India and Pakistan will be holding a two-day dialogue on Indus Water Treaty (IWT) on Wednesday in Lahore which could be said as an icebreaker between both the countries as both the nation-states have shared a conflicted relationship in the past.
Since Imran Khan became the Prime Minister of Pakistan, it will be the first government to government engagement between India and Pakistan on the issue of IWT, which can be considered as a major diplomatic move. Khan has been vocal about his position on normalising relations with India, as he said in his televised speech immediately after winning the election, “If India takes one step, Pakistan will take two.” This then begs the question what is the need for these talks? As the two countries have met once already this year.
As per media reports, an Indian delegation led by the Indian Water Commissioner P.K. Saxena will be holding talks with Pakistan Commissioner for Indus Water, Syed Mehr Ali Shah. According to ‘Dawn’ newspaper, Pakistani officials in their meeting with Indian counterparts would raise concerns over 1000 MW Pakal Dul and 48 MW Lower Kalnai hydroelectric projects on River Chenab.
Pakistan states that the design of these two under-construction projects violate the Indus Water Treaty’s provisions while India claims its right to build these projects and maintains that the design is in compliance with the designated guidelines.
A Hardnews report from 2007 gives an overview of the contestation between the two countries:
It is now a question of who will start construction first,” says an analyst.Pakistan has already raised objections to this project and is threatening to take it to the World Bank. Officials here, however, reject Pakistan’s objections, saying that the Indus Waters Treaty allows India to build specified storage up to 3.6 million acre feet (MAF) on western rivers. “India has not built that storage capacity so far,” they claim. Experts say the annual water flow in the western rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — is an estimated 135.6 MAF.The Dard-Shena population in the Gurez Valley is also opposed to the project, which in the first phase alone is inundating 25 of their villages, six summer high altitude habitats for shepherds and eight camping sites. By the end of the project, around 25,000 Dard-Shena will be forced out of the Gurez Valley.Environmentalists also believe many animals and plants will become extinct with the building of the dam. The area’s forests and meadows are home to a wide range of wildlife, including the endangered snow leopard, hangul deer, barking deer, musk deer, black bear, markhor, ibex, marmot, and other species.Besides the threat of inundation, the high alpine meadows and forests will also be adversely affected by a drop in the mean temperature brought about by the presence of a large water reservoir. Experts also believe that since the region is earthquake-prone, the reservoir could cause great problems if the area was struck by an earthquake.
The last negotiation on Indus Water Treaty was held in New Delhi in March 2018 where both the sides have shared the details of water flow and the quantum of water being used under the 1960 IWT.
Indus Water Treaty was signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 with the help of the World Bank, which is also a signatory. According to the treaty, the waters of three eastern rivers, namely Beas, Ravi and Sutlej, are reserved for India. On the other hand, western rivers, namely Indus, Chenab and Jhelum, are for Pakistan. However, India has unrestricted rights to develop hydroelectric power projects on the western rivers, within the specified parametres of design.
Although only officials will be meeting in Pakistan it is deemed important to gauge the mood of both the countries.