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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Both Pakistan and India face water stress, which will be accentuated by climate change. Aberrant weather and melting Tibetan permafrost and glacial ice could enhance sedimentation and debris dam and glacial lake hazards. Cooperation is essential, not only between India and Pakistan but  with China.

Pakistan Gamesmanship on Water

The Indus Waters Treaty has worked well in a harsh environment of recurrent war and recrimination under the watchful eye of the Indus Commission.

By B G Verghese

Indian Express, 11 March, 2010

Pakistan has since 2009 virtually inscribed Indus Waters as the “core issue”. Witness the Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Mr Salman Bashir’s recent demarche in Delhi meshing with the heady jihadi rhetoric of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa/LeT chief, Hafeez Saeed.

The Indus Waters Treaty has worked well in a harsh environment of recurrent war and recrimination under the watchful eye of the Indus Commission, headed by empowered engineers fortified with a concurrent conflict management and resolution mechanism. A Neutral Expert was only summoned once, over Baglihar two years ago, a Court of Arbitration never. For the rest, the Indus Commissioners have overseen current operations and future plans by means of a reasonably transparent and accountable process.

The Treaty allocates the three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) wholly to Pakistan, but entitled India to irrigate 1.3 million acres and store 3.60 million acre feet of water for conservation, flood moderation and hydel generation within J&K. India, in turn, was allocated the entire flows of the three eastern rivers (Sutlej. Beas and Ravi), barring minor irrigation uses for Pakistan from four nullahs that join the Ravi. In the final reckoning Pakistan got 80 per cent of the overall flows of the Indus and India 20 per cent.

The Treaty mandates broad Pakistani approval for Indian works on the Western rivers in J&K. This led to considerable delays in progressing Sallal, Uri, Dul Hasti, and Baglihar, all run-of river hydel schemes with diurnal peaking “pondage” to drive the turbines, but no “storage”. The Tulbul flood detention barrage across the Jhelum has been stymied for 18 years! The design objections to Baglihar, finally cleared in India’s favour with minor modifications by the Neutral Expert two years ago, as in the case of Sallal was that sudden pondage or release of such impoundments could dry up the lower course of the Chenab or cause floods that would render Pakistan economically and strategically vulnerable. The argument is bizarre and ignores simple facts of valley geometry and prior hazards that India would face before any damage to Pakistan 110 kms down river.

Objection has been taken to the proposed upper Chenab Sawalkote and Pakul Dul projects and the re-designed Kishenganga project, all run-of–river schemes. Uri-II and Baglihar-II will merely utitilise seasonal flush flows to generate secondary power as permitted by the Treaty. The Kishenganga project entails diverting this Jhelum tributary (known as Neelum in PAK), into the Wular lake through which it is returned to the Jhelum, in accordance with the Treaty. Pakistan claims that the Kishenganga diversion will leave insufficient water for its Neelum-Jhelum irrigation-cum-hydro project above Muzaffarabad. India has, however, assured it certain ecological releases which, with other stream flows, should suffice to protect Pakistan’s “existing uses” at the time India first submitted its Kishengaga proposals, as required.

In any event, recourse may be had to IWT mechanisms for resolving “differences” and “disputes”. India has so far not fully utilized its irrigation quota on the three western rivers nor invested in its storage entitlement. “Surplus” Indian  waters continue to flow to Pakistan from the Western and even the Eastern rivers, as the Rajasthan Canal command, still under development, is yet  to draw its full complement of Ravi-Beas waters.

Both Pakistan and India face water stress, which will be accentuated by climate change. Aberrant weather and melting Tibetan permafrost and glacial ice could enhance sedimentation and debris dam and glacial lake hazards. Cooperation is essential, not only between India and Pakistan but  with China. Meanwhile, even as Indian utilization of its water entitlements in J&K encounters Pakistani objections, the latter has no control over the upper catchments of the three Western rivers. If these waters are to be optimally utilized, the key lies in Chapter VII of the Treaty, “Future Cooperation”, that envisages joint studies and engineering works in the upper Indus catchment on both sides of the LOC.

Rather than seek conflict resolution or future cooperation under the aegis of the IWT, Pakistan seems inclined to up the ante. J&K is being emotionally resurrected as a “lifeline” issue even as its territorial claims on Kashmir are undermined by jihadi terror. Hafeez Saeed has addressed rallies  
in Muzaffarabad and Lahore. As recently as March 7, he denounced India’s “theft” of waters through “illegal dams” that could trigger nuclear war. Banners proclaimed “Water or War”, “Water flows or blood”, “Liberate Kashmir to secure water”, and “No peace with Indian water aggression”.

A carefully constructed and longstanding water framework is being crudely altered from technical to political. Reason is yielding to emotion, accepted principles to ideological hysteria. The locus is shifting from the Indus Commission to the mob and non-state actors. Undermining the IWT can do no good. We need cooperation, not confrontation.

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