The Big Picture- Indus Water Treaty: Can It Be Used As A Handle?
The confrontation between India and Pakistan following the attack at army base in Uri has resulted in various options being discussed at different levels as far as India is concerned. While there are demands for instant retaliation, the diplomatic options are also being taken into consideration. The Spokesperson from Ministry of External Affairs has mentioned Indus Water Treaty in a statement hinting it as an option to teach Pakistan a lesson by turning the tap off.
The Treaty has been very unpopular ironically in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The genesis of the Treaty lies in Pakistan’s absolute fear that India might turn off the tap. Therefore, India entered into a Treaty which was mediated by the World Bank and others to assure Pakistan that they don’t need to fear. It was well known that the Treaty would benefit Pakistan more than India because the western rivers which have been given to Pakistan i.e. Chenab, Jhelum and Indus have far more waters than the eastern rivers with India i.e. Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The water from these rivers can be used for non-consumptive purposes like power generation. There has been a feeling in significant sections of our public opinion that the Treaty has not served its purpose and is far too generous. Pakistan has objected to every project on some grounds which India has built like in Kishanganga and Baglihar projects although the arbitration court gave its judgement in favour of Kishanganga project. Therefore, India could not use these waters much even for non-consumptive purposes.
India is entitled to respond with an appropriate action but it should not be a knee-jerk reaction. The Treaty signed in 1960 was simple and well thought. On the face of it, it appeared that Pakistan got more water. 135-140 MAF of water generated in western rivers goes to Pakistan whereas India just gets 34 MAF of water. About 40 MAF of water goes to sea through Pakistan’s land. Silting is a big problem in Pakistan. Himalayan rivers carry a lot of silt. The Mangla Dam in Pakistan is already 30% silted. Pakistan does not have enough storage systems to store these waters. There is insecurity with Pakistan in this regard. Apart from this, Jihadis have circulated that India can cut off water supply to arouse sentiments of people in Pakistan.
But today, this has caused problem for India as its dependence on eastern rivers is not sufficient enough to meet the requirements of states like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. If another 5-10 MAF of water is diverted from western rivers, it can solve the problem for India. This process has to be diplomatically handled i.e. renegotiation or signing a fresh treaty and terminating the Treaty might not solve the issue. There are no dams or diversion canals across these rivers on western side; therefore, India cannot stop the flow of water to Pakistan as it has no control. There is a lack of necessary infrastructure. Under the existing framework of the Treaty, India has very little scope to do anything.
This can only be a part of the package to counter Pakistan. As a response measure, it cannot be used as a step in isolation. A unilateral abrogation could also lead to criticism from world powers as this arrangement has stood the test of time. In order to turn the tap off, India itself first needs to build that tap.