Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:02 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:02 | SYDNEY

Pakistan turns to water

13 April 2010 08:28

Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, Special Correspondent for India's Mail Today, is the author of books on India's Northeast and Kazakhstan.

It was little noticed at the time, but Pakistan handed over over a 'non-paper' (an off-the-record or unofficial presentation of government policy circulated informally among delegations for discussion) to India on water sharing at bilateral Foreign Secretary talks held in New Delhi on 25 February. While the global media focused on the resumption of structured Indo-Pak talks after the Mumbai attacks, the emerging water controversy was given a miss.

India has rights over the three eastern rivers (Ravi, Beas and Sutlej), while Pakistan has rights on three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab), according to the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between the two countries. But India enjoys the right to non-consumptive use of the western rivers.

The non-paper stresses that no construction of power projects may be undertaken on the western rivers until objections are amicably resolved by India and Pakistan. But Indian officials feel Pakistan has used provisions under the IWT to seek information for endlessly delaying the projects.

Last month Pakistan's Indus Water Commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah and his Indian counterpart Aranga Nathan held a key meeting at Lahore. After the meeting, Shah said the Indian delegation was told about Islamabad's concerns over new dams being built by New Delhi on rivers falling under IWT.  Pakistan raised objections to India's Nimoo Bazgo water project, saying the project is affecting water flow in the River Indus. Countering this, Nathan said Islamabad was given 'advance information' regarding the construction of the Nimoo Bazgo Dam.

High-ranking Indian officials allege this non-paper is a ploy by the Pakistan Army to whip up bilateral tensions over water sharing, so that the army can consolidate its grip over the country at a time when provinces within Pakistan are fighting over water sharing. For instance, this opinion piece published in The News International (Pakistan's leading English-language daily) on 12 March says:

The waters of the Indus Basin are regulated within Pakistan by the Indus River System Authority (IRSA), which itself was created by the inter-provincial Water Accord of 1991. Sindh regularly accuses Punjab of not providing it with its share of water. Punjab, on the other hand, claims nothing more than its rightful share of water under the Water Accord...

IRSA's last couple of meetings have witnessed heated arguments among Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan provinces over water sharing. According to Indian officials, the Pakistan Army wants to divert attention from its own water woes and acrimony by encouraging the view that Pakistan is facing water shortage due to India.

Photo by Flickr user Praful Tripathy, used under a Creative Commons license.