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The Indus Waters Treaty: A History
The waters of the Indus basin begin in the Himalayan mountains of Indian held Kashmir. They flowfrom the hills through the arid states of Punjab and Sind, converging in Pakistan and emptying into theArabian Sea south of Karachi. Where once there was only a narrow strip of irrigated land along theserivers, developments over the last century have created a large network of canals and storage facilitiesthat provide water for more than 26 million acres - the largest irrigated area of any one river system inthe world.The partition of the Indian subcontinent created a conflict over the plentiful waters of the Indus basin.The newly formed states were at odds over how to share and manage what was essentially a cohesiveand unitary network of irrigation. Furthermore, the geography of partition was such that the sourcerivers of the Indus basin were in India. Pakistan felt its livelihood threatened by the prospect of Indiancontrol over the tributaries that fed water into the Pakistani portion of the basin. Where India certainlyhad its own ambitions for the profitable development of the basin, Pakistan felt acutely threatened by aconflict over the main source of water for its cultivable land.During the first years of partition the waters of the Indus were apportioned by the Inter-DominionAccord of May 4, 1948. This accord required India to release sufficient waters to the Pakistani regionsof the basin in return for annual payments from the government of Pakistan. The accord was meant tomeet immediate requirements and was followed by negotiations for a more permanent solution. Neither side, however, was willing to compromise their respective positions and negotiations reached astalemate. Pakistan wanted to take the matter to the International Court of Justice but India refused,arguing that the conflict required a bilateral resolution.By 1951, the two sides were no longer meeting and the situation seemed intractable. The Pakistani press was calling for more drastic action and the deadlock contributed to hostility with India. As oneanonymous Indian official said at the time, "India and Pakistan can go on shouting on Kashmir for alltime to come, but an early settlement on the Indus waters is essential for maintenance of peace in thesub-continent" (Gulati 16). Despite the unwillingness to compromise, both nations were anxious to finda solution, fully aware that the Indus conflict could lead to overt hostilities if unresolved.In this same year, David Lilienthal, formerly the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and of theUS Atomic Energy Commission, visited the region to write a series of articles for Colliers magazine.Lilienthal had a keen interest in the subcontinent and was welcomed by the highest levels of bothIndian and Pakistani governments. Although his visit was sponsored by Colliers, Lilienthal was briefed by State Department and executive branch officials, who hoped he could help bridge the gap betweenIndia and the United States and also gauge hostilities on the subcontinent. During the course of hisvisit, it became clear to Lilienthal that tensions between India and Pakistan were acute, but also unableto be erased with one sweeping gesture. In his journal he wrote:India and Pakistan were on the verge of war over Kashmir. There seemed to be no possibility of negotiating this issue until tensions abated. One way to reduce hostility . . . would be toconcentrate on other important issues where cooperation was possible. Progress in these areaswould promote a sense of community between the two nations which might, in time, lead to a
Kashmir settlement. Accordingly, I proposed that India and Pakistan work out a program jointlyto develop and jointly to operate the Indus Basin river system, upon which both nations weredependent for irrigation water. With new dams and irrigation canals, the Indus and its tributariescould be made to yield the additional water each country needed for increased food production.In the article I had suggested that the World Bank might use its good offices to bring the partiesto agreement, and help in the financing of an Indus Development program. (Gulhati 93)Lilienthal's idea was well received by officials at the World Bank, and, subsequently, by the Indian andPakistani governments. Eugene R. Black, then president of the World Bank told Lilienthal that his proposal "makes good sense all round". Black wrote that the Bank was interested in the economic progress of the two countries and had been concerned that the Indus dispute could only be a serioushandicap to this development. India's previous objections to third party arbitration were remedied bythe Bank's insistence that it would not adjudicate the conflict, but, instead, work as a conduit for agreement.Black also made a distinction between the "functional" and "political" aspects of the Indus dispute. Inhis correspondence with Indian and Pakistan leaders, Black asserted that the Indus dispute could mostrealistically be solved if the functional aspects of disagreement were negotiated apart from politicalconsiderations. He envisioned a group that tackled the question of how best to utilize the waters of theIndus Basin - leaving aside questions of historic rights or allocations.Black proposed a Working Party made up of Indian, Pakistani and World Bank engineers. The WorldBank delegation would act as a consultative group, charged with offering suggestions and speedingdialogue. In his opening statement to the Working Party, Black spoke of why he was optimistic aboutthe group's success:One aspect of Mr. Lilienthal's proposal appealed to me from the first. I mean his insistence thatthe Indus problem is an engineering problem and should be dealt with by engineers. One of thestrengths of the engineering profession is that, all over the world, engineers speak the samelanguage and approach problems with common standards of judgment. (Gulhati 110)Black's hopes for a quick resolution to the Indus dispute were premature. While the Bank had expectedthat the two sides would come to an agreement on the allocation of waters, neither India nor Pakistanseemed willing to compromise their positions. While Pakistan insisted on its historical right to watersof all the Indus tributaries, the Indian side argued that the previous distribution of waters should not setfuture allocation. Instead, the Indian side set up a new basis of distribution, with the waters of theWestern tributaries going to Pakistan and the Eastern tributaries to India. The substantive technicaldiscussions that Black had hoped for were stymied by the political considerations he had expected toavoid.The World Bank soon became frustrated with this lack of progress. What had originally beenenvisioned as a technical dispute that would quickly untangle itself became an intractable mess. Indiaand Pakistan were unable to agree on the technical aspects of allocation, let alone the implementationof any agreed upon distribution of waters. Finally, in 1954, after nearly two years of negotiation, theWorld bank offered its own proposal, stepping beyond the limited role it had apportioned for itself andforcing the two sides to consider concrete plans for the future of the basin. The proposal offered Indiathe three eastern tributaries of the basin and Pakistan the three western tributaries. Canals and storagedams were to be constructed to divert waters from the western rivers and replace the eastern river supply lost by Pakistan.
While the Indian side was amenable to the World Bank proposal, Pakistan found it unacceptable. TheWorld Bank allocated the eastern rivers to India and the western rivers to Pakistan. This newdistribution did not account for the historical usage of the Indus basin and repudiated Pakistan'snegotiating position. Where India had stood for a new system of allocation, Pakistan felt that its shareof waters should be based on pre-partition distribution. The World Bank proposal was more in line withthe Indian plan and this angered the Pakistani delegation. They threatened to withdraw from theWorking Party and negotiations verged on collapse.But neither side could afford the dissolution of talks. The Pakistani press met rumors of and end tonegotiation with talk of increased hostilities; the government was ill-prepared to forego talks for aviolent conflict with India and was forced to reconsider its position. India was also eager to settle theIndus issue; large development projects were put on hold by negotiations and Indian leaders were eager to divert water for irrigation.In December of 1954, the two sides returned to the negotiating table. The World Bank proposal wastransformed from a basis of settlement to a basis for negotiation and the talks continued, stop and go,for the next six years.One of the last stumbling blocks to an agreement concerned financing for the construction of canalsand storage facilities that would transfer water from the eastern Indian rivers to Pakistan. This transfer was necessary to make up for the water Pakistan was giving up by ceding its rights to the easterntributaries. The World Bank initially planned for India to pay for these works, but India refused. TheBank responded with a plan for external financing supplied mainly by the United States and the UnitedKingdom. This solution cleared the remaining stumbling blocks to agreement and the Treaty wassigned by the Prime Ministers of both countries in 1960.The agreement also set up a commission to adjudicate any future disputes arising over the allocation of waters. The Permanent Indus Commission has survived two wars and provides an on-going machineryfor consultation and conflict resolution through inspection, exchange of data, and visits. TheCommission is required to meet regularly to discuss potential disputes as well as cooperativearrangements for the development of the basin. Either party must notify the other of plans to constructany engineering works which would affect the other party and to provide data about such works. Incases of disagreement, a neutral expert is called in for mediation and arbitration. While neither side hasinitiated projects that could cause the kind of conflict that the Commission was created to resolve, theannual inspections and exchange of data continue, unperturbed by tensions on the subcontinent.The Indus Waters Treaty is the only agreement that has been faithfully implemented and upheld by bothIndia and Pakistan. Although its negotiation was often arduous and frustrating for the World Bank andfor the Indian and Pakistani delegations, the final outcome was amenable to all parties. While the WorldBank may have underestimated the political impediments to technical debate and agreement, EugeneBlack's desire to "treat water development as a common project that is functional, and not political, innature . . . undertaken separately from the political issues with which India and Pakistan areconfronted" suggests possibilities for future areas of Indo-Pakistani cooperation.Although, it is doubtful whether "functional" areas of cooperation are ever devoid of politicalconsiderations - the will to agree, the will to accept ideas put forward by outside mediators, the will tochange positions - these considerations might be met when cooperation is vital. The Indus waters arethe life blood of Pakistan and much of western India; functional cooperation was necessary for bothsides to survive and prosper. The example of the Indus Waters Treaty suggests that cooperation between

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