"I realise that some of my criticisms may be mistaken; but to refuse to criticize judgements for fear of being mistaken is to abandon criticism altogether... If any of my criticisms are found to be correct, the cause is served; and if any are found to be incorrect the very process of finding out my mistakes must lead to the discovery of the right reasons, or better reasons than I have been able to give, and the cause is served just as well."

-Mr. HM Seervai, Preface to the 1st ed., Constitutional Law of India.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Latest Developments on the Indus Water Treaty

A Staff Report prepared for the use of the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate was published almost a month ago. The report titled “Avoiding Water Wars:Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan” dealt with the tricky topic of water scarcity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We summarize below certain salient points in the Report that are relevant to the Indus Water Treaty:

a) Water scarcity in Afghanistan and Pakistan has immense impact on regional stability and US Foreign Policy.

b) The US has a lot of experience on transboundary water sharing agreements and should build institutions that deal with international water law, dispute resolution, mediation, and arbitration and support institutions that support transboundary water sharing agreements [read World Bank].

c) The Indus River is most significant for Pakistan’s agricultural sector because Pakistan’s agriculture almost exclusively relies on the said river.

d) Since water regulation in India is within the domain of the States, there has been limited co-ordination between different States and this has diminished the surface and groundwater.

e) Though the Indus Water Treaty, 1960 has governed the sharing of the Indus Basin between India and Pakistan for more than half a century, experts question its effectiveness due to the tensions between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region.

f) “Others” question the effectiveness of the Indus Water Treaty in the light of India’s need to harness the Indus basin and Pakistan’s increasing demand for water or its agricultural purposes.

g) Studies show that no single dam built by India in the Kashmir region has the effect of limiting Pakistan’s access to the Indus waters, “the cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season”.

h) The Indus Water Treaty is threatened by lack of trust between India and Pakistan. “Any perceived reduction in water flows magnifies this distrust, whether caused by India’s activities in the Indus Basin or climate change”.

i) The Indus Water Treaty has been criticized by experts “for its inflexibility to adjust to changes in water levels". Experts question whether the treaty signed more than half a century back would adapt to new issues like increasing demand for the use of the waters for irrigation and access to hydroelectric power. If the Treaty breaks down, it might have a significant impact on the regional stability.

j) Experts have expressed concerns that India has not made available data on the water volume of the river Indus thereby increasing the mistrust Pakistan has on India. It is recommended that efficiencies should improve thereby decreasing water demand and flexibilities should be created to respond to changes in water volume etc.

The Report can be accessed from here.

Several Pakistani news papers have cited this report to argue that India is trying to gain control over the Indus basin (see, for example, this news report). India, on its side, has allowed Pakistan to survey hydroelectric projects in India so that Pakistan could verify if there was any violation of the Indus Water Treaty (See this link).

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