Water, Words, and War

Water, Words, and War

IWT: Is revisiting the treaty an option?

The hype in nationalism following the Uri episode is touching dangerous proportions. Much of the hype is being exhibited on TV channels, some of which present a war like scenario, even though saner voices have ruled out war as an option. However, other options such as diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan and revisiting IWT are being debated threadbare in a no holds barred campaign to strangulate Pakistan and make it cringe. What is being forgotten or in a fit of hyper-nationalistic sentiment set aside is the fact that IWT is one and only flag-bearer of some sanity in the ever-turbulent subcontinent. And, any attempt to subvert it will prove to the world (if it is not already taken to be fact) of existent political immaturity and diplomatic naivety. SAARC—the South Asian conglomerate is much more a forum of contention than consensus. The contention within the SAARC (whatever is left of it) is also being taken to the depths of despair.  

In the dismal scenario IWT is the only silver lining which was negotiated way back in 1950’s and fructified on September, the 19th 1960. The treaty was negotiated and signed by Indian political executive headed by Pandit Nehru and Pakistani political executive headed by President Ayub. The negotiations that led to the signing of treaty had interesting shades, which could be compared to present scenario vis-à-vis Kashmir dispute, such as India’s insistence on bilateral mechanism without third party intervention.  In the immediate aftermath of the partition, Pakistan has had to make an annual payment as per the Inter-Dominion accord of 4th May 1948, in lieu of water released for its needs. It was an interim arrangement, subject to a final agreement. Though there was a broad consensus on reaching a final solution, India had no compulsions to force the pace. It could make the desired diversions and make Pakistan cringe and cry. An appeal to international court of Justice at Hague was ruled out as India paraded bilateralism. 

As has been the practice of USA to push and prod India and Pakistan to defuse tension and remain engaged, whenever things hot-up on ‘K’ front, the super-power did a similar exercise vis-à-vis sharing water resources. David Lilienthal-Chairman Tennessee Valley Water Authority and US Atomic Energy Commission, who was on a tour of subcontinent and keenly interested in the region came handy for undertaking the covert diplomatic mission. He carried a brief from State Department to try and bridge the gap between US and India, as also to gauge state of Indo/Pak relations. Received by authorities in India and Pakistan, he judged that tense relations over Kashmir could be eased by settlement on less contentious issues like ‘jointly operating Indus Basin River System’. In his write-up he had suggested that ‘World Bank might use its good office to bring the parties to an agreement and help in financing of an Indus development programme’ [Gulhati Niranjan D…The Indus Water Treaty-an exercise in international mediation…Allied publishers Bombay 1973…page: 93].

Eugene R Black-World Bank President picked up from where David Lilienthal left. He remained however careful of Indian sensitivities ruling out third party mediation. He offered to play the facilitator rather than being an intermediary or referee of sorts. The issue related to Indus basin-the eastern and the western tributaries of what has been described as the largest irrigated area of any one river system in the world. The network of canals and storage facilities build over a century provided the wide expanse of irrigation facilities from what was narrow strip of irrigated land along Basin Rivers. The irrigation facility thus extended to reportedly 26 million acres [figure quoted of yesteryears, could be more]. This was a shared facility across northwest of the subcontinent-Punjab and Sind. The rivers ended in the bosom of Arabian Sea.

World Bank suggested eastern/western division of Indus basin. In essence it meant that India would retain waters of eastern rivers—Ravi, Sutlej and Beas and waters of western rivers—Chenab, Jhelum and Sind would be allotted to Pakistan with a marginal allocation in favour of India.  The initial opposition of Pakistan was overcome by World Bank financing canals and storage facilities to make up for loss of eastern tributaries. World Bank finances were fed and oiled by UK and US, after India refused to finance the deal. Pakistan initial reluctance sprang from fear of desertification of eastern areas of West [Pakistani] Punjab dependent on eastern tributaries. This could only be offset by storage facilities and elaborate canal system. Over the years, Pakistan has got over the deficit, to an extent though. 

While Punjab on either side of the divide benefited and prospered, JK State suffered due to curtailment of storing water for the lean winter months. The state cannot but go for run of the river hydroelectric projects.  The net loss is estimated to be about 6500 crores annually. It would be judicious to compensate the loss.  The treaty in spite of its lacunae has survived Indo-Pak wars, which is a positive factor. It could turn out to be a peace multiplier, if JK State is made a fair partner in resource sharing. Sustaining peace would however entail a time bound resolution of ‘K’ dispute, which continues to bedevil a lasting subcontinental amity. 

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

(Author is a doctor in medicine, a social activist & a senior columnist)