THERE seems to be a pattern behind Islamabad’s propensity to continuously expand the list of its manufactured grievances against India. Pakistan got better of India at Sharm el-Sheikh by persuading Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to accept the alleged Indian involvement in Baloch insurgency as one of the issues between the two countries. If reports emanating from Washington are to be believed, New Delhi is under tremendous pressure from Washington to cut down its troop presence in J&K despite renewed attempts at infiltration by jehadi elements and a spurt in terror-related incidents in the state. USA, it is believed, is doing this to win Pakistan’s cooperation for its Afghanistan operations. Our hostile neighbour has now opened a new front against us by launching a bogus war on the highly emotive water issue. In a non-paper handed over to India at the recent Foreign Secretary-level talks in New Delhi, Pakistan made a series of preposterous and unwarranted allegations of ‘stealing’ its waters and raised several trivial and technical issues with regard to the implementation of the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 that allocated river waters of five Punjab rivers and the Indus between the two countries.
Most of the ‘grievances’ enumerated in the said non-paper are based on erroneous reading of the treaty and distortions of facts on the ground. Islamabad accuses us of reducing river flows (as if India controls rainfalls and melting of snows), constructing ‘illegal’ projects on the western rivers on the untenable premise that India had absolutely no right on water of three western rivers-the Chenab, the Jehlum and the Indus.
Indian officials are intrigued by the ferocity with which Pakistan is waging a media war against India on the issue. One possible explanation may be that this is being done at the instance of the Pak army and ISI that want to accentuate a sense of insecurity among Pakistani society to retain their domination on the polity. Conflicting reports emerging from the political class and the elements that always project India as a national enemy and potential threat to the very existence of Pakistan tend to strengthen this view. Another explanation may be that the non-issue had been raised to divert public attention from its failure on countless fronts. Or is it a clever move to deflect anger against Punjab-dominated polity among people of other states on the water issue? The ground reality is that Pakistani Punjab gets the lion’s share of water from the three western rivers at the cost of other states. The net result, however, is that the terror groups find in the water great potential for arousing anti-India sentiments. Jehadis have gone to the extent of threatening India to let “water flow or face war”.
Most of the Pakistani grievances are based on a misreading or misinterpretation of the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty. It is absolutely wrong to say, as Islamabad has been saying, that all the waters of the three western rivers belong to Pakistan. Experts point out that the treaty that was brokered by the World Bank permits India a limited use of waters of western rivers for purposes of “domestic use, non-consumptive use besides a water storage capacity of 8.6 million acre feet (MAF)”. These experts point out that India is not utilising even this small portion of waters in these rivers in a bid to avoid any bitterness with Pakistan on this issue. Pakistanis also talk of the allocation of water flow of 136 MAF whereas on an average only 104 MAF flow into Pakistan. Indian authorities point out that water flows depend on melting of snow and quantum of rainfall. A recent World Bank report on Pakistan’s water economy underlines the real problem. It says, “When the river flow is variable, then storage is required so that the supply of water can more closely match water demands. Relative to other arid countries, Pakistan has very little storage capacity.” Will Pakistan look inwards instead of pointing a finger at India? It is a matter of record that India had proposed joint storage under adequate supervision that would address the immediate needs of Pakistan. There had been no response from Islamabad.
After carrying on a vicious media campaign against India for ‘stealing’ waters, Pakistan has now admitted that it was not a case of stealing but of wastages in Pakistan. In a televised interview, Foreign Minister Mehmood Qureshi admitted that out of 104 MAF its canals receive, on an average, its farms get only 70 MAF. That is not because India is stealing its waters but because of wastages in Pakistan, the minister confessed. This debunks the stealing theory and reinforces the argument that Pakistan’s poor management of its water is responsible for scarcity of water for irrigation purposes. In fact, Pakistan has all along been the beneficiary of the long delays on the part of India in completion of river water projects on the three eastern rivers- the Sutlej, the Beas and the Ravi. Large quantities of scarce Ravi and Beas water flows down to Pakistan during rainy season. New Delhi and the other authorities concerned need to pull their socks to maximise the use of water allocated to India under the Indus Treaty.
Indus Water Treaty provides an effective conflict resolution mechanism in the form of the Indus Water Commission. It also has a provision for arbitration by a neutral expert in case the inability of the Commission to resolve a dispute. The Commission meets regularly to exchange notes and sort out disputes. In the last meeting of the Commission at Lahore, Pakistan had raised objections to the Kishen Ganga project in the Gurez Valley and threatened to go to a neutral expert with its complaint. They are free to do so. Probably, Islamabad is raising the pitch on the water issue to make it one of the core issues in Indo-Pak dialogue. New Delhi must resist this attempt and insist that it is a non-issue, that the Indus Water Treaty is in operation and that all issues and disputes pertaining to water should be discussed within the ambit and framework of the Treaty. Let no one forget that the said treaty is more favourable to Pakistan than us, for the former is getting four times the river water India gets. Does Pakistan want to rescind the treaty-that withstood three wars-and re-negotiate a new treaty that would be more even handed?