A typical Pakistani newspaper article on the Indus Waters Treaty begins by explaining the essential elements of the 1960 agreement with India – allocation of western rivers to Pakistan and the eastern rivers to India, restrictions on building water storage infrastructure, and the underlying dispute resolution mechanism – before citing a few examples of finger-pointing across the border, and concluding in the classically paranoid tones of a lower riparian.
Cases such as the Baglihar Dam, the Kishenganga Dam and the Wullar Barrage, where Pakistan claims violations of the Indus treaty terms, are brought up time and time again, and their outcomes are monotonous: the two nations are unable to reach an agreement, and the case is taken to a neutral expert for mediation, or to the International Court of Arbitration. Although these issues may be important for Pakistan’s sustainability, it seems the resulting discourse has left little, if any, space for cooperation.
The Indus Basin was developed by the British to function as a single system; but the enormous water works built to control and to use the river’s water for certain limited ends, has since been split in two. The boundary that now separates Pakistan and India – the Radcliffe Line – was crudely drawn up in 1947 to divide an area shared by competing nation states. It was not chosen with the impacts it would have on the river basin in mind.
For 13 years after the division, the two countries maintained the system. This was a period of inefficient water management, continued hostilities and a wider anticipation of a final settlement. The Radcliffe Line, that not only divided the land but also the water of Punjab, received condemnation from both countries. Finally, in 1960, the two nations signed a water treaty under the auspices of the World Bank.
Some might argue that the Indus Waters Treaty has performed very well for the past 50 years. After all, it has survived three wars. But there is an underlying…