In the backdrop or Uri incident, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had threatened to stop flow of river waters into Pakistan in defiance of the Indus Water Treaty. According to media reports, India is now planning to stop 2 TMC of water of Ujh River a tributary of Ravi River by building three dams on it in violation of the Indus Water Treaty. Under the Treaty, the waters of the Eastern rivers Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi were allocated to India and the Western rivers Indus, Jhelum and Chenab to Pakistan except for certain uses allowed to India including power generation without altering the water flows. It also bound India to allow unrestricted flow of waters of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej into Pakistan after meeting her needs, as well as of their tributaries. The move by the Indian government is tantamount to precipitating water war with Pakistan which is yet another act of Indian enmity towards Pakistan, more so by the BJP government.
India is building Kishenganga and Rattle Hydro-electric power plants being built by the latter to block flow of water into Pakistan. The dispute is over the design features of the two dams which Pakistan believes contravene the treaty.
Perhaps a recap of the history of the dispute is needed to present the dispute in its proper perspective to the readers. Pakistan and India have been involved in intractable discussions to resolve the dispute regarding construction of two hydroelectric power plants. In view of the stalemate on the issue, Pakistan requested the World Bank which had brokered the accord and also assumed the role of guarantor of the Treaty, to establish a court of Arbitration to resolve the differences between the two countries. India simultaneously requested the World Bank for the appointment of a neutral expert.
The World Bank initially agreed to set up both the Arbitration Court and the appointment of the neutral expert. However in response to the Indian objection on two parallel processes which it maintained was not legally tenable, the World Bank decided to announce a ‘pause’ and asked both the parties to resolve the issue through bilateral avenues. Giving the reason for this action the President of the Bank in a letter written to finance ministers of both the countries said “We are announcing this pause to protect the Indus Water Treaty and to help India and Pakistan to consider alternative approaches to resolving conflicting interests under the treaty and its application to two hydro electric power plants. This is an opportunity for the two countries to begin to resolve the issue in an amicable manner and in line with the spirit of the treaty rather than pursuing concurrent processes that could make the treaty unworkable over time. I would hope that the two countries will come to an agreement by the end of January,”
The position taken by the World Bank regrettably was akin to what India had argued. It was tantamount to shirking the responsibility as a guarantor of the accord charged with the responsibility, as per the Treaty itself, to ensure that both parties stuck to the provisions of the accord and in case of failure of the two sides to sort out their differences on any issue related to the treaty, appoint a court of Arbitration. The Indian government welcomed the ‘pause’ announced by the World Bank.
Pakistan had approached the World Bank after being frustrated to find a solution to the dispute through permanent Indus Water Commission, a body set up under the Treaty to settle disputes through mutual consultations. The arbitration was even more necessary in view of the threats by Modi government to control the flow of water of the western rivers into Pakistan.
Therefore, reacting to the World Bank decision, Pakistani Finance Minister in his letter to the President of the World Bank rightly maintained that under the Treaty no party could ‘pause’ performance of the obligations under the Treaty and the position taken by the Bank would only prevent Pakistan from approaching a competent forum and having its grievances addressed.
As these exchanges were in progress the Indian government tasked the inter-ministerial committee to enhance storage of western rivers waters, which was a very alarming development. Under the circumstances, the avoidance by the World Bank totake a position in line with its obligations under the Treaty amounted to almost giving up on its own brokered agreement. The hope expressed by the World Bank that both sides would be able to resolve their differences, represented lack of understanding of the prevailing situation.
According to reliable sources India was contemplating to launch more hydropower projects with a cumulative power generating capacity of 32,000 MW on the rivers allocated to Pakistan and consequently attain the capability of regulating the water flows to Pakistan, especially reducing water flow in the river Chenab which irrigates most of the land in Punjab. Such a situation could lead to serious consequences and may even threaten peace and security in the region in the event of armed conflict over the issue between the two countries.
It is pertinent to point out that the case of Kishanganga has already been considered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at Hague which in its final award on the dispute while recognizing the Indian right to build the Dam did address Pakistan’s concerns about India keeping the level of reservoirs below the Dead Storage Level and also recognized the concept of environmental flows in rivers to ensure that the power generating projects were operated in an environmentally sustainable manner. The Award announced on 20 December 2013 specified that 9m3/s of natural flow of water must be maintained in Kishanganga river at all times to maintain environment downstream. India was not even abiding by the award of the Permanent Arbitration Court. India in defiance of the decision continued building those projecs according to their original design during the pause announced by the World Bank. Pakistan did inform the World Bank about it in April 2018.
Though the World Bank has not set up a court of arbitration but it has been trying to facilitate discussions between the two countries to narrow down their differences, for which it had been lobbying intensely. The credibility of the World Bank as guarantor of the Indus Water Treaty is at stake and one could only hope that as a guarantor of the Indus Water Treaty it would make sure that not only the dispute over Kishenganga and Rattle Dam was resolved amicably as per the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration but India was also stopped from going ahead with her plans to obstruct flow of water in the Ravi River as reported by the media before it morphs into an open confrontation between the two countries.