Uzair Ali looks at a gesture of normalisation of relations of Pakistan-India water talks
In a virtual deadlock between Pakistan-India water talks the news that an Indian delegation is visiting Pakistan for talks on water issues between both the neighbors came as a breath of fresh air. It is important that even, if partially, the ice appears to have broken and both sides have shown willingness to come to the negotiating table. Accordingly, a 10-member Indian delegation, headed by Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters arrived in Pakistan via Wagah border to parley with the Pakistani team in Islamabad. Parleys are conducted in a congenial atmosphere and this three-day meeting is being organised by the office of Pakistan’s Commissioner for Indus Waters under obligations of the Indus Water Treaty-1960.
The Indian delegation’s visit was earlier scheduled for mid-January but it was postponed at the request of India due to COVID-related restrictions. A Pakistani official said the participants are set to discuss arrangements regarding communication of advance information about flood flows during the current season, maintenance of free flow of water into Sutlej River and finalisation of future programmes, meetings and tours and inspections. The participants, under the agenda items of the meeting, will also finalise and sign a record of the last PCIW meeting.
It was however mentioned that there is no plan for any field visit/inspection by the Indian delegation members during their stay in Pakistan as they have come to participate in the meeting only. Besides objections already under discussions over 1,000MW Pakal Dul and 48MW Lower Kalnai hydropower projects, Pakistan has also expressed concern over the construction of 10 hydroelectric power projects — Durbuk Shyok, Nimu Chilling, Kiru, Tamasha, Kalaroos-II, Baltikulan Small, Kargil Hunderman, Phagla, Kulan Ramwari and Mandi. Pakistan has made that all these projects have been made part of the PCIW meeting during which the Pakistani Indus water commission’s team will reiterate its objections and seek justification from the visiting Indian delegation. Moreover, both countries will also resume talks on Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai projects.
Under the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), all the waters of the eastern rivers – Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi – amounting to around 33 million acre feet (MAF) annually is allocated to India for unrestricted use. The waters of western rivers – Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab – amounting to around 135 MAF annually have been assigned largely to Pakistan. India is permitted to construct the run of the river plants on western rivers with limited storage as per criteria specified in the treaty. Under the provisions of Article VIII (5) of the Indus Waters Treaty, the Permanent Indus Commission is required to meet regularly at least once a year, alternately in India and Pakistan. The last meeting of the Commission was held on 23-24 March, 2021 in New Delhi.
According to the Indus Waters Treaty, Pakistan-India water talks has been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers subject to specific criteria for design and operation. The pact also gives the right to Pakistan to raise objections to designs of Indian hydroelectric projects on the western rivers. The delegation was led by Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters and advisors from the Central Water Commission, the Central Electricity Authority, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and the Ministry of External Affairs. The Pakistan side is led by the Commissioner for Indus Waters.
Pakistan’s objections on hydroelectric projects namely Pakal Dul (1,000 MW), Lower Kalnai (48 MW) and Kiru (624 MW) in Chenab basin in Jammu & Kashmir and few small hydroelectric projects in Ladakh are likely to be on the agenda for discussion. In recent years, India has begun ambitious irrigation plans and construction of many upstream dams, saying its use of upstream water is strictly in line with the IWT, signed between the two countries in 1960. Pakistan has opposed some of these projects saying they violate the World Bank-mediated treaty on the sharing of the Indus waters, upon which 80 per cent of its irrigated agriculture depends.
Under the IWT, Pakistan-India water talks has been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers subject to specific criteria for design and operation. The pact also gives the right to Pakistan to raise objections to designs of Indian hydroelectric projects on the western rivers. Pakistan has raised objections on the design of these projects.
India and Pakistan signed the treaty in 1960 after nine years of negotiations, with the Washington-based World Bank being a signatory. The treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of the rivers. However, there have been disagreements and differences between India and Pakistan over the treaty. Since annual meetings, under the treaty, are to be held before 31 March each year, alternately in the two countries, the Pakistani delegation had paid a two-day visit to New Delhi from 23 to 24 March last year. TW
Uzair Ali is in the finance sector