Pakistan’s anxieties as the lower riparian are understandable; even with a ‘water-tight’ treaty in place, there will always be apprehensions that this treaty could be violated, but Mr Malik’s assertion that “scores of Indian dams” are already in “flagrant breach of the treaty” is incorrect. Pakistan’s apprehensions regarding shared waters should be addressed by all means but on the basis of fact and reason, not emotions and misconceptions.
It is important to note that all the dams currently built on the western rivers are run-of the river dams which India is permitted to build under the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) and this fact was conceded to by Mr Malik himself at the end of his letter.
When there is a point of difference or dispute, it has followed the institutional framework stipulated in the IWT.
This was the case with the Baglihar Dam, the Wullar Barrage or Tulbul Navigational Lock and it is the case with the Kishanganga Dam.
Other dams also undergo a rigorous process of discussion between Indian and Pakistani officials in the Indus Water Commission. Not every project reaches the stage of ‘Dispute’ or ‘Arbitration’.
At times the problems are resolved within the Indus Commission itself.
The Indian government has not confirmed the design of the Bursar project and it has stated that it will give Pakistan six months notice before it starts construction as stipulated under the IWT.
Once it does, The Bursar Dam will no doubt undergo the same level of scrutiny from Indian, Pakistani and even international quarters if need be.
Low water supply in Pakistan is more a product of water conveyance losses, unequal distribution, salinization, pollution, poor demand management and climate change than it is a consequence of Indian damming — problems faced by many countries around the world, including India.
Water is actually one of the more manageable issues between India and Pakistan and can even be used as a stepping stone in the dialogue process, but incendiary rhetoric can set otherwise amicable discussions off-colour and can cause unnecessary animosity between the two neighbours.
It is not enough that the governments of Pakistan and India understand the facts about their shared water situation.
Popular opinion in both countries should also share a transparent and objective ‘water narrative’.
Author, ‘Indus Equation’ &
Coordinator, South Asia
Security Unit Strategic