South Asia’s gradually diminishing precious water resources are further at stake due to regional hydro-politics while Indian rigidity and hoax playing affairs given rise to the possibility of inter-state conflict with Pakistan.
Situational gravity could be understandable through Islamabad’s message to Delhi, in which as a state policy, Pakistan termed any (Indian) act of curbing western water flows to Pakistan as an “act of war”. On September 26th, 2016 – during a policy brief to the Senate, on threats of revocation of Indus Water Treaty (IWT) by India, adviser to the prime minister on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz told, “Its (IWT) revocation can be taken as an act of war or a hostile act against Pakistan”.
Experts believe that Indian destructive intention to revoke IWT would further shrink Pakistan’s agricultural and economic growth vis-a-vis human consumption ratio. Right now both South Asian rivals are in verbal conflict, but in reality, Delhi’s water-intentions raised several questions for Pakistan. Most experts believe in following the legal course at the international arena, some suggest the further emphasis on diplomacy and seeking international support in favour of Islamabad’s stance while others advise taking China in confidence on her already proactive water policy as upper-riparian to India.
Water Availability in South Asia
South Asia; the home of river Indus and its 5 major tributaries i.e. (Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej) are major source of water supply for India and Pakistan; two major regional players of the region but since partition the two countries have been engaged in a prolonged dispute over sharing of water resources. Today, water security has become a major concern for Pakistan as its per capita water availability is expected to decrease drastically in future. On the other end, effective utilization of water resources has become a necessity for India to meet the hydrological demands. Therefore during recent years, the dispute over water sharing is a significant factor that has intensified the tension between the two neighbours that have been engaged in contention since partition over several issues.
Origin of Dispute
The demarcation of the boundary by Sir Cyril Radcliffe at the time of partition didn’t prove to be advantageous because with the division of land water resources weren’t evenly distributed. Major water-rich areas went in India’s share giving it an advantage as upper riparian due which initially as a newly born state Pakistan had to bear great economic loss as the country has majority relied upon agriculture for economic growth since partition. Many times India flooded Pakistan’s agricultural lands destroying crops at the same time India could also cease Pakistan’s water supply. This was indeed a matter of serious concern for a country with an agro-based economy. After prolonged negotiations between both parties, the World Bank came up with a treaty to resolve the problem with consent from both sides.
Indus Water Treaty 1960
The signing of Indus Water Treaty divided the water resources of the region between the two states. According to Article.2 of the treaty 3 eastern rivers i.e. Ravi, Beas and Sutlej went in India’s share for unrestricted use while 3 western rivers were i.e. Indus, Chenab and Jhelum were given to Pakistan. The treaty guaranteed uninterrupted water supply to Pakistan but later on India’s initiative to construct dams over western rivers particularly Chenab added fuel to the fire. The construction of Baglihar dam and Kishanganga hydroelectric plant raised controversies irrespective of the fact that IWT has given both the countries their share of water resources but it hasn’t addressed certain issues due to which it can’t be considered as a complete success as it is a treaty with limitations as the prolonged dispute between the two countries has not been resolved.
Moreover, it continues to be a significant factor paving way for a conflict provoking environment in future posing serious threat to regional stability. Today, both states are nuclear powers and a high-intensity conflict between the two would disturb the balance of power.
Future Confrontation
In order to avoid future confrontation over the issue both the countries need to review the clauses of IWT and come up with a comprehensive strategy as far as water management is concerned. In this regard exchange of views among technical and legal expert from both sides is necessary and both the regional players need to adopt a more flexible and accommodating attitude towards resolution of the dispute at the same time bilateral negotiations is a need of time to address reservations and for effective utilization of water resources of the vast Indus basin delta of which two countries are prime beneficiaries.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Waqas Ahsan is Research Associate at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad. Trans-boundary Water Issues are among the core of the interests specially South Asian Hydro Politics.