There were those who suggested that the Aman ki Asha seminar on water issues should be postphoned, in the wake of the disppointing Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Islamabad barely two weeks earlier. But the organisers — Aman ki Asha in collaboration with the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, New Delhi, felt it was more important than ever before to continue the dialogue.
It was a good decision. Although the event was overshadowed by the air tragedy in Islamabad – for which participants observed a two-minute silence – it couldn’t have been more timely. Barely was the seminar over when floods in Pakistan underscored the importance of the issues discussed: climate change, watershed management, cooperation and joint monitoring.
Use water as a tool to build trust and cooperation, urged delegates at the seminar. The aim was to discuss the issues that have arisen recently between the two countries over the use of waters of the Indus river system.
The closed-door round-table concluded on July 30, after two days of informed presentations and intensive discussion and debate between well known experts from both countries representing a variety of expertise, opinion and experience. They included Pakistani experts Khalid Mohtadullah, Dr Zaigham Habib, Rafay Alam, Sulaiman Najib Khan and Ayub Qutub, and Indian delegates Ramaswamy Iyer, R. Rangachari, Ravi Chopra, Virendra Kumar, Prem Shankar Jha and B. G. Verghese, with Javid Shahmiri and Zubair Ahmad Dar providing perspectives from Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistani delegates underscored Pakistan’s water crisis and concerns as the lower riparian – concerns that delegates agreed were caused as much by lack of timely data, as by ongoing tensions between the two countries. They discussed the perception in Pakistan that India is diverting Pakistan’s share of water, which the Indian experts explained was not the case. However, there are reduced flows of water in the rivers, related to ecological changes in the region.
Delegates agreed that water – with its political, environmental and technical aspects – could be a tool for cooperation rather than divisions, and that a long view needs to be taken of this issue.
They underscored that the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, which divided the rivers of the Indus Basin between the two countries has been negative as well as positive for both countries. Even so, it remains a viable agreement that has stood the test of time and even war.
Participants agreed on the need to share up-to-date data and information in order to counter misperceptions. They also agreed on the need for both countries to better manage their water resources internally. In addition, a joint, cooperative approach is necessary to counter the growing water crisis that threatens not only the lives and livelihoods of the people of the region but also relations between India and Pakistan.
The discussion took into account factors adding to water stress in the Indus basin, like climate change, glacier melt, fluctuations in precipitation patterns and increasing exploitation of water due to rising populations (increasing groundwater use, direct withdrawals from the river etc).
Delegates agreed that sharing experiences, particularly success stories, would be mutually beneficial. In addition, they agreed that a regional approach, and certain concrete steps are necessary to improve Pakistan India relations, improve trust, transparency and accountability and also ease water stress. These include:
1 Both governments should publish past Indus Water Commission flow data
2 Both governments should share data and ensure transparency and accountability of water resources and supply, and make the information available to the public
3 A joint monitoring of flows at strategic points
4 A joint study of the factors responsible for the reported reduced flows in the western rivers
5 A holistic approach that includes better watershed management, protecting forests, local water regulation and alternative methods of power generation