Welcome remarks by Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, ISSI at Seminar on “Indus Water Treaty : Issues & Recommendations”, August 29, 2017 at ISSI



Statement by Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman Board of Governors, Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad Distinguished  Ladies  and Gentlemen,

ASA and a very Good Morning

It is with utmost pleasure that I personally and on behalf of ISSI warmly welcome the Chief Guest of today’s Seminar, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Hon. Khawaja Muhammad Asif. Although he has been to the Institute several times in the past, this is the first time he is gracing us in his new capacity as the Foreign Minister. So this is a special occasion for the Institute. Sir, by your presence here today you have honoured us greatly and indeed dignified the Institute. That you have done so evokes special appreciation, knowing as we do how deeply you must be engaged in addressing the challenges the country has been facing lately.

There could not have been a better person to inaugurate today’s Seminar on “ Indus Water Treaty: Issues and Recommendations.” You combine in you, as the former Minister of Water and Power the knowledge of  technical aspects of the subject matter and as the Foreign Minister its political and strategic sensitivities.

Adequate distribution of trans-border water resources can be a bone of contention among states if proper legal framework and mechanisms  are not in place for its equitable allocation. Pakistan and India since their birth also remained embroiled in conflict over this resource until the historic Indus Water Treaty (IWT) was signed between the two countries in 1960. Legally well-rounded and skilfully crafted, this treaty is veritably an instrument of mutual cooperation between the two opposing sides.

The treaty is often cited as a success story of international riparian engagement, as it has withstood major wars between the two signatories (in 1965 and 1971), incidents of terrorism and several skirmishes over water distribution. The agreement is also heralded as a triumph for the World Bank, which played an instrumental role in its negotiation during the height of the Cold War.

The  water question is not only a functional problem, but also a political one linked to the Kashmir dispute. The dispute over Kashmir and the distribution of the Indus waters are  inseparable and that any future solution of this  dispute will have to consider the equitable distribution of the river waters.

Mounting concerns about the impact of human activities on the environment, potential climatic shifts, and expanding populations  all underline  the pressing need to manage this scarce natural resource  in an integrated manner.

Fortunately enough, a legally advantageous and fair agreement is already in place in the form of  IWT. Be it the matter of Indian constructions on the western rivers such as that of the Kishenganga and Ratle dam or the flow of the eastern rivers to Pakistan, all these issues can be resolved via judicious comprehension and proper faithful utilization of the IWT.

The number of dams or projects that India could or should construct on the western rivers is an issue that falls outside the scope of the IWT. IWT adopts a water-flow/cumulative water storage approach as opposed to an enlistment-of-sites approach vis-à-vis the western rivers allocated to Pakistan. Although these storages may store water within the permissible quota of the upper riparian, Pakistan wishes to challenge them not on engineering grounds but rather on  security perception considerations. This is the kind of issue that cannot be handled under the framework of the IWT. The IWT is a technical treaty primarily concerned with engineering solutions and water management. It neither takes into consideration security threats nor does it establish a mechanism dealing with the possible misuse of engineering.

Furthermore, a variety of factors over time like climate change, large scale industrialization, economic development, mismanagement of water resources and population growth have contributed towards exacerbating the water security threat to the point where the entire IWT framework lies at the risk of being undermined.

Pakistan is already close to being categorized as a water scarce country, fast approaching the absolute scarcity level. Its water per capita availability has dropped to 1,017 cubic meters per capita. This figure is expected to further decline to 800 cubic meters over the next decade. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan is already the third most water-stressed country in the world. It has the world‘s fourth highest rate of water use and its economy is the most water-intensive in the world, utilizing the highest amount of water per unit of GDP. The need for water is accentuated by the fact that both Pakistan and India are mainly agrarian economies. Pakistan’s largest economic sector, agriculture, consumes a whopping 90 % of the country’s rapidly dwindling water resources. In other words, Pakistan’s economy is the most water-intensive in the world, and yet it has dangerously low levels of water to work with. Furthermore, NASA satellite data released in 2015 revealed that the underwater aquifer in the Indus Basin is the second-most stressed in the world. Pakistan is one of the world’s most arid countries with an average rainfall of less than 240 mm. Indus water is the only source of water for domestic agriculture and industrial needs

Water conservation is another problem which faces both Pakistan and India. India blames Pakistan for its water woes that India says are emanating from poor management of water resources. India claims that Pakistan loses millions of cubic water to the sea due to lack of water conservation efforts.  Indeed Pakistan is not doing enough to preserve its water recourses; It has poor water storage techniques and facilities.

Under international law, it is obligatory that Pakistan properly manages its water resources.

Also, in the wake of greater provincial autonomy after the 18th Amendment to the Pakistan Constitution, it is imperative that provinces demonstrate greater responsibility and resolve in managing the country’s water resources

The treaty also neglects environmental concerns. Though prohibiting pollution of waters (Article IV(10)), IWT has no elaborate provisions on environmental protection.

The Indus Waters Treaty also does not envisage the regulation of ground water. The Indus Basin represents an extensive groundwater aquifer, covering a gross command area of 16.2 million hectares. Ground water accounts for 48 percent of all water withdrawals in the Indus Basin, and current withdrawals are forecast to deplete these resources.  A revisit of the Indus Waters Treaty to include provisions with respect to ground water would be necessary for better trans-boundary aquifer management.

 It is in the interest of both India and Pakistan to observe the letter and spirit of the Treaty and take steps to ensure effective functioning of the Indus water regime. These may include ensuring transparency in sharing of flow data through installation of telemetry system, timely data sharing over new Indian projects, joint watershed management, monitoring of the HKH glaciers and commissioning of environmental studies, cooperation in predicting and coping with floods or droughts and in ensuring quality of water bodies, strengthening the functioning of the Indus Waters Commission by expanding its scope and mandate and better management of water resources and sharing of best practices.

Lately, IWT  has come under severe strain. India has put in cold storage the policy of “strategic restraint” and declared an all-out political, diplomatic and economic offensive against Pakistani. India has embarked on a strategy to build a series of small and big dams on the Western Rivers which Pakistan regards as an existential threat.

Political rivalry between the two countries  has made things even more complicated . Hindu right-wing groups in India call on the Indian government  to stop flow of water to Pakistan or flood it..  In fact, Indian Prime Minister Modi’s occasional  threat to scrap IWT has added a new destabilizing element to the fraught relations between two nuclear states.

 In my opinion,  overall IWT has worked well for both the parties. The Treaty itself better not be tinkered with. Efforts should instead be focused on ensuring its effective implementation, in letter and spirit, by both parties in good faith and in a spirit of mutual confidence and trust. The new challenges e.g. concerning environment protection and depletion of under ground water and the permissible number of dams that can be built by the upper riparian party can be mutually negotiated  on the parallel to supplement  IWT.

It is to consider all these facets of IWT that ISSI has invited renowned experts from all over Pakistan to this Seminar today. Before these experts  express their respective view-point in the ensuing working session, I invite Honourable Chief Guest Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, to give us the benefit of hearing his views on this important subject. It will help in making the Seminar’s deliberations more focussed, substantive  and purposeful.