IWT was the last vestige of sanity in an otherwise dismal record of settling disputes that bedevil Indo-Pak relations. It seems that this last insignia of some sanity is withering away. The fatigue that much of the world is experiencing in managing Indo-Pak differences seems to have overtaken the World Bank. It has remained the port of call for arranging to settle differences, were they to arise in implementation of Indus Water Treaty (IWT). And, it has been doing so, ever since the treaty was signed in Karachi on September, the 19th 1960. However, lately World Bank seems to be working its way out of getting embroiled in the latest Indo-Pak row over two hydroelectric power plants –Kishan¬ganga and Ratle — that India is building on the western rivers of Indus river basin, running through JK.
As per the terms of the treaty, Pakistan is entitled to waters of western rivers, while India holds exclusive rights over eastern rivers. On the western rivers, run of the river projects are allowed, which may not adversely hamper flow of the rivers to Pakistan. Pakistan has expressed reservations over the building of the two hydroelectric plants, and as per the terms of the treaty has requested the World Bank to appoint the chairman of the Court of Arbitration. India on a contrary note has asked for a neutral expert. The contrary stance of India and Pakistan has put the World Bank in quandary—a catch 22 situation. In an effort to break free World Bank President Jim Yong Kim wrote a letter recently to the Finance Ministers of India and Pakistan, relating that he had decided to "pause" the bank's arbitration and urged the two neighbours to decide by the end of January how they wanted to settle the dispute.
Jim Yong Kim's note carried a plausible explanation. Kim related that he was "pausing" arbitration to protect the Indus Waters Treaty, which has successfully resolved previous disputes between the two neighbours. The letter however evoked a quick response from Pakistan, making out that Pakistan was not withdrawing its earlier request to the bank to appoint the chairman of the Court of Arbitration and since this process had already been "inordinately delayed" Islamabad wanted the bank to appoint the chairman as soon as possible. In the letter, Pakistan's Finance Minister—Ishaq Dar noted that delaying arbitration would seriously prejudice Pakistan's interests and rights under the Indus Waters Treaty. The letter obviously was prompted by Pakistani belief that further delay would hurt the country's interests as India was working on completing the two projects, and once the projects are completed, it will be difficult to undo them. On receipt of the letter, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim placed a telephone call to Pakistan Finance Minister to discuss the dispute arising out of contrary stance of India and Pakistan.
India despite the obligations under the treaty has room enough to stay put and make Pakistan cringe, being the upper riparian state. After partition in 1947, Pakistan was made to pay for the water it utilized, until World Bank President Eugene R Black in fifties of 20th century negotiated his way over a diplomatic minefield, as Indian sensitivities ruled out third party mediation. He offered to play the facilitator rather than being an intermediary or referee of sorts. It was mainly due to his diplomatic finesse that an agreement was arrived at to share the waters of Indus basin. Pakistan's reluctance to concede India's exclusive rights to eastern rivers was overcome by the promise to arrange finances for working out a network of canals to prevent desertification of her eastern parts fed by eastern rivers. As India wriggled out of any financial commitments, World Bank finances fed by USA and UK were utilized to make Pakistani irrigation facilities viable. Narratives of main Pakistani establishment figures involved in working out the deal relate that Pakistan had no option but to agree what was proposed. In addition to exclusive rights over eastern rivers, India managed to have the finger in the wester pie too, and that has resulted in much arbitration over one hydroelectric project after another. Incumbent World Bank President–Jim Yong Kim might have to tread the diplomatic path of his predecessor-Eugene R Black to put IWT on right track following the recent Indo-Pak stand-off.
Taking cue from Narendra Modi's take, "Blood and water cannot flow at the same time'' after the Uri episode that claimed the lives of 19 soldiers, India is rethinking on maximum utilization of western tributaries. In addition to Kishanganga and Ratle already in vogues though facing delays due to varied reasons, it is reported that authorities in Delhi have approved 1850 MW Sawlakot. It could be yet another project, over which Pakistan might express concerns. While all sane elements wishing Indo-Pak amity would pray for countries across the divide to abide by the clauses of the treaty, the signs are ominous. World Bank President–Jim Yong Kim asking India and Pakistan to settle on the same theme by end of January is a tall call. IWT has held so far because of World Bank facilitating agreements, asking India and Pakistan for bilateral agreement on the course to follow would be asking for the moon. Bilateralism in Indo-Pak context does not deliver the desirable.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]
(The author is a doctor in medicine, a social activist, and a senior columnist)