Rights and Responsibilities

Pakistan should see India’s request to change the Indus Water Treaty as an opportunity to rethink and reinterpret the agreement in light of modern technological and operational standards and the need to protect the environment.

By Gulnaz Nawaz | March 2023

Six decades ago, India and Pakistan signed an important agreement known as the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) to regulate their use of water in the Indus Rivers System (IRS). Based upon the terms of this treaty, Pakistan and India will have equal access to the Indus River and its tributaries. This treaty has been in effect for sixty years, and despite the diplomatic tensions between both countries, it has been functioning sufficiently without a hitch. But now, due to the on-going upstream water infrastructure projects, the agreement between both countries is in jeopardy. For this reason, the water issue between India and Pakistan is escalating at the moment.

On January 25, 2023, Pakistan received a notification from India’s Indus Water Commissioner to “alter,” “amend,” or “revise” the 1960 Water Treaty. Even though Pakistan has started arbitration at The Hague’s Court of Arbitration, India has suggested that a neutral expert can be appointed to solve the conflict. On January 27 and 28, 2023, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan vs. Republic of India case was argued before the Court of Arbitration for the Indus Waters Treaty. At the first session of the Court of Arbitration, India did not show up and chose not to take part. India has already said in written communication that the country believes the Court of Arbitration lacks the authority to hear the issues at hand and that an alternative mechanism with a neutral expert should be established following the Indus Water Treaty. The Arbitration Court agreed with India’s objection and said that it must be resolved before the case can proceed.

Since Pakistan objected to India’s hydroelectric projects, particularly Kishanganga and Ratle on the Jhelum and Chenab Rivers, as a breach of the deal by attempting to interrupt and redirect the streams, the nations have been at odds. Initially, both sides agreed to have unbiased experts look into the problem. However, Pakistan later brokered this deal and asked a court to settle the disagreement. The World Bank, which was in charge of negotiating the treaty, was not able to bring the parties together. Instead, it permitted them to use different methods, such as impartial experts and arbitration courts. It should be clear that the treaty can’t be changed without the consent of all parties. This gives room for the two sides to negotiate and reach a mutually agreeable solution to their issues.

Pakistan should see India’s request to change the IWT as an opportunity to rethink and reinterpret the agreement in light of modern technological, and operational standards and the need to protect the environment. Reviving and strengthening the discussion about IWT would be beneficial for both countries since it would lead to more fair use of the waterway system, greater global reliability, and greater potential for socio-economic progress. It’s an opportunity to improve an outmoded system that facilitates resource exploitation and doesn’t give workers enough ways to work together. Given that water is always changing in terms of both its quantity and its quality, the assumption made at the time of the agreement was very wrong. This is especially true now that it has been found that the Canal Irrigation River system faces environmental and climate risks. Even though India and Pakistan have had many fights, this agreement gives them the chance to decide how the Indus River and its five tributaries are shared and used. As part of the accord, India and Pakistan agreed to have frequent meetings to address any issues that may arise with the agreement and to work together to find solutions to any disagreements that may arise. Although there have been some disagreements and hiccups, the agreement has been largely effective in bringing the two countries together to share the Indus River.

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