05 May 2010

A South Asian Tri-axis, part 2: The Indus Waters Treaty

In 1960, an agreement over the water resources originating in Jammu - Kashmir (which, again, I will refer to as JK) was brokered by the World Bank between Pakistan and India. In the Indus Waters Treaty, uses of the waters of the Indus River and several of its principal tributaries that originate in or pass through the disputed JK area were divided between the two countries. The map of the Indus tributaries to the right was authored by Kmhkmh for the Wikimedia Commons. Six major rivers were identified in the Indus Waters Treaty and divided categorically, to be known as the Western and Eastern Rivers. Specifically,
  • the Indus River was to be controlled exclusively by Pakistan, despite its origination in southwestern China and passage through the Indian area of JK before entering the Pakistan area of JK and then Pakistan proper;
  • the Jhelum River was to be controlled exclusively by Pakistan, despite its origination in the Indian area of JK and passage through the Pakistan area of JK before entering Pakistan proper and eventually merging with the Chenab River;
  • the Chenab River was to be controlled exclusively by Pakistan, despite its origination in Himachal Pradesh (the northern-most province of India, outside of JK) and passage through the Indian area of JK before entering Pakistan and, eventually, joining the Indus;
  • the Sutlej, Beas (tributary to the Sutlej), and Ravi, all Eastern Rivers and relatively minor in flow volume, were to be controlled exclusively by India, with a one-time financial compensation paid to Pakistan for the Indian consumptive use of those waters before all three rivers pass into Pakistan and eventually join the Chenab River.
The thing is, the Treaty was meant originally to assuage Pakistani fears over the availability of water resources that originate in India or disputed regions, especially if a war between the two countries should occur. In fact, India has not revoked or violated the Treaty in three conflicts (two over JK territory) between the two countries since the Treaty was signed, even during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 while the Treaty was still in its specified Transition Phase. However, disputes and unilateral actions on the Western Rivers have led to continued differences between the two countries. Specifically, the Treaty allows domestic, specified agricultural and other non-consumptive use of the Western Rivers by India, including limited hydropower generation, before they cross into Pakistan. India is far more limited in its development of storage capacity on the Western Rivers, however: ''Except as provided in Annexures D and E, India shall not store any water of, or construct any storage works on, the Western Rivers.'' (see Indus Waters Treaty, Article III, paragraph 4)

Given a Treaty that seems to be constructed heavily in Pakistan's favor as the junior riparian state (having been partitioned from greater India in 1947), does it seem reasonable to allow India as the senior riparian some use of the rivers that originate in or pass through its own territories? At the time of the Treaty, India maintained six existing hydropower projects on Western Rivers, only one with more than 1 MW of generation, and was already constructing eight more with three larger than 10 MW, the largest with 15 MW of power generation. Annexure D to the Treaty allowed these projects to continue as planned or already constructed and for new run-of-the-river generations plants to be constructed under specified parameters, and according to storage rules specified in Annexure E, on the mainstem Western Rivers in India's territory. On tributaries to the mainstem rivers, India had different specifications for constructing new run-of-the-river generation facilities, and on irrigation canals that originate on a mainstem Western River still other specifications. In general, these run-of-the-river facilities constituted small amounts of true storage and non-consumptive overall use.

Storage allowances stipulated in the Treaty's Annexure E are strict, limiting India to the further construction of only 1.25 million acre-feet (MAF) of aggregate general storage capacity but with none allowed on the mainstems of the Jhelum and Chenab Rivers, 1.6 MAF of aggregate storage capacity for power generation but with none allowed on the mainstem of the Jhelum River, 0.75 MAF of additional capacity for flood control or other non-consumptive or domestic use but only on tributaries of the Jhelum River, and any storage determined necessary for flood control on the mainstem of the Jhelum River as long as the floodwaters are released as soon as possible after the flood event. By river, the numbers add up to 0.4 MAF of total storage on the Indus River, 1.5 MAF on tributaries to the Jhelum River but only flood control as necessary on its mainstem reaches, and 1.7 MAF on the Chenab River and its tributaries. Out of nearly 120 MAF in normal annual flow that exit the Himalaya - Karakoram Range through JK, India was allowed to retain only the smaller Eastern Rivers and approximately 3% of the Western Rivers. There are plenty of other details listed in the Treaty Annexures, including the minimum information that must be provided by India to Pakistan regarding all constructed works on the Western Rivers.

