Monday, October 2, 2017
Business Recorder editorial Sept 30, 2017
Water scarcity India and Pakistan have held a second round of talks on September 14-15 under World Bank (WB) auspices in Washington on differences regarding two hydropower projects under construction by India on tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). Like the first round on July 31-August 1, 2017 however, this time round too the two sides failed to agree. An earlier Indus Waters Commission meeting in Islamabad in March 2017 had produced a similar deadlock, after which Pakistan turned to the WB as the arbiter of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). While it soon became clear that the two sides were still poles apart, with Pakistan asking the WB to appoint a Court of Arbitration and India countering with a proposal for the WB to appoint a neutral expert, the WB’s statement after the latest round of talks appreciated the goodwill and cooperative atmosphere in which these talks were held. The dispute concerns two hydropower projects, the 330 MW Kishanganga and the 850 MW Ratle hydropower projects that Pakistan objects to on the grounds that their design violates the provisions of the IWT. These provisions include a clause dividing the Indus Basin waters between the two countries on the basis of one-fifth to India and four-fifths to Pakistan. Pakistan complains that India’s designs as the upper riparian will unfairly and against the spirit and letter of the IWT, deprive it if its rightful share of the rivers flowing through IHK. It may be relevant to mention here that the IWT is one of the most successful international treaties, having withstood the ups and downs in the relationship between Pakistan and India, and even the subsequent wars between them. However, contrary to the IWT, there is a lobby in India that objects per se to the arbitration role of the WB, wanting no third party involved and for Pakistan and India to settle these and all other matters bilaterally. This is a self-serving argument, since the track record of bilateral negotiations on this and other matters is nothing to write home about. One does not know at this point what the next step on the part of the WB, Pakistan and India will be, but perhaps the best that can be hoped for is a continuation of talks to try and find ways and means to resolve the dispute. The IWT was signed in 1960 after nine years of negotiations brokered by the WB, which is also a signatory and has a mediatory role in setting up dispute resolution mechanisms, but only with the consensus of both state parties. Despite its weathering the storms that have buffeted Pakistan-India relations since it was brought into existence, the IWT dispute resolution regime now seems stalled, perhaps partly because of the current tensions between the two countries. Unfortunately the track record of Pakistan’s engagement bilaterally with India and multilaterally under the auspices of the WB on issues afflicting the IWT does not inspire confidence. One cannot escape the conclusion that Pakistan has seldom prepared its case on disputes in a timely or well thought out fashion. Being the upper riparian, India can stall resolution of disputes almost indefinitely by hiding behind the technicalities of the IWT and its dispute resolution process, while continuing in certain instances to continue to create new facts on the ground. This may be informed by the wisdom that the WB or any other international arbitration forum is unlikely to ask a country to demolish a dam. While Pakistan and India will now continue internal discussions in their respective capitals after the talks remained deadlocked, Pakistan has been hit by the news that a 20 percent water shortage looms over the Rabi season. The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has revealed this while asking for building more dams on a war footing. The reasons adduced for treating this development as an emergency can be listed as sparse rainfall in recent years, silting up of existing water reservoirs, providing Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with their full quotas under the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 and the additional offtake by the recently inaugurated Kachhi Canal in Balochistan. Punjab and Sindh being the two affected provinces by the water shortage, food security now seems under strain if not threatened. Pakistan is considered to be a water-stressed country by now, and the portents, under the impact of climate change and potential and existing disputes between our internal upper and lower riparians, are increasingly grim.