Under a positive development in the Indus Water Commissioners’ meeting, India has agreed to address Pakistan’s concerns regarding hydropower projects being constructed by the former on the western rivers. The engagement of both sides in talks for finding a solution to their longstanding problems needs to be welcomed as the core issue of Indus Water Treaty (IWT) requires detailed discussion due to India’s intentions of building controversial dams on rivers allocated to Pakistan. More positivity came in the form of a consensus that the Indian side would arrange tours/inspections of controversial dams after the coming flood season. Pakistan also urged India to communicate flood flow information in advance as per the provisions of the treaty and the practice in vogue since 1989 until 2018. Reportedly, India is stepping up efforts to maximise its use of the western rivers of the Indus basin to pressurise Pakistan on Kashmir issue. The move involves building huge storage facilities and canals. The three western rivers flow through India-held Kashmir, but most of the water is allotted to Pakistan under IWT. New Delhi has long been using the water issue to put pressure on Islamabad. Millions of people in the two countries depend on water in the rivers. India says it has not fully utilised the 20 percent of water given to it in the three western rivers. Pakistan disputes this. Any violation of the treaty poses a grave threat to the region that could escalate into a war between the two countries.
So far, the IWT is considered not just the best agreement between Pakistan and India, but it is also deemed one of the most resilient treaties of the modern world. Surely, surviving three full-scale wars is a feat any treaty rarely has. The reason behind its resilience is what is at stake. While nullifying the treaty would not immediately lead to disastrous consequences as India would need to build enough storage capacity to effectively control the water running into Pakistan, nevertheless the spectre of such an eventuality would be enough to pit the two nuclear powers against each other. The Indus Water Treaty is one area in which there is still enough common ground for dialogue, as it does not suffer from the same intransigent positions of the Kashmir dispute or cross border terrorism issue. Hence, representatives of the two countries need to sit down and work their issues through. This may well present the opportunity for the atmosphere of trust and mutual cooperation that would lead to thawing of relations and set the conditions for the initiation of dialogue on the more elusive issues. In any case, the present imperative is the continuation of the success of the Indus Water Treaty, and for that purpose jingoism and emotive pandering would have to give way to reasoned debate.