However well-regulated the sharing of Indus and tributary waters seems to be on the basis of the Treaty, differences and disputes have inevitably arisen since 1960. Most recently and publicly, India and Pakistan have pledged to improve relations overall, though the sides differ on what that really means for the agenda of renewed talks. With so much focus from the U.S. on support to Pakistan in the course of the Afghanistan conflict, India has been unwilling to resume ''composite dialogue'' that, despite leaving territorial claims in JK unchanged, has allowed India advancement on seemingly more important issues like bilateral trade and cross-border trust-building. India's stumbling block seems on the outside to be Pakistan's approach to reducing militant activity. In the meantime, Pakistan has recently lodged complaints against India regarding one operating hydropower project at Baglihar Dam, completed on the Chenab River in 2008, and numerous proposed hydropower projects in Indian JK. India has plans for these new projects on its frontier, while Pakistan suffers drought and diminishing water supplies for its burgeoning urban population and vast agricultural needs in Pakistani Punjab and the Indus delta, one of the largest irrigated areas in the world. Should Pakistan bring these complaints to the World Bank under the provisions stipulated in the Indus Waters Treaty, arbitration results would be legally binding for both countries, though how long it would take to reach a decision on one or more complaints, separately or in aggregate, is anyone's guess. Should Pakistan resort to measures outside of the Treaty, or bring up the possibility of renegotiating the Treaty in order to resolve the more modern issues, many feel that Pakistan would most surely lose the significant water concessions that the Treaty provides as well as anything else involved in such a confrontation.

Meanwhile, officials in the U.S. are projecting seriously mixed messages on relations between India and Pakistan. Within the past week, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy stated that American interests in Pakistan extend ''beyond Washington’s security interests in the region to wide-ranging areas including support for Islamabad’s key energy and water requirements.'' This is in direct contradiction to a sequence of diplomatic events around this most recent World Water Day: on 22 March 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered her remarks on the purposes of American foreign aid in the water sector:
''Access to reliable supplies of clean water is a matter of human security. It’s also a matter of national security. And that’s why President Obama and I recognize that water issues are integral to the success of many of our major foreign policy initiatives...

In the United States, water represents one of the great diplomatic and development opportunities of our time. It’s not every day you find an issue where effective diplomacy and development will allow you to save millions of lives, feed the hungry, empower women, advance our national security interests, protect the environment, and demonstrate to billions of people that the United States cares...

Water is actually a test case for preventive diplomacy. Historically, many long-term global challenges – including water – have been left to fester for years until they grew so serious that they could no longer be ignored. If we can rally the world to address the water issue now, we can take early corrective action, and get ahead of the challenges that await us. And in doing so, we can establish a positive precedent for early action to address other serious issues of global concern.''
Seems earnest enough, especially as Congress slowly works out the kinks on an update and expansion to the original Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 that just expired.

Barely two weeks after World Water Day, however, the Wall Street Journal reported that ''Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signaled that Washington isn't interested in mediating on water issues, which are covered by a bilateral treaty.'' The Times of India quoted Secretary Clinton directly:
''We're well aware that there is a 50-year-old agreement between Pakistan and India concerning water... Where there is an agreement...with mediation techniques, arbitration built in, it would seem sensible to look to what already exists to try to resolve any of the bilateral problems between India and Pakistan... Let's see what we do to protect our aquifers. Let's see what we do to be more efficient in the use of our water. Let's see what we do to capture more rainwater; how do we actually use less of it to produce more crops? We think we have some ideas with our experts that we want to sit down and talk with your experts about and see where that goes''
First of all, Madam Secretary, you have contradicted yourself. Twice. On World Water Day you said that the U.S. ''cares,'' then when Kashmir was an explicit aspect of the issue you said that the U.S. didn't want to get involved, and then you offered expert technical assistance to Pakistan in a direct interview with their diplomatic delegation. While I certainly agree that an exchange of technical knowledge will help build capacity in Pakistan, and might even teach us a thing or two about resource management in our own country - remember, they've been at it about 5,000 years longer than we have - that's the Lexus resolution, while we would be leaving the Olive Tree (Kashmir conflict, Pakistani militants) to it's own devices (thanks again, Tom Friedman). Setbacks in ethnic and territorial issues can quickly and easily unravel any technical and technological progress in water management and food security. The U.S. needs to form and stick to a clearer message in our approach to Pakistan's issues and helping them with their priorities, not just our own.

Second, the Indus Waters Treaty is held in force by the World Bank and the sheer will of the signatories, but it is entirely possible that the terms of the Treaty are outdated and need revisiting. Third, the U.S. cooperates directly with India on numerous issues and now provides significant aid (monetary and otherwise) to Pakistan. And finally, it is the U.S. that nominates the President of the World Bank and holds a plurality of the votes, with the ability to block any opposing super-majority.

In the Kashmir issue and the responsible development of the region's resources, especially water, the U.S. has leverage, vested interests, and a call for help to be answered - means, motive and opportunity if we've ever seen it. As the JK region remains at the origin of these cross-border water issues, our American commitment to self-determination and the spread of democracy comes into question when we refuse the opportunity for diplomacy between India and Pakistan, as well as the people of JK themselves who see their land and resources, including water, held in trust by the very neighbors who administer their human rights. Helping to solve the Indus waters issue, and possibly resolve the conflict over JK, may be a tough problem to wrap your brain around, but it's not as if our efforts to do so will destabilize the region any further.

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