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#3198, 22 July 2010
Indus Waters Governance-III: Keep the IWT away from the Composite Dialogue
D Suba Chandran
Deputy Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi
email: subachandran@gmail.com

During the recent months, there has been an increasingly shrill noise from Islamabad vis-à-vis the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), in terms of India violating the treaty. See ‘Pakistan and the Indus: The Blame India Project’, 21 June 2010 There has also been an increased emphasis from the Pakistani side, to include the waters issue into the composite dialogue. Will this be a better strategy to discuss the water issue, than the present one? Or will this prove counter-productive?

India, at the outset, is apprehensive and in fact has rejected the idea of including the water issue in the composite dialogue. The primary reason for New Delhi’s rejection is its cautious approach – that it does not want one more issue to be added to the Composite Dialogue. Also it does not want one more contentious issue, whose weight will pull down the composite dialogue.

The more pertinent question is if including the water issue in the composite dialogue will help India and Pakistan in achieving better results. It is unlikely, for the following reasons.

First, so far, India and Pakistan have been discussing water issues in a separate platform – Indus Waters Commission, which is historically older than the composite dialogue. Article VIII of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) signed in 1960 provides for a permanent Indus Waters Commission and two Commissioners, one in India and the other one in Pakistan. The IWT also ensures that these two Commissioners “meet regularly at least once a year, alternatively in India and Pakistan” and “undertake, once in every five years, a general tour of inspection of the Rivers for ascertaining the facts connected with various developments and works on the Rivers.” Besides, the IWT provides that “the Commission shall also meet when requested by either Commissioner.” In terms of the appointment of the commissioner, the IWT says, the Commissioner should be a high ranking engineer, competent in the field of hydrology and water use.”

What the IWT provides is the following: competent and specialist engineers, who will meet annually (and more, if there is a requirement) and undertake a general inspection of the Rivers. Thus the treaty provides for permanency, specialists, regular visits and meetings. Compare this with the other important issues, which are discussed as a part of the composite dialogue from J&K to nuclear stability. In terms of regular meetings and relative success no other issues can claim a similar positive output, as that of the Indus Waters Commission meetings.

Second, the composite dialogue is not only a recent phenomenon, but also highly dependent on the nature of regimes, leadership and events of importance. There is no need to repeat, that the change in regimes, at times even governments affect the nature and intensity of the composite dialogue. Issues such as terrorism and sub conventional wars (like those on the Kargil conflict, terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament and Mumbai) derail the composite dialogue. In short, the composite dialogue is unreliable, in terms of sustenance and seriousness.

Third, the composite dialogue also suffers from a huge disadvantage in terms of its failure to insulate forward or backward movement on one issue, from the other issues. In most cases, all the eight issues that form the composite dialogue are discussed over a period of three to five days, in the same venue by different groups. If there is no forward movement on the first issue discussed on the first day, it has a domino effect on the other issues. As a result, the failure to find a forward movement on the first issue, affects the progress of the other issues.

Fourth, the water issue is no more a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. There are serious differences within each country; for example, in J&K, there are numerous complaints from the people of across the Line of Control (LoC) on the sharing of waters. While J&K on the Indian side has been upset about the IWT, for not allowing them to exploit the water resources, especially in terms of power generation, both the administrative units across the LoC in Muzaffarabad and Gilgit have been equally upset with the IWT. The AJK government has been complaining about the Mangala dam, especially in terms of the environmental impacts and also the non-settlement of people who have been displaced due to this dam, there are numerous problems vis-à-vis the Diamer-Basha dam, for which Gilgit-Baltistan have raised substantial objections. Besides the two parts of Kashmir across the LoC, the smaller provinces of Pakistan, especially NWFP and Sindh have been extremely upset with the government of Pakistan. They complain that the internal sharing of Indus Waters within Pakistan is beneficial to Punjab, at the cost of Sindh and NWFP. In the last few years, there have been numerous discussions in the Sindh provincial assembly that have repeatedly emphasized that the Indus Waters Treaty is not in their favour.

Given the above complications, it would be useful and beneficial to keep the IWT out of the composite dialogue, to keep it productive and meaningful. Moreover, one should learn from the IWT and split the composite dialogue into smaller insulated and regular processes.

(This is a part of a series on Indus Waters Governance; forthcoming articles will focus on issues relating to Chashma-Jhelum canal, Greater Thal controversy and Kalabagh dam)

Other Article in the Series

Indus Waters Governance-I: Crisis of Institutions
Indus Waters Governance-II: From ‘Letter and Spirit’ to ‘Letter vs Spirit’

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