Resolving Indus Water Treaty Disputes: Seeking Cooperation

Resolving Indus Water Treaty Disputes: Seeking Cooperation
Posted on 01-09-2023

Navigating the Indus Water Treaty Conundrum: Seeking Resolution Amidst Disputes

In early January of this year, Pakistan unilaterally initiated an arbitration process at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, aiming to address the intricate interpretation and application of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). This move was met with objections from India, which contended that the Court of Arbitration lacked the jurisdiction to deliberate on the matters presented by Pakistan. Instead, India advocated for the neutral expert process to handle these questions.

Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) in Focus:

The Indus Waters Treaty was forged in 1960 between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank, a fellow signatory to the treaty. This accord delineates the rights and obligations of both nations concerning the utilization of the waters within the Indus River system. The agreement grants India authority over the waters of the Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej rivers, while Pakistan retains control over the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum rivers. The treaty permits India limited irrigation use of the western rivers and unrestricted non-consumptive use for purposes like power generation, navigation, and fisheries. It also stipulates detailed regulations for India's construction projects along the western rivers.

Historical Disputes:

The backdrop of conflicts related to the IWT traces back to India's intention to modify the treaty in January. Citing Pakistan's perceived lack of willingness to address disputes surrounding the Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects, India invoked Article XII (3) of the IWT, which allows modifications for specific purposes between the two governments. The Kishanganga project, situated on a tributary of the Jhelum, and the Ratle project on the Chenab, have long been subjects of contention.

Pakistan, in response, initiated arbitration at the PCA, specifically addressing design aspects of the two run-of-river hydroelectric projects. This was in line with its earlier concerns raised in 2006 and 2012 regarding the Kishanganga and Ratle projects, respectively, which it argued were not aligned with the IWT.

Objections and Arbitration:

India vociferously objected to Pakistan's unilateral recourse to the PCA in The Hague. India's stance was that the Court of Arbitration lacked competence to address Pakistan's questions and that the neutral expert process should be pursued instead. However, on July 6, 2023, the PCA unanimously dismissed India's objections, affirming its competence to deliberate on the disputes laid out in Pakistan's arbitration request.

Status and Future Prospects:

In light of the PCA's decision, India refrained from participating in the PCA proceedings, reiterating its stance that it cannot be compelled to engage in parallel proceedings outside the treaty framework. Instead, India has been engaging in the neutral expert process.

As the discord continues, there are calls to revisit the IWT, leveraging the World Bank's role as a signatory and facilitator of the treaty. Establishing a transnational alliance of experts may foster dialogue in the face of strained bilateral relations. Addressing the underlying trust deficit between India and Pakistan is vital for any renegotiation of IWT provisions. Furthermore, involving local stakeholders and experts in shared water issues could offer a fresh perspective, alongside recognizing the mutual interest in optimal river system development.

In conclusion, the enduring dispute surrounding the Indus Waters Treaty necessitates a comprehensive and diplomatic approach. While challenges persist, the potential for collaborative resolution remains rooted in bilateral engagement and mutual recognition of shared interests.

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