Fate of Indus Water Treaty?

The water in the Kashmir region, including the rivers that flow into Pakistan, is now under the Indian government’s increased direct authority.

India’s recent move to construct the Shahpur Kandi Barrage on the Ravi River is a flagrant violation of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) signed with Pakistan. And it has stirred a caul­dron of controversy that threat­ens to spill over into broader regional tensions. As the wa­ters flow, so do the currents of diplomacy, and the ripple effects of this decision have the potential to reshape the land­scape of South Asia. Between these two nuclear states, the Indus Water Treaty is probably the only successful agreement that exists.

Following the completion of this barrage, Pakistan’s previously allo­cated 1150 cubic centimetres of wa­ter would now be beneficial to the In­dian-occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir. 32,000 hectares of land in the Kathua and Samba districts will benefit from the water for “irrigation and for hydropower generation,” but the flow towards Pakistan will be re­stricted. India has built numerous dams thus far, including the Bhakra Dam on the Sutlej, the Pong and Pan­doh Dam on the Beas, and the Thein (Ranjit sagar) on the Ravi.

Without explicitly rescinding its ob­ligations under the IWT, India has for some years indicated and sent contra­dictory signals. Modi government wrote to Pakistan in January of last year, seek­ing revisions to the treaty under Arti­cle XII (3) of the IWT, which addresses the “final provisions” of the agreement. After Pakistan’s appeal to The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration against the Jammu and Kashmir hydropower projects, Kishenganga and Ratle. Add­ing a layer of intrigue, it’s worth not­ing that in 2019, India strategically opt­ed to abruptly halt the continuation of a significant 1989 agreement with Paki­stan which required both countries to share data on the water levels of the rivers running inside their borders, which would be renewed annually. In­dia entered into the deal in 1989 as a gesture of goodwill toward Pakistan, but suddenly it became disinterested in the arrangement’s continuation, and India’s decision to terminate the 1989 agreement raises doubts about India’s intentions to comply with its legal obli­gations under the IWT.

The Indian Parliament repealed Ar­ticles 370 and 35A of the constitution on same year on August 5, 2019, which was the final blow to the independence movement in Kashmir. Since then, Indi­an Occupied Kashmir has been refused the special status that had previously given it authority over its internal af­fairs. Before this action, the Indian gov­ernment severely militarized the area, stationing over 10,000 soldiers there, disrupting communication and serious­ly impairing the majority of Kashmir’s important delegates. Additionally, the “Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act,” which established a geographical separation between Jammu and Kash­mir and gave the Indian central govern­ment legislative responsibility over the recently formed “union territories,” was adopted by Parliament.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s acquisition of the state government for a second time offered the party’s leaders a second opportu­nity to realize the goal of the majority party: gaining total control over Jam­mu and Kashmir. The Modi administra­tion was fully aware that such a shift would grant India legal control over the waters of Occupied Kashmir. Since Jammu & Kashmir is traversed by two of the three rivers that Pakistan has been granted exclusive use of under the IWT. Before the Jammu and Kash­mir Reorganization Act’s ratification, the state of Kashmir, through which Pakistan’s rivers flow, exercised its au­thority over these waterways follow­ing the constitutional rights associated with Kashmir’s unique status.

The water in the Kashmir region, in­cluding the rivers that flow into Paki­stan, is now under the Indian govern­ment’s increased direct authority, both legally and physically. Before violating Article 370, India is said to have made relatively little progress on Indus Basin programs, choosing instead to pursue a “zigzag” strategy motivated by political expediency. Nonetheless, since 2019, 33 projects including the rivers Ravi, Jhelum, and Chenab have been giv­en priority. In 2020, Jammu and Kash­mir received an injection of 11,024.47 crores (about S$2 billion) under the “Atmanirbhiar Bharat Abhiyan (Self-reliant India)” to clear arrears in en­ergy bills. The administration wants to use hydroelectric power to gener­ate jobs and eventually turn the region into a net power exporter. These pro­grams are seen as a key “thrust area” for bringing IOK closer to the nation­al mainstream while cutting the ma­jor water flow towards Pakistan. This would resultantly engage the whole re­gion in complex hydro-politics.

President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari’s statement that “the water crisis in Paki­stan is directly linked to relations with India” helps to clarify the Indo-Pak wa­ter ties. Maintaining relations with In­dia could help stop a natural disaster in South Asia, but failing to do so could stoke unrest. Although the IWT has been effective for the past 50 years, In­dia’s current actions will put it to the test greatly since they will make the sit­uation of water scarcity worse in Pak­istan and it will have serious political, legal, and financial ramifications. In this complicated geopolitical rift, the fate of the Indus Water Treaty hangs precari­ously in the balance. Will Modi’s quest for the electoral mandate in upcoming elections embolden him to chart a new course, one that reshapes the region’s hydro-political landscape? Only time will tell, but one thing remains clear: the stakes have never been higher.

Dr. Gul.i.Ayesha Bhatti
The writer is a current affairs analyst. She can be reached at guleayeshabhatti@gmail.com

The writer is a current affairs analyst. She can be reached at guleayesha

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