Indus water treaty: water as weapon

The Indus Water Treaty agreement between India and Pakistan was brokered by the World Bank in 1960, over the use of the Indus water and its tributaries. Pakistan received almost the sole right to use the three Western and particularly water-rich Indus rivers of Jhelum and Chenab, while India got the privilege of the three eastern rivers of Ravi, Beas, and Satluj.

Since the water meant for India lie on Pakistani territory, lower courses of the eastern rivers were dry. Pakistan received financial support to supply through diversions and canals for supplying these lower reach water.

The truth is that behind the devastating water crisis under way there is also but not only the unresolved question in part how the two big countries born to British Empire should carve up the waters of the rivers that cross them. The tropical theme is back in recent months when negotiators in Islamabad and New Delhi are back to clash.

The subject of the dispute is the right of India to divert the course of a river, the Kishenganga, a few kilometers before it enters Pakistani territory where it changes the name to Neelum and flows, after joining the Jhelum and the Chenab to Indus. New Delhi would like the water before it crosses the border, and the turbines of an Indian hydroelectric power plant of 330 megawatts to be built.

Indus Water Treaty map

Islamabad is opposed for two reasons as the deviation would leave dry a part of its territory and prevent those same waters to feed a central Pakistani hydroelectric future of 969 MW whose construction has already been contracted out to a consortium of Chinese companies.

Negotiations between the two countries, based on the interpretation of the Indus Water Treaty of 1960, did not lead to anything. And so Islamabad has decided to request the intervention of a court of arbitration which may take years to determine right and wrong. In the meantime, the wounds opened up by this and other disputes that are bound to fester because South Asia is potentially one of the regions in the future we will see the largest number by disagreements over water.

The reasons are clear as the demographic pressures on water and electrical networks are increasing in all countries of the region and, Indus will be the Himalayan river that will suffer most from climate change. Merely blaming India to interpret in their own favor the most controversial passages of the Indus Water Treaty, however, would be an unforgivable sign of strabismus.

Because, on the Pakistani domestic front, the faults are not lacking especially for the state of degradation of a water supply. A problem compounded by the fact that in provinces like Sindh and Punjab still dominate feudal logic, that causes the lack of available water, which is diverted to the fields of the rich and powerful landowners. And that, despite this, the government continues to require all payment of fees for the maintenance of the canals.