Terrorism is the main discordant note in India-Pakistan ties and is at the heart of the trust deficit. But threatening to spill over is another issue: water. As part of Aman ki Asha and backed by Delhi-based Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, experts from the two countries met on Thursday and Friday
Misperceptions and not facts dominate the debate on water across the border. Pakistan’s green belt draws its sustenance from rivers that flow out of Jammu and Kashmir. Now, more than 60 years after these waters have been peacefully shared, there are mounting accusations that India could choke this supply line by building a series of dams.
Sitting across the table for two days, top water management experts and irrigation engineers from the two countries discussed the issue, often with a degree of rancour, if only to understand each other’s positions as a starting point on a journey to cool the debate that some hawkish commentators have suggested could lead to war.
At the centre of the debate was naturally the 1960 Indus Water Treaty that governs the flows into Pakistan and provides an agreed dispute resolution mechanism. In recent months, the buzz in Pakistan
has been that India is building more than 100 dams on the Sutlej and Chenab and this will deplete supplies to farmlands that feed Pakistan’s 180 million people. While some Pakistani experts stuck to that positions, most appeared convinced that India was not violating the IWT by building these dams and what was planned were a few dozen small projects, called run-of-the-river, which wouldn’t obstruct flows but only divert them for a short stretch to run power turbines.
The meeting coincides with a new row over the 330mw Kishanganga hydro-electric project in J&K. India and Pakistan, after failing to resolve it within the IWT, agreed to international arbitration with the UN secretary-general selecting an umpire.
”There is no drying up because run-of-the-river projects deplete water only at filling time of new dams. Whether there are 50 or 100 it doesn’t matter. You can’t store running water,” said B G Verghese, a water expert associated with the Centre for Policy Research.
Others like Ramaswamy Iyer, former water resources secretary, agreed with Verghese that while neither India nor Pakistan were models of water management, there was no data to show that New Delhi was cheating on the Indus agreement. In fact, experts from both sides said, there was no data available to shape a reasonable debate guided by facts.
To this end, the conference urged both countries to jointly plough for data and make it public so that the existing fog clears. Joint mechanisms to measure water flows into Pakistan, as in the case of Bangladesh, could remove mistrust, they said.
The conference, like previous ones on strategic issues and the media, was structured around a series of closed-door sessions featuring presentations and open discussions.
Beyond water-sharing, discussions went into issues relating to environmental and ecological challenges in the Himalayan region, as well as cooperation in watershed management.
Make water flow data public
Monitor flows jointly
Jointly study factors for depleted flows
Courtesy: Times of India