SECURING Pakistan`s water rights, as spelled out by the Indus Waters Treaty signed with India over six decades ago, is an existential issue for this country. Of late, there have been some noises emanating from across the eastern border calling for changes to the treaty. While the document can be altered, it cannot be done unilaterally. Unfortunately, many of India`s actions regarding transboundary rivers have been questionable, and jeopardise the free flow of the western rivers to Pakistan, as guaranteed by the IWT. Amongst these actions is the construction of the Kishanganga project on the Jhelum in held Kashmir, as well as the Ratle project on the Chenab, also in IHK.
Pakistan had initiated legal proceedings in 2016 against both schemes at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and as the court recently confirmed, it was the competent authority to adjudicate on the matter, rejecting India`s position that the court had no jurisdiction in the said dispute. This has been seen as a vindication of Pakistan`s stance, while the court noted that the decision was binding on all parties, and could not be appealed.
The IWT allows for bilateral resolution of disputes which India favours. Yet when irritants cannot be addressed by both states, the treaty calls for the involvement of a neutral expert, or a court of arbitration. Ideally disputes between Pakistan and India should be resolved bilaterally. But as the past few years have shown, bilateralism has not yielded any major dividends where dispute resolution is concerned, which leaves room for third parties to step in and try their hand at mediation.
Therefore, India needs to respect the decision of The Hague court and not stonewall efforts to find a just and practicable solution to the disputes concerning transboundary waters.
Where India`s demands to alter the IWT go, as mentioned above, it cannot be a unilateral decision. The treaty has proved remarkably successful in tackling the sensitive technical and legal issues arising out of the sharing of transboundary waters.
The Indian government must not politicise the water issue just to please its rabid voter base as elections in that country approach.
Technical and environmental issues must not be sacrificed at the altar of ultranationalist ideology. For Pakistan, protecting its water rights is non-negotiable, and all efforts must be made to let the Indus waters flow freely.