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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

What are the specific Indus Treaty violations of which Mr Bashir complains? Have these been referred to the Indian Indus Commissioner or made the subject of field inspections in order to ascertain ground realities?

Ideology Threatens Indus Treaty

Ideologues and jihadis many cavil at cooperation and ground realities, but climate change will not respect boundaries or political sophistry.

By B G Verghese

The South Asian Journal, 25 March, 2010

Of all the international treaties and agreements that have served the nations, the Indus Water Treaty signed 50 years ago remains a triumph of the United Nations system. Wars and prolonged stand offs notwithstanding, the IWT has anchored peace in the critical water sector through an established mechanism for trans-border consultation, data exchange and conflict resolution.

Despite Partition in 1947, some pleaded that the Indus should not be divided and the great irrigation system developed over the previous century should be jointly managed and developed as a single entity. Such an ideal solution was precluded by prevailing mistrust and bitterness. The waters were partitioned.

However, Article VII of the Treaty, “Future Cooperation”, did leave open a window of opportunity. It noted that “the two parties recognize that they have a common interest in the optimum development of the Rivers, and to that end, they declare their intention to cooperate to the fullest possible extent”. In particular they promised favourable consideration to requests by the other to establish hydrologic and meteorological stations and supply the observed data. They also agreed to carry out such drainage works as may be required and requested by the other side.

More interestingly, VII-c provided that “the two parties may by mutual agreement cooperate in undertaking engineering works in the rivers”, the term “rivers “ being defined to mean the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and their tributaries or, in other words, the entire basin. The language employed by the Treaty implicitly admitted that mere partitioning of the waters could only serve limited ends and that the fullest potential of the basin could only be sustainably harnessed through joint cooperation. The cooperative engineering works mentioned obviously included dams, storages, diversions and drainage systems.

Article VII therefore holds the key to the future and can unlock new opportunities.

Where does the story begin? The pre-partition Indus irrigation works were developed as an integrated system. Partition left some barrages and headworks in one country and the related canals or drainage works in the other, and occasionally vice versa, across the two Punjabs. The two Punjab administrations accordingly entered into a standstill agreement on Dec 27, 1947 for continued supplies from India through the Central Bari Doab and Dipalpur canals until March 31, 1948. Two days before that deadline, East Punjab formally informed West Punjab that the Standstill Agreement was about to expire. Inexplicably West Punjab failed to seek an extension and East Punjab accordingly closed the two canals accounting for six percent of West Punjab’s overall canal supplies. There was a storm of protest and armed confrontation threatened. Nehru chastised the East Punjab administration for acting hastily; contact was resumed and supplies were restored on April 30 and an Indo-Pakistan Agreement was ratified on May 4.

The situation was saved.

East Punjab acted as it did as it feared that continuing supplies to Pakistan without an agreement might create a “right”. Chaudhury Mohammad Ali, then Secretary-General and Special Adviser to Ayub later wrote in “Emergence of Pakistan (1967, Colombia University Press), that East Punjab showed Machiavellian duplicity while on the part of West Punjab there was “neglect of duty, complacency and lack of common prudence”.

The “canal water dispute” triggered consultations and negotiations, with the World Bank’s good offices leading ultimately to the signing of the Indus Water Treaty on September 19, 1960. This provided for a 10-year transition until “replacement works” and back-up storages could be built in Pakistan. This programme was internationally funded and included a substantial Indian contribution of 62 million pounds sterling.

The Treaty allocated roughly 80 per cent of the total Indus flows to Pakistan and 20 per cent to India. India was assigned the entire flows of the three eastern rivers, the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, barring 50,000 acres of existing irrigation uses in Pakistan from certain Ravi tributaries. Pakistan was in turn allocated the entire flows of the three western rivers, the Chenab, Jhelum and Indus, less some Indian uses in its part of J&K for irrigating up to 1.34 m acres and creating 3.60 million acre feet of storage for hydro-electric generation and flood moderation. These uses were subject to elaborate stipulations regarding location and uses.

