The treaty needs to be renegotiated, though it requires meticulous planning and diplomatic acumen to execute the process.
The parliament standing committee on water resources of the seventeenth Lok Sabha in its 12th report published recently has urged the Government of India to take necessary diplomatic measures to renegotiate the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) with Pakistan. The Indus Water Treaty, signed in 1960 after a decade long negotiation mediated by World Bank, traversed through tough and rough times in the India-Pakistan Relations. Neither India nor Pakistan has officially felt once so far, the necessity to renegotiate the Treaty despite fighting four major wars.
Is there any need to renegotiate the IWT treaty now? Why India has felt so? There are many are attributed to support the need of renegotiation of the Indus Water Treaty. But the most convincing argument is what the standing committee observed that “present day pressing issues such as climate change; global warming and environmental impact assessment were not taken into account by the Treaty”.
Firstly, there is a need for institutional structure or legislature framework to address the proper functioning of the treaty. For instance, there is no exit clause in the Indus water treaty. Any of the party can not withdraw unilaterally from the treaty because a unilateral withdrawal would not be beneficial for India with China whom India is a recipient of the Brahmaputra water. India being a lower riparian country would not fit well with China being an upper riparian.
Secondly, this treaty has not served the intended purpose rather placed India in a more destitute position. Echoing the words of Niranjan Gulhati, Indian canals didn’t receive any water from Pakistan. The provision of the treaty placed a restriction only on India. Nehru expected that this treaty would normalize the relationship between India and Pakistan but it’s not happened. There were many voices in the Lok Sabha in 1960s that this treaty was a kind of second partition. And, it was badly negotiated in the 80/20 ratio. India has 20% of the water. Some scholars viewed that India should go for 40%. Thirdly, the mixing of the Kashmir issue with water is also a gruesome for India. Pakistan leadership gave Kashmir issue a flag of water problem. Syed Salahuddin, head of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, said that “Kashmir is the source from where all of Pakistan’s water resources originate. If Pakistan loses its battle against India, it will become a desert”. Even Musharraf strongly put his argument that the Kashmir and Indus waters are interconnected.
Factors for renegotiation
As we know that any modification in the treaty requires consent of both the countries. Either of the countries cannot do any changes unilaterally in the treaty. Here, the first factor that dominates the discourse is that Pakistan’s desire to include China as a party to the Indus water treaty. And China is an upper riparian country. Any unilateral action by India that stops water to Pakistan has to face the unilateral action of China on Brahmaputra because the growing nexus between China and Pakistan on hydrology is a worrisome for India’s water security. When this Treaty was debated in the Lok Sabha then, there was a voice that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would have been the more appropriate body than the World Bank to negotiate the treaty. It is the most judicial body for arbitration in the Indus water treaty. At the time of independence India was in dire need of grants and funds to accelerate its economic growth and development so it considered the World Bank to be a mediator. But today India doesn’t require World Bank. But Pakistan requires grants and funds to save its ailing economy so undoubtedly World Bank will be the best ‘third party’ in the renegotiation of the treaty as it was in the 1960s. Whether World Bank will be interested in the proposed renegotiating process is a moot question?
Collective or Vested Interest?
Whose interest in the renegotiating the treaty? Renegotiation will be possible only when both the countries i.e., India and Pakistan get benefits mutually from it. Although Pakistan was always on advantage side because it was using 80% of the Indus River basin. But Pakistan has a fear of stopping or diverting water by India. As we know that India has a right to build the run-of- river projects on the western rivers of the Indus basin. But Pakistan always objects any new projects launched by India within the ambit of the treaty. So, renegotiation would solve this fear of Pakistan. And Pakistan will also try to make China a party to Indus water treaty. This would be a win-win situation for both China and Pakistan against India because India becomes middle riparian country i.e., upper riparian to Pakistan and lower-riparian to China. It will hamper India’s water security.
To conclude, although it is convinced that the IWT needs to be renegotiated, it requires meticulous planning and diplomatic acumen to execute the process. Given the present geopolitical situation in the aftermath of the return of Taliban in Afghanistan, there is no doubt that it will be a complex exercise for the Govt. of India and definitely Pakistan will have an upper hand. So, the timing is not conducive for re-negotiation as of now. Rather, India should work out a detailed plan to exploit its share effectively as guaranteed by the treaty. For instance, the committee observed that as per the treaty India has the right to develop a water storage capacity to 3.9 million Acre-Feet (MAC) on Western rivers but unfortunately no such facilities have been created so far. Moreover, the treaty gives India the right to harness an estimated power potential of 20000 MW (Mega Watt) but have constructed capacity to harness only 3482 MW on the Western rivers. On the eastern river front, projects such as Shahpur Kandi dam project and Ujh multipurpose project needs to be expedited in order to expand the irrigation up to Western Rajasthan dry areas via Punjab through canals. Till the geopolitical/strategic environment changes in favor of India, our priority must be to set home in order and prepare the ground for the renegotiation.
Dr J. Jeganaathan is a Senior Assistant Professor of National Security Studies in the Central University of Jammu and Pintu Kumar Mahla is a Ph.D. Scholar in the department of National Security Studies.