case of a dispute.
The biggest problem India would face if Indian Government decided to end the treaty is that India does not have the enough storage facility to create a supply problem immediately for Pakistan.
To increase storage space, India need to build dams and it takes time. Even if Govt. orders to make dams right now, it will still take atleast 3 years to cover the rivers too. Not only storage space, there is also another angle to it. India, even if it wants to, cannot take the water out of Kashmir Valley. So, the water of the three rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) will remain in their basin and India cannot divert that to other areas due to geographical reasons. India can stop the supply for some time, but cannot divert it.
If Uttarakhand Floods in 2013 are any indication, it’s better to not interfere with River basin.
The Third Pole asked Uttam Sinha, a research fellow at New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), about the treaty, he is too disagreed with those asking to scrap the treaty. “For sending a message to Pakistan, we don’t necessarily need to go to the extent of scrapping the Indus Waters Treaty. We can even send a strong message to Pakistan by using the waters of western rivers of Indus basin for irrigation, electricity and storage of up to 3.6 Million Acre Feet (MAF), well within the norms laid down in the treaty,” Sinha said.
“Scrapping the treaty would rather act against our own interests and international standing as it would cause anxiety among our other neighbours like Bangladesh and Nepal with which we have water-sharing treaties, apart from earning us a bad image in the global community.”
One major reason for this is that India is not the only country where all five rivers originated in-fact, The Indus and the Sutlej flow from Tibet, and there is no treaty between China and India. One senior Indian commentator has even claimed that China has indicated it would act to divert waters from India if India decided to divert waters from Pakistan.
Such a scenario, though, would lead to flooding and huge damages to all three countries.
This highlights the fact that, more than anything else, such treaties survive not just because of trust or goodwill, but because they serve the interests of all the nations involved, even if the times are hard. Despite the huge media debate, the silence of the principal parties—be it the Indian government or the World Bank—seems to indicate that the treaty is safe for the time being.
BY: Saket Sharma, with Inputs from The Third Pole.