A high-powered Indus Commission was established and the Commissioners enjoined to remain in constant touch, exchange information, raise queries, meet annually or more frequently if necessary, make annual field inspections and report to their respective governments. Furthermore, India was required to give Pakistan the design parameters of new projects six months before commencing significant works in J&K and to entertain any objections received. Though Pakistan’s approval was not mandated, India has meticulously engaged in consultation resulting in several projects being long delayed or virtually shelved (the Tulbul flood detention scheme) or revised sub-optimally (as in the case of Sallal on the Chenab, which silted up within two seasons as a consequence). The result has been cost escalation and delayed benefits.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto held up the run-of-the-river Sallal project in the 1980s on the ground that this could be used strategically against Pakistan as an instrument of war, to pond and dry up the river, or suddenly release ponded waters to flood Pakistan in time of war and bog down its armour. These bizarre arguments were touted although any man-made “drought” or “flood” would first devastate Indian villages (and infrastructure) for over 100 kms downstream of these dams before they reached Pakistan. Further, a simple correlation between the modest permissible pondage (sufficient for diurnal peaking supplies to drive the turbines) and the geometry of the lower valley would convince a schoolboy that the grim scenarios forecast are absurd. Two years later, Bhutto relented; but the same extraordinary apocalypse continues to be forecast, as in the case of the Baglihar run-of-the-river hydro project, on the Chenab upstream of Sallal. However, this point was prudently not pressed before the Neutral Expert to whom Pakistan appealed on various design and silt control measures. The verdict of the Swiss Expert, Lafitte, clearly went in India’s favour, requiring it to make no more than minor changes.

The Sallal and Baglihar cases and contemporary hysteria reflect Pakistan’s propensity to resort to horror scenarios and grandstanding, suggesting political more than genuine water issues as the real motivating factor.

It is necessary to state this upfront to get a handle on Pakistan’s current raging and tearing campaign that water is not merely a very live issue but perhaps the “core” issue. The argument that the Indus is its “lifeline” was employed early on by Pakistan in making out its case on Kashmir. The bottom was knocked out of that argument with the signing of the Indus Treaty. The IWT’s operation through good times and bad suggests that it still provides a sturdy and ready mechanism to resolve all genuine problems. The new belligerence on water, stridently amplified by ideologues and jihadis, is being exploited to reinforce the emotional basis of Pakistan’s claims on J&K. This may have become necessary with the territorial argument having been undermined by Musharraf’s out-of-the-box theorems and as more and more people see cross-border terrorism as the antithesis of any kind of self-determination, which remains conspicuously absent in PAK and the Gilgit-Baltistan Area.

The Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Mr Salman Bashir, served India a non-paper when he met with his Indian counterpart in Delhi on February 25, 2010. He listed five complaints : Indus Treaty violations, an unwillingness to resolve issues, ongoing project concerns, deforestation in the upper watersheds and glacial melt because of human (presumablymilitary) activity. Let us examine these.

First and foremost, the Indus Commission provides a comprehensive mechanism for dealing with all issues. What is the purpose of going outside this established and well tested framework whose conflict resolution possibilities have by no means been exhausted. Country concerns are first registered by the respective Indus Commissioners. If they are not resolved though mutual discussion and field visits, a “difference” will have arisen. Such a difference may then be referred to a mutually agreed Neutral Expert, “a highly qualified engineer”. After hearing both sides and making his own inspections, studies and observations, his ruling shall be final and binding on both sides. Pakistan invoked the Neutral Expert in the Baglihar case and that matter was resolved and significant principles laid down for future guidance.

Should the Neutral Expert fail to resolve a matter or should any complaint fall outside the remit of such an Expert, a “dispute” shall be deemed to have arisen and be submitted for arbitration. The Court of Arbitration shall be composed of two representatives each from either side and three “umpires” appointed by mutual agreement or, failing that, by the UN Secretary General and World Bank President, in respect of the Chairperson, by the President of MIT and the Rector of Imperial College, London, in respect of the engineer member, and by the US Chief Justice and the Lord Chief Justice of England in the case of the legal member. As with the Neutral Expert, the verdict of the Court of Arbitration shall be final.

Given such a meticulously laid out and high-powered dispute resolution mechanism, why does Pakistan wish to by-pass it and politicize what are technical issues? Whether so intended or otherwise, this could undermine and even nullify the Indus Treaty putting the “peace process” in reverse gear. This is dangerous gamesmanship, especially when a generic issue “water”, and not just a specific water “difference” or “dispute”, is being agitated both by Mr Salman Bashir and Hafeez Saeed, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (former Lasher-e-Toiba) chief. The latter, on whom India has much interesting “literature”, was repeatedly seen on Pakistan TV haranguing audiences in Muzaffatrbad and Lahore on “Kashmir Day” this year threatening war on India over water.

