Indus Water Treaty revisited

                                              By Prof Dr Shaista Tabassum 


PAKISTAN is facing some serious challenges to its agriculture. It is due to sharp decline in the flow of water from River Chenab. The reason is that India is filling up the reservoirs of the Baghliar dam constructed over River Chenab in the occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir. This is despite the fact that the Indus Basin Water Treaty has given only limited rights to India for using waters of River Chenab.The Indus treaty of 1960 is often praised and quoted as one of the most successful examples of the concepts of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan. A large number of academic papers, commentaries and research have been undertaken on the successful functioning of the treaty. It is argued that the treaty has successfully worked despite some very tense situations and two wars (1965 and 1971) between the two countries. It is widely believed among many North American think tanks that the treaty has set such an example of CBMs that the Kashmir dispute could also be settled if the philosophy behind the IBWT is seriously adhered to. But is it really a success as far as Pakistan is concerned and how far it has benefited the latter? 

On April 1, 1948 India for the first time stopped the flow of water from the canals on its side towards Pakistan. By this unfriendly action of India about 5.5 per cent of the sown area and almost 8 per cent of the cultivated area in West Pakistan was left without water at the beginning of the Kharif season. Pakistan in this situation agreed to have an Inter-Dominion Agreement with India which was concluded on May 4, 1948. This agreement provided that East Punjab would continue to supply water to West Punjab for irrigation purposes while giving the latter province sufficient time to develop alternative water resources. 

The fundamental principal in the agreement was similar to what had later been agreed after 12 years in the form of Indus Basin water treaty. The clause 4 of the agreement is stated to have been against the basic stand adopted by Pakistan. Yet, Pakistan decided to go ahead with the agreement because it was supposed to be an ad hoc agreement. But later Pakistan walked out of the agreement. The reason was that it wanted to protect its lower riparian rights while India insisted on complete control of the water flowing from its side. 

An important feature of the early history of water dispute is a survey of the area undertaken by an American expert Mr Lilenthal. He was invited by Indian premier Jawaharlal Nehru. But when he submitted his observations on the matter, he was not given much importance by India because these favoured Pakistanís position. Then, the World Bank offered its good offices to resolve the water dispute between the two countries. Its efforts continued till 1954 when the bank came out with its own formula which was a refined version of what India had hitherto been insisting upon and had also got incorporated in the 1948 agreement. 

The World Bank proposed to divide the six rivers of Punjab between the two countries, giving Sutlej, Beas and Ravi to India and Jehlum, Chenab and Indus to Pakistan. It also granted a transitional period to Pakistan to construct a network of canals as an alternative to the waters it will lose by giving up Beas, Ravi and Sutlej. 

The political and bilateral relations between India and Pakistan are not completely isolated and bilateral in nature. There is always an invisible third force as was evident in this case as well. The World Bank sponsored several rounds of talks which were held in Washington, in different phases from 1952 to 1959. When Prime Minister Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy in June 1957 was about to leave the country to meet the then British prime minister, he was invited by President Eisenhower to visit the US as well. He accepted the invitation and without any prior meeting schedules and preparation he went to the US to meet the President. Before going to the US, he stated that he will also discuss the canal water dispute with the American president apart from the matters of bilateral importance between the two countries. 

The military government of Gen Ayub Khan made conciliatory overtures towards India. He met the Indian prime minister at the Palam airport in New Delhi on September 1, 1959 and during the 50-minute meeting between the two leaders some vital discussions regarding India-Pakistan relations had taken place. The landmark treaty was signed exactly after one year. 

To be precise, the Indus water treaty is one of the most unfortunate episodes of history in the subcontinent. It is one of the most biased agreements concluded between the two countries. The treaty claimed to have created a balance in water rights of India and Pakistan but the fact remains that it has deprived Pakistan of the use of water of the three rivers (Sutlej, Beas and Ravi). India practically diverted the three rivers to its side, and made these rivers dry on Pakistanís side. 

India was given limited rights over the use of the waters of Jehlum, Chenab and Indus, but the application of these clauses of the treaty seems to be ineffective, because despite treatyís clear provisions India has stopped the waters of Chenab beyond the limits placed by the treaty. The implementation mechanism is so slow that by the time any decision is reached against the defiance of the clauses, India is able to achieve its desired objective. Another important fact that cannot be neglected is that not only India can stop water, it can also release excessive water and thus create havoc in Pakistan as it did on a limited level during the present monsoon season on river Ravi. 

The treaty is a fact and there is no way coming out of it. The history tells us the mistakes committed in the realm of foreign policy. The only purpose to revisit history is to learn lessons which should not be re-learned. There is no denying the fact that the foreign policy blunders are unforgivable. When the decision-makers are unable to resist pressures and they make wrong decisions the state and its people, generation after generation, suffer.

DAWN,Saturday,11 October ,2008.