Can the concerns of Kashmiris be accommodated by India and Pakistan in the Indus Waters Treaty any time soon? And what would the expected low-flow in our rivers this year mean for the people in Kashmir and those downstream in Pakistan? Professor Shakil Romshoo, the Head at Kashmir Universitys Department of Earth Sciences, whose research interests include Hydrology, Glaciology and Climate Change, answered these questions and a few more with reference to Indus Waters Treaty in an interview with senior journalist, Athar Parvaiz for the Kashmir Observer.
Q. First of all, tell us about the genesis of Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan?
Shakil Romshoo: The partition of the Indian subcontinent gave birth to a long history of conflict between India and Pakistan. The partition did not consider the implications of dividing the Indus basin asymmetrically across the geographical boundaries of the two countries. Although Sir Cyril Radcliffe and David Lilienthal recommended some sort of joint control and management of the Indus waters, the proposal was rejected by both India and Pakistan.
It was in 1948, soon after partition, that India asserted its geographic advantage in controlling the water for the first time. This led to a series of water sharing negotiations that ultimately culminated into the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) in 1960 brokered by the World Bank. Since then, there is a deep suspicion in Pakistan that India may repeat the tactic in the event of any hostility between the two nations. This suspicion may have been brought to the surface recently when, for the first time post-IWT, India intended to assert her upstream privilege on water control. Being the lower riparian, Pakistans objection to every hydropower project in Jammu and Kashmir during the last decade, though provided for under the treaty, partly stems from this anxiety and insecurity.
Q. This water treaty between India and Pakistan is globally hailed as a great success story in diplomatic circles. Your thoughts?
Shakil Romshoo: Yes, the IWT is widely and correctly cited as a success story for the trans-boundary sharing of river waters. It has survived despite three wars, several skirmishes, cold relations and frequent military mobilizations during the last 56 years of hostility between the two countries. The treaty involved the division of the Indus river system comprising of three eastern rivers (Sutlej, Beas and Ravi) and three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. The treaty gave India exclusive rights to the three eastern rivers up to the point where they enter Pakistan. At the same time, Pakistan was given exclusive rights over the western rivers.
In spite of its positional advantage, India has in the past discounted water as a military tool, even in times of war. In fact, India lacks the kind of hydrologic infrastructure on western rivers essential for any adventurous maneuvering of waters in the eventuality of any hostility with Pakistan. India has always dealt with security and water issues separately with Pakistan. However, a section of the establishment in Pakistan looks at water sharing with India through the prism of Kashmir. Despite domestic pressures to use the IWT for settling scores with Pakistan, India, as a regional leader, needs to safeguard larger South Asian regional security by loudly and clearly reiterating her commitment to meet the obligations of the IWT in letter and spirit.The present attempts to link security concerns to the sharing of waters would further complicate relations with Pakistan and might set off a spiral of discontent and mistrust between the two warring countries.
The present attempts in India to link security concerns to the sharing of waters would further complicate relations with Pakistan and might set off a spiral of discontent and mistrust between the two warring countries.
Q. In recent weeks, there has been much talk about the drought conditions which prevailed in our region from August 2017 till March this year and it is said that it is going to create a water crisis this year in the Indus basin. How do you see it vis-a-vis water-sharing between India and Pakistan especially with reference to recent bickering and the ongoing political tensions?
Shakil Romshoo: The extended dry spell since September, 2017 to March 2018 has adversely impacted the stream-flows in the Upper Indus Basin as is evident from the hydro-meteorological observations. Though, the low flows in the rivers might not have any significant impact on the Upper Indus Basin due to the limited requirement of the water for irrigation and industrial use but the impacts are going to be far-reaching downstream in the lower Indus basin in Pakistan where the arable land is almost entirely dependent on the waters emanating from the Upper Indus Basin (Jammu and Kashmir). This natural variability in the river flows, if, not understood in the right perspective, will have serious geopolitical consequences in the south Asian region. There is need to real time, preferably telemetric, sharing of the hydrological and meteorological information/data between the two countries in order to do away with the mistrust about the depleting stream flows in the basin.
Q. Limited water-availability in our rivers is repeatedly becoming a serious challenge. Do you think hydro-power generation should still be pursued in the Himalayan region especially when it comes up at huge environmental costs?
Shakil Romshoo: Having the highest per capita water availability in the South Asia, I believe that there is absolutely no water crisis in the upper Indus Basin.However, there is need for better water governance and judicious management of the available waters in order to make this importance resource sustainable. Any obvious shortage is just artificial and could be overcome/managed by putting in place the appropriate water development infrastructure in the region. However, the downstream areas in Pakistan are already facing the water crisis and is likely to get worse in the time to come because of the depleting cryo-spheric resource under the changing climate.
As far as the hydropower generation in the Indus basin is considered, it is an established fact that despite huge hydropower potential in the region, less than 12% of the potential has been harnessed so far mostly through the runoff river projects as provided under the IWT. Keeping in view the disaster vulnerability and ecological fragility of the region, it is not advisable to set up any big hydropower projects but there is need for promoting small hydropower and micro hydro projects in the region in order to meet the minimum requirement of the energy of the people.
The natural variability in the river flows, if, not understood in the right perspective, will have serious geopolitical consequences for the south Asian region.
Q. Do you think the concerns of Kashmiris can be accommodated by India and Pakistan in the Indus Water Treaty any time soon? If yes, what can be the mechanism?
Shakil Romshoo: The two countries have been discussing for almost a decade now the issues that confront the treaty in the changed scenario. For example, the issues of climate change, melting glaciers, depleting stream-flows, groundwater depletion, water quality and environmental flows are being discussed for some time now at different forums between the two countries and many water experts and even diplomats agree that there is need to supplement the treaty to accommodate these recently emerged common concerns between the two countries.
The people of Kashmir have also become lately politically active regarding the rights of the state viz-a-viz the sharing of waters between India and Pakistan emanating from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. I am confident that as and when the two countries agree to supplement the treaty, the concerns of the people of Jammu & Kashmir shall find accommodation. However, it is important that the states leadership should come clear regarding their demands and should make them logical with scientific knowledge for getting the fair share. Once there is clear articulation of the J&K’s demands over its waters, the two countries might find it easy to accommodate the valid concerns and demands of the state in the eventuality of negotiating a supplement to the IWT.
Being the lower riparian, Pakistans objection to every hydropower project in Jammu and Kashmir during the last decade, though provided for under the treaty, partly stems from this anxiety and insecurity.
Q. There are some strong voices in India which suggest that Pakistan should be taught a lesson for messing with India by controlling the flow of water to that country. Do you think it is an option with India?
Shakil Romshoo: Those who talk of diverting Indus waters are ignorant of the fact that it would require much larger scale storage dams and a diversion canal network things that figure nowhere in Indias existing water plans. Similarly, any attempt to stop waters to Pakistan would mean flooding areas in Indian Kashmir, to disastrous consequences. Apart from the international obligation and credibility, there is considerable risk attached to building dams and storage facilities that do not abide by the treaty or are a contravention of environmental guidelines.
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