Clear as mud

clouds of uncertainty shroud the future of the Indus Water Treaty (iwt) between India and Pakistan, with its arbitrator, the World Bank (wb), shying away from intervening in a dispute related to the treaty. Following the failure of the recent secretary-level talks between the two countries on the controversial Baglihar hydro-electricity project (see Down To Earth, ‘Water discord’, January 31, 2005,), Pakistan approached the wb on January 18, 2005, for adjudication. The same day, the bank issued a press statement saying it was not a guarantor of the treaty. “As a signatory to the treaty it has completed most of the requirements”, it clarified. But Pakistan has for long alleged that India’s Baglihar project on the Chenab River violates the iwt and stressed on the need for wb’s intervention.

The iwt aimed to solve water sharing problems between India and Pakistan by allocating three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) to Pakistan and three eastern rivers (Ravi, Sutlej and Beas) to India. Under the treaty, the bank can be asked to resolve any dispute related to iwt as a last resort. Pakistan invoked the provision after several rounds of talks with India.

Washing its hands off After receiving Pakistan’s request for mediation, the wb asked for all documents on actions taken. It received the documents on January 28, 2005, and is now reviewing them. But its press statement makes it clear that it is not interested in mediation now. This has triggered a debate on its role in the treaty.

According to the iwt, when asked to help resolve a dispute, the wb can appoint a neutral expert, in consultation with both the countries, and also establish a trust fund for the expert. If the expert cannot resolve the dispute, the bank can establish a court of arbitration. Ramaswamy R Iyer, leading water expert and former secretary, Union water resource ministry, says: “The treaty provides for arbitration and there can be no objection in this regard.” But Dale Lautenbach of wb’s south Asia external affairs department, Washington dc, argues: “The treaty does not envisage a role for the wb in the determination of any issue which might be brought before a neutral expert. The bank will not participate in any discussion or exchange beyond its role in the process of appointing a neutral expert.”

Hazy future Off late, the iwt has faced harsh criticism, particularly with regard to the Baglihar conflict, in both India and Pakistan. The Jammu and Kashmir assembly demanded its annulment in 2002. The state government has cited an annual loss of Rs 6,000 crore due to the treaty’s restrictions. Many leaders had also suggested scrapping the treaty during the 2001-2002 Indo-Pak military stand-off. In August 2004, members of Pakistan’s national assembly termed the treaty as a sellout. But some experts also support the treaty. Iyer suggests: “The best course is to leave things as they are.” Leading Pakistani water expert Khalid Hussain says: “The iwt is a bad treaty but revoking it would be worse.” Experts also believe that since little water is left in the six rivers, any changes in the treaty for more water utilisation by any side will lead to its breakdown.

Amid this melee, it seems certain that the Baglihar dispute’s resolution will be a long and arduous task. Salman M A Salman, International Law Group, wb, recently said: “If there is no compromise between the two parties over a neutral expert, the matter could drag on for a long time”.

Indus Water Treaty: genesis and fall out
1935: Indus water becomes a contentious issue. Government of India Act puts water under provincial jurisdiction 1960: Indus Water Treaty (IWT) signed 2002: Jammu and Kashmir assembly denounces IWT
1947: Partition internationa-lises the Indus water issue

1992: Pakistan officially oppos-es Baglihar project

2004: Pakistan’s National   Assembly criticises IWT

MAY 4, 1948: Simla agreement of resumption of water supply between East Punjab (India) and West Punjab (Pakistan)

2000: India begins construction on Baglihar project

JANUARY 7, 2005: Secretary-level talks on Baglihar project fails

1952: World Bank (WB) officially facilitates Indus Water talks

2001: Terrorist attack on Indian parliament. Abrogation of  IWT demanded

JANUARY 18, 2005: Pakistan approaches WB

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