The Indus Equation – Analysis


By Sahiba Trivedi and Gitanjali Bakshi

As water sharing continues to be an emotive issue in Pakistan, a detailed report recently released by the Strategic Foresight Group aims to provide a realistic picture of the water situation in Pakistan and analyzes the threats felt by a lower riparian nation, logically and factually. The following article, based on findings of the SFG’s ‘Indus Equation’ report, gives an introduction to the shared waters between India and Pakistan as well as a brief snapshot of the key issues covered in the report.

Like most rivers in the world, the Indus is not bound by political boundaries. On its journey culminating in the Arabian Sea, it meanders its way through Tibet, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two main benefactors of the river, Pakistan and India, took nine years of negotiations before they could sign the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) in 1960 with assistance from the World Bank. Under this treaty, Pakistan was allotted roughly 80 percent of Indus waters through the western tributaries (Jhelum, Chenab and Indus) while India was allotted the rest of the water via the eastern rivers (Ravi, Beas and Sutlej). India was also given customary usage of water on the western rivers for agricultural purposes and for run-of-the-river electricity-generation projects. Most of the disagreements between India and Pakistan concerning water arise over the western rivers of the Indus.

Pakistan India Relations
Pakistan India Relations

Water is an emotional subject for nations that face increasing water shortages including India and Pakistan. The water issue between the two countries has been held hostage by virulent media rhetoric. The Pakistani media is full of reports claiming India is encroaching on their water supply and these misdirect public opinion. The nuances of the water issue between the two countries are completely lost on a large section of the population. Over the years, even terrorist outfits linked to the Kashmir issue have

started increasingly including water as a part of their rhetoric. Organizations like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (social wing of the terrorist group Laskhar-e-Taiba) have taken up the cause of water in speeches and rallies, vociferously claiming that India is damming waters meant for Pakistan and that a jihad must be waged to save Kashmir, the ‘jugular vein’ of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s huge dependence on the Indus river, in part, drives its ‘lower riparian anxieties’ (riparian area is the interface between land and a river or stream) a term used often by water expert John Briscoe. But its anxieties are also fuelled by substantial conveyance losses, poor demand management, internal water disputes between provinces and impacts of climate change. Pakistan’s anxieties regarding shared waters should be addressed by all means but on the basis of fact and reason not on emotions and misconceptions.

Recently, the Indian Kishenganga project has been in the middle of a lot of controversies. The project is currently in the Court of Arbitration — the highest mechanism for dispute resolution provided under the IWT. It is here that legal differences over the interpretation of the treaty (whether this tributary of the Jhelum can or cannot be diverted) and the technical arguments over the design of the project will be decided by a team of international and Indo-Pak water experts. Pakistan claims that the 100 kilometre diversion of the Kishenganga River caused by the project, will affect roughly 133,000 hectares of land and 600,000 people who depend on agriculture and fisheries. This claim still needs to be backed up with substantial evidence and transparent calculations.

Pakistan adopts a different interpretation of the legal stipulations provided in the IWT. It refers to Article IV (6) that calls for the maintenance of channels while India submits to Annexure D Paragraph 15 (iii) which permits inter-tributary diversion precisely for the purpose of hydel plants which is what the Kishenganga project is.

As mentioned before, the Court of Arbitration will decide how to resolve these two interpretations but what is important to note is that there is an institutional mechanism in place to take care of these disputes should they arise. And it is important to note that the Indus Waters Treaty has never once been breached since 1960. Several other countries do not enjoy water agreements with one another let alone such a specific and ‘water tight’ treaty. Under the IWT, India has always been open to design changes suggested by Pakistan. For example, in case of the Wullar Barrage disagreement, India has agreed to objections raised by Pakistan. In all, Indo-Pak water issues are purely technical in nature and should be resolved likewise, without resorting to unnecessary politics or controversies.

Key findings of report :

Pakistan’s water supply is not simply predicated on Indian dam building. Water shortages in Pakistan are also a result of poor demand management and the increasing effects of climate change.

  • Pakistan’s irrigation sector has some of the lowest conveyance efficiencies in the world. 25% of the water supply in the irrigation sector is misplaced in ‘line losses’ and only 36% of the water is actually absorbed by the crops due to poor ‘field application efficiency’.
  • 40-60% of the water flow in the Indus River comes from glacial meltwater from the Himalayas and hence the Indus River is highly susceptible to the effects of climate change. The Former Head of China’s Meteorological Administration Qin Dahe has said that Tibetan glaciers are retreating faster than any other glaciers in the world and once these glaciers vanish “water supplies in Pakistan will be in peril.”
  • The report also elucidates how unequal distribution, water pollution, seawater intrusion and siltation contribute to poor water supply in Pakistan.

The second part of the report concludes that there are mechanisms in place to protect Pakistan’s water supply flowing from India and these mechanisms are enshrined in the Indus Water Treaty (IWT).

  • The Indus Water Treaty, since its inception in 1960, has never been breached.
  • In April 2008 Pakistan’s Former Indus Water Commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah stated that, “The hydroelectric projects India is developing are on the run-of-the-river waters of these rivers, projects which India is permitted to pursue according to the treaty.”
  • India is allowed to build run-of-the-river dams on the Western Rivers of the Indus as these dams have a limited amount of storage. In any case India has always been open to design changes and the process of arbitration with regard to these dams. This was true in the case of the Baglihar Dam, the Wullar Barrage and it is true in the case of the Kishanganga Dam.

Much of the controversy around water has arisen because people do not know the facts. The ‘Indus Equation’ aims to provide facts and figures that would remove popular misconceptions and help ease tensions between the two neighbours.

Strategic Foresight Group

Strategic Foresight Group was established in 2002 to create new forms of intellectual capital. In less than a decade, we have created intellectual and political assets to draw input from all continents and deliver output to decision makers anywhere in the world.

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