Editorial: Indo-Pakistan water dispute

President World Bank Jim Yong Kim reportedly called Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to discuss his letter dated 23 December in which he had challenged the Bank’s decision to pause the process of arbitration requested by Pakistan with respect to India’s ongoing fast-paced construction of Kishanganga and Ratle dams.

Dar’s letter accused the Bank of violating its obligations under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT) where no party could temporarily stop playing its due role. The Bank’s decision halted the process of appointment of a neutral arbiter and, as per President Kim, it was taken to protect the Treaty itself which has baffled many an analyst. Details of what was discussed and any line of action agreed between the President of the World Bank and Finance Minister Dar have not been made public which has fuelled speculation that the issue remains unresolved.

Pakistan’s stance is clear and is based on India’s past modus operandi that sadly relied almost exclusively on delays in invoking the relevant clauses of the IWT by Pakistan – delays that provided India with sufficient time to reach a stage in the construction of a dam that arbiters subsequently appointed by the Bank argued could not be rolled back. Baglihar is certainly a case in point. In the current instance, the Pakistan government is obviously trying to preempt the Indian government’s intention to reach a stage in construction that would allow a neutral arbiter to once again rule that the construction cannot be rolled back. This newspaper therefore fully supports the Pakistan government’s argument that the World Bank decision to ‘pause’ the process is prejudicial to our interests.

India’s water obligations to lower riparian Pakistan are not only based on a bilateral treaty like the Indus Water Treaty brokered by the World Bank; international law also propounds the rule of equitable distribution of water which embodies a theory of restricted sovereignty defined as the right of all riparian nations (upper and lower) to use water from a common source and the obligation to manage their uses so as not to interfere unreasonably with like uses in other riparian nations.

Be that as it may, there is little doubt that India led by Narendra Modi has not left any opportunity to attack, threaten and defame Pakistan at international fora, notwithstanding his periodic personal contacts with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – the most recent being his call to wish him on his birthday.

Modi’s 26 September statement that ‘blood and water cannot flow together’ was widely viewed as a threat to Pakistan’s water security, however, ignored was his subsequent statement namely that India will “exploit to the maximum” the Western rivers controlled by Pakistan notably Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. India recently pointed out that as per the IWT, it has the right to use up to 20 percent of the three Western rivers, which it claims it was not using till now, an allowance consistent with ‘restricted sovereignty’ as dictated by international law.

It is however unclear whether Pakistan has been able to present data that indicates that India would be using above the 20 percent of the Western rivers that it is entitled to under the IWT if it proceeds with building Kishanganga and Ratle dams. If this information is available then this should have been cited in Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s letter to the President of the World Bank. However, in the event that this information is not yet available one would urge the government to make appropriate calculations to strengthen its case for the World Bank to appoint a neutral arbiter forthwith.

To conclude, one would urge the government of Pakistan to make optimal use of all available technical resources to prepare a watertight case prior to submitting a request for international arbitration.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2016