WELCOME REMARKS – Public Talk on “IWT and Water Security”

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Public Talk on “IWT and Water Security”
June 18, 2019

Welcome Remarks by the Director General

Worthy Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I extend to you all a warm welcome to the Institute of Strategic Studies.

We are gathered here today for a Public Talk on Indus Waters Treaty and Water Security. Our guest Speaker for the event is Syed Mehr Ali Shah, Pakistan Commissioner for Indus Waters.

I have come to know Syed Mehr Ali Shah for some years now. I first noted him in the high-level meetings where India’s violation of Indus Waters Treaty in Kishenganga and Ratle projects was being discussed. I was Foreign Secretary then. Shah sahib was, as he is now, with the Ministry of Water and Power. I could see that he knew his facts well, and could articulate them with conviction and finesse. Later, in DC, I again noticed that he fought our case very well in the talks with India through the World Bank. I am glad that the government later chose to give him the charge of Pakistan’s Commissioner for Indus Waters. Thank you Mehr sahib for accepting to give this talk on a subject that is so vital to Pakistan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Water is life. From time immemorial human settlements have grown around sources of fresh water, mainly rivers.

For Pakistan, the Indus River System is the life line. The nature has endowed us with plenty of fresh water. Yet, despite having the world’s largest glaciers, Pakistan is among the world’s 36 most water-stressed countries. Pakistan’s Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has warned that unless timely measures are taken, the country will run out of water by 2025. The World Bank too has cautioned that Pakistan is moving from a water stressed country to a water scarce country. The reasons are also quite well known:

  • Growing population and rapid urbanization are stressing the available water resources;
  • Water management has become wasteful and inefficient, especially in irrigation; and a massive expansion of tube well irrigation is depleting ground water.
  • Inability to save flood waters or build large reservoirs.
  • Adverse climatic variations, like drought and erratic monsoon patterns, are taking their toll; and Himalayan glaciers are retreating at a rapid pace.

Consequently, among the countries facing acute water shortages, Pakistan now ranks third in the world, according to the IMF.

The people of Pakistan are becoming acutely aware that looking ahead, water security would be the most serious challenge facing Pakistan.

That in turn means, on the one hand we must manage the available water more efficiently and on the other we ensure that our share of water in Indus Waters system flows to Pakistan without any obstruction or diversion.

While internal management of water resources is of critical importance, today’s talk is about the second aspect, i.e. a judicious apportionment and management of the inflow of Pakistan’s share of waters in the Indus Waters system.

Adequate distribution of trans-boundary water resources can be a bone of contention among states if proper legal framework and mechanisms are not in place for its equitable allocation. Pakistan and India since 1947 also remained embroiled in conflict over this resource until the historic Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was signed between the two countries in 1960.

Legally well-rounded and skillfully crafted, this Treaty is veritably an instrument of mutual cooperation between the two opposing sides.

The Treaty is often cited as a success story of international riparian engagement, as it has withstood major wars between the two signatories, incidents of terrorism and several skirmishes over water distribution. The agreement is also heralded as a triumph for the World Bank, which played an instrumental role in its negotiation.

Recently, however, India has embarked upon projects that Pakistan deems are violating the IWT. India is also not ready to accommodate Pakistan’s point of view and has adopted a hostile posture, raising question marks on its cooperation in implementing the Indus Waters Treaty. If not amicably resolved, this would further aggravate the water security of Pakistan.

The dispute has arisen mainly over the dams that India is constructing on the western rivers allocated to Pakistan. The IWT does allow water storage within the permissible quota of the upper riparian, as well as run of the river projects. The dispute is that India is building storages or diverting waters in violation of the limits prescribed by the Treaty.

How do we resolve these disputes?

The Treaty provides for a mechanism, whereby a Neutral Expert could be engaged, like we did for Baghlihar project (in 2005-6), or a Court of Arbitration could be set up as was done for Kishenganga (in 2011-13).

Unfortunately, in the cases of Kishenganga and Ratle dams, India refused to make the changes that were necessary to bring the projects in conformity with the standards and limits set out by the Treaty. Even the intervention and facilitation by the World Bank in the past few years has not nudged India to comply with the Treaty or cooperate with Pakistan.

Let me raise a few specific questions for our worthy speaker to benefit fully from his talk.

My first question is how do we deal with a situation, when one party, the upper riparian in this case, is not ready to negotiate in good faith, or reach a compromise, but instead insist that only its position should prevail?

This leads one to believe that India is politicizing the issue. Under Prime Minister Modi, water issue is increasingly being linked to BJP’s overall hostile approach towards Pakistan and its policies in the Indian occupied Kashmir, which is the source of much of the water in the system. Modi’s threat hurled publicly that water and blood cannot flow in the same direction reflects the prevailing mindset in India. Through its non-cooperation, India is practically making the Treaty dysfunctional.

My second question here is, will India gain in the medium to long term by making the treaty dysfunctional? India is aspiring for a regional and global power status. How does its blatant violations of bilateral and international legal obligations serve its ambitions?

There is also a security dimension. If India builds enough dams and uses them to impede the flow of water to Pakistan during the sowing season, it can afflict serious injury to the livelihoods of millions of Pakistanis whose life depends on agriculture. For Pakistan, therefore, this is an existential issue.  Already, there is a chatter of water wars.

My third question is how do we address the security dimension when India remains belligerent upper riparian playing a high risk politics on waters reserved for Pakistan? Will a war over waters serve India and Pakistan? India needs to think it through.

The climate change impact on the Indus Waters basin is a common problem for India and Pakistan. The rising temperatures, retreating glaciers, and erratic monsoon patterns should worry both India and Pakistan, and can become an area where both should cooperate to address this shared challenge.

My fourth and final question is can India’s present leadership muster political will to work with Pakistan to deal with this common menace?

I hope that we would learn more about these inter-connected issues from a person who deals with it every day of his life. We further hope that this intellectual endeavor of the Institute will encourage others in our academia to address this important subject and help find tenable solutions to achieve water security in Pakistan.

Thank you all once again for gracing this important event. 

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