In 2010, then Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said on the sidelines of Thimpu SAARC meet at a press conference: “The Pakistani authorities have a tendency to pass the buck and exaggerate differences with India over the sharing of river waters, though mismanagement within the country is resulting in the loss of 34 million acre-feet of water.”
He pointed out that the average supply of water that reaches Pakistan is 104 million acre-feet (MAF) while the water that is consumed is 70 MAF.
“Where is the 34 MAF of water going? Is India stealing that water from you? No, it is not. Please do not fool yourselves and do not misguide the nation. We are mismanaging that water,” he said. From the strategic point of view, the ability to control water resources is of vital significance.
However, Pakistan’s India-centred paranoia in this context has been mostly misplaced. Rivers originating in Kashmir cause extensive flood damage in Pakistan every year. Presently, the dams over Indus system waters in Pakistan store just 7 per cent of the river flows. Dams are filled up in the first few days of monsoon and there is no control over floods thereafter. 8 MAF to 92 MAF of Indus waters go to sea annually due to insufficient dam storage in Pakistan. Tarbela and Mangla dams will be full of silt in 40-odd years.
The Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan gives the latter, a lower riparian country, unrestricted use of the three Western rivers – Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab – of the Indus River System.
Indus, or Sindh, originates 17,000 feet above sea level from Lake Mansarovar at Mount Kailash. It