Further, launching a nation-wide protest in Lahore on March 7, 2010 against the “theft” of Pakistan’s share of water, Hafeez-Saeed accused India of “water terrorism” and demanded it stop “this aggression that might trigger war between two nuclear-armed neighbours”. What is this if not a totally irresponsible and rabble-rousing threat of nuclear war? The banners and placards with the rallyists carried legends like “Water or War”, “Indian water bomb”, “water flows or blood” and, significantly, “liberate Kashmir to secure water”. Hafeez Saeed, whom Pakistan portrays as a saintly social worker, said his crime was that he spoke for “the oppressed people of Kashmir and India”. Yet again on March 23, 2010 in Kotli (PAK), the LeT and Jamaat-e-Islami called for jihad, not peace talks, to liberate Kashmir and Pakistan from India’s “water terrorism”. These are not stray remarks and, far from countering them, the Pakistan establishment has only encouraged such incendiary and baseless rhetoric.

What are the specific Indus Treaty violations of which Mr Bashir complains? Have these been referred to the Indian Indus Commissioner or made the subject of field inspections in order to ascertain ground realities? There is no evidence of India’s unwillingness to address real issues as data has been shared on 33 Indian proposals and projects.

What are Pakistan’s ongoing concerns? Reference has been made to Baglihar-II and Uri-II. Neither entails any change in the dam specifications or pondage and is confined to operating additional turbines to generate secondary power during the flush season in accordance with the Treaty provision Annexure D(8b). Nothing sinister here.

Objection was taken long back to the proposed Kishnganga-storage-cum diversion project on this Jhelum tributary, called the Neelum River in PAK. This was however revised to a run-of-the-river 330 MW project after local objections to submergence and displacement in India’s Gurez Valley.

Under the revised scheme, water will be diverted through the turbines and dropped into a nullah which joins the Wular Lake before being returned to the Jhelum. Some ecological releases will, however, continue to flow downstream to the Neelum. Nonetheless, Pakistan claims that this will impact its own 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum hydro-cum-1.3 lakh acre irrigation project. This caveat is untenable as these do not represent “existing uses” that India is bound to protect under the IWT Annexure C(9). A 2005 inspection of the Neelum Valley did not show extensive irrigation and it is Pakistan that has shared little or no information regarding Neelum-Jhelum.

Objections have also been raised with regard to India’s proposed 600 M W Sawalkote and 1020 MW Bursar schemes on the upper Chenab and 1000 MW Pakul Dul project on a tributary stream, the Marusuder, and yet other planned schemes. A few modest projects are planned in Ladakh (the 45 MW Nimoo Bazgo on the Indus and 44 MW Chuttak on the Saru in Kargil). Taken together, the combined storage proposed together with that of existing projects will remain well below India’s entitlements under the IWT. India has even today a margin of 550,000 acres against its irrigation entitlement of 1.34 million acres and virtually the entire permissible 3.60 m.a.f of storage at its disposal before it reaches the ceiling laid down under the Indus Treaty.

In all cases, the Treaty makes a clear distinction between diurnal pondage, (required to run turbines for some hours both morning and evening in order to generate peaking power), and storage proper. The pondage gets depleted twice every twenty four hours with the water being returned to the river through the turbines. If Pakistan has some design worries these can be discussed and, where necessary, modified. Suggestions that India plans to build dozens of dams and that these will dry up the flows of the Chenab in particular, and the Jhelum as well, are fanciful. Multiple pondages do not a storage make. Indeed, the same ponded water flows down river to refill downstream pondages in a cascade and will actually benefit Pakistan.

If Pakistan is complaining about mini and micro-hydel projects, these entail very limited pondage, let alone storage, and can have no “material effect” on flows to Pakistan.

Going outside the IWT, there is a vague charge of deforestation of watersheds in upper catchments. Which ones? Presumably this is to suggest aggravated erosion and sedimentation. Yet Pakistan has stalled the Tulbul project which is no more than a flood retention scheme on the Wulur Lake through which the Jhelum flows. The object is to retard the flood and return the water to the river by means of regulated releases through hydro turbines, restore traditional navigation and timber-floatation up to Baramulla and act as a silt trap. Such a project would improve seasonal flows, reduce sedimentation and augment power output at Mangla. In short, Tulbul would benefit Pakistan as much as J&K.

Development projects, especially roads in remoter areas that the Government has a duty to connect, will inevitably cause some erosion. But this will be small change compared to the massive cutting and filling involved in widening and raising the Karakoram Highway to build the Bhasha dam, 40 kms downstream of Chilas.

Finally, there is the charge that human interference is aggravating glacial melt. The unstated reference here is perhaps to the Indian military presence in the Siachen area and elsewhere along the LOC. But Pakistan’s military is equally entrenched along adjacent alpine and glacial heights and its wonton Kargil caper has compelled India to man the heights even during winter. Dr Manmohan Singh has urged that the Siachen region be declared a “mountain of peace” and was moving in that direction in discussions with General Musharraf in 2006 as part of a package when political turmoil in Pakistan stalled and subsequently reversed the process. That option remains if Pakistan is willing, constructively, to seize it.

Let not the water questions be allowed to be sucked into the vortex of Pakistan’s jehadi-terror politics over Kashmir. It will not work, and in fact could recoil – on Pakistan. The real problem is not Indian mala fides on water, which is a complete bogey, but inefficient water management and inter-provincial conflicts within Pakistan and mounting water stress in the context of climate change. Pakistan’s 1991 Indus Accord for inter-provincial water sharing has broken down with Punjab being accused of rising roughshod over the interests of Sind, the Frontier and Balochistan. Over 35 m.a.f of flood waters escape to the sea for lack of storage while dwindling lean season flows below the Kotru Barrage in Sind is adversely affecting the ecology, fisheries, mangroves and saline gradient in the Lower Indus basin.

Pakistan, more than India, is an inefficient user and manager of water and has allowed its irrigation infrastructure to deteriorate, typically depending on failing supply side augmentation without due regard to demand management. Land and water productivity ratios in Pakistan are generally half that in India’s Bhakra command. This is the problem. Even so, there is a real, looming supply shortage.

India has proceeded to harness its water resources with a growing measure of environmental discipline. Pakistan, on the other hand, has run out of suitable storage sites. Tarbela and Chashma are losing capacity and the height of the Mangla dam has recently had to be raised. Kalabagh remains taboo on account of strong objections from the other provinces. The 4500 MW Diamer-Bhasha project on the Indus has been taken up on the NWFP-Gilgit-Baltistan Area border. But it will take some years to complete the access road before work on the dam can commence. The site lies in a rain shadow area and any climate change effect on the winter westerlies will mean erratic or less snowfall which means that the reservoir may only fill once in seven to ten years during “super-floods’, though this could provide valuable carry-over storage. The Katzara dam investigated just downstream of Skardu, could drown the entire Skardu valley and much of Balti civilisation and has understandably aroused fierce opposition, including objections from the military, which is liable to suffer major disruption of its strategic ground and air communications.

All this was elaborately discussed in twin parliamentary and technical (WAPDA) reports on Pakistan’s long term water resources prepared in 2002. The expectation therein was that Pakistan would continue to receive a bonus of two to four million acre feet of lean season water from the eastern and western Indus rivers because of India’s inability to harness them fully. Has this become a planning criterion in some minds by delaying Indian schemes, especially in J&K? Hopefully not, as this could greatly exacerbate tensions to nobody’s benefit.

The situation as it stands today is that India is being impeded in utilising its entitled share of waters in the Western rivers while Pakistan has no access to the headwaters of those very same rivers which lie under Indian control. Most Indian projects are run-of-river and do not store or regulate water. If this could be more fully harnessed, India would be able to generate additional power, release far more water to Pakistan through the lean season and reduce sediment discharge. More storages behind higher dams are also necessary to trap aberrant rainstorms and cloudbursts which could otherwise run raging down the valleys, causing floods and destruction without a water dividend.

I have for years proposed an Indus-II, under Article VII of the IWT, in order to optimize overall benefits. This could be done though joint exploration, investigation, design, construction and management of further schemes and operationalising optimised basin plans in the upper Chenab, Jhelum and Indus on both sides of the LOC. This could extend to watershed management, data mapping – by developing automated platforms interrogated by satellites to monitor glacial melt, debris dams, glacial lake hazards and seismological events - forest and alpine range management, and transmission lines to evacuate power. Access for each to the other side of the LOC would conform to the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf formulation of making the boundary (read the LOC) irrelevant, a mere line on the map or a soft border, and developing joint mechanisms to manage the ensuing human, economic, cultural and political interactions and inter-relationships.

The idea of a Siachen Peace Park as an international scientific research base, stretching from west of the Karakoram Pass to K2, could be factored into this concept. Cooperation with China, the upper riparian in Tibet, would also be desirable for purposes of data exchange and disaster management, especially in view of melting permafrost and glacial ice in Tibet.

Ideologues and jihadis many cavil at cooperation and ground realities, but climate change will not respect boundaries or political sophistry. South Asia is liable to be among the worst affected regions by climate change anywhere in the world and the northwestern part of this sub-continent, in particular, will experience the negative effects earliest and most severely. A World Bank consultant has forecast that the Indus at Skardu is likely to carry 30 per cent less water in 30 years. The time to prepare for that eventuality is now. India and Pakistan are travelling in the same boat. They better join hands soon to meet the common challenge confronting them before nature deals with them most harshly – separately.

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