Tensions have risen over differences in the 1960 water-sharing agreement between Pakistan and India. According to environmentalists, the two neighbouring countries can avoid environmental and economic damage by adopting the path of reconciliation.
With the growing impacts of climate change, water scarcity is a concern for Pakistan and India. In this regard, India has offered to renegotiate the six-decade-old Indus Basin water-sharing agreement with Pakistan, but Pakistan still opposes this proposal.
But environmentalists say a renegotiation or at least a modification of the deal would be of equal importance to Pakistan and India. In both countries, the emphasis on dam construction increased water demand due to population growth, occasional droughts and occasional floods have made water rights and access to water a major concern.
The Indus Basin Treaty at a Glance
The 1960 Indus Basin Water Treaty, brokered by the World Bank, identifies the Indus River and its tributaries and regulates the sharing of water between Pakistan and India across them.
The deal has withstood stalemates, clashes and even wars, but 2019 diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Islamabad have been at their lowest since 2019 due to the disputed Kashmir region, water sharing between the two rival countries and the dispute over the offer is now escalating.
Currently, the two countries have dozens of hydropower projects operational or under construction in the Indus Basin. However, Pakistan opposes India’s plans for the 330 MW Kishanganga Dam on the Jhelum River and the 850 MW Ratle Dam on the Chenab River.
International arbitration or bilateral negotiations?
Pakistan has approached the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague regarding its reservations regarding these two projects, while India has asked its neighbouring country to hold bilateral talks to modify the Indus Basin agreement so that in this matter any interference by third parties can be prevented.
Under the current terms of this agreement, the two countries can settle disputes through a neutral expert appointed by the World Bank or an arbitral tribunal.
Pakistan went to an arbitration court because it fears that some of India’s hydroelectric dam projects could reduce the flow of water that meets at least 80% of Pakistan’s agricultural water needs. However, India maintains that it designs and builds its hydropower plants under the terms of the Indus Basin Treaty.
Analysts on both sides of the border say it is unlikely that the deal will be amended by Pakistan through bilateral negotiations with India, as Pakistan, being a smaller country than India, believes that in this case, the involvement of international organizations will strengthen the position of Islamabad.
However, some experts believe that the bilateral agreement should be reviewed for the first time in view of the effects of climate change. For example, Denmark’s Mustafa, a professor of geography at King’s College London, said this could ultimately benefit Pakistan, as India should take climate change into account when designing hydropower projects and making decisions about the water. I will take into account the impact of the increase.
Climate change and lack of trust
A 2019 study by Pakistani and Italian researchers published in the scientific journal Nature said climate change was “rapidly eroding trust” between the two countries and that the deal would include “climate change and the Indus Basin.” There is a lack of guidelines on sustainability issues.
However, Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, an environment and development analyst based in Islamabad said the growing pressures of climate change are currently “the best instrument available to ensure cooperation in the field of water and regional stability”.
Essential bilateral cooperation
“Instead of becoming victims of climate change,” he said, the two countries should work together to create policies that work for both. The analyst added that the Indus Basin Agreement should be updated to address climate-related concerns ranging from melting glaciers to more intense rainfall.
Shakil Romshoo, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Kashmir, says the amendment to the deal is also needed as communities dependent on the Indus basin are already suffering from rising temperatures, droughts prolonged periods and abnormal rainfall.
The possibility of reduced river flows due to climate change, which is rapidly becoming common in South Asia, will have “significant effects on various sectors of the economy,” he said. “Further reduction in river flow will threaten food, energy and water security across the entire Indus basin,” he said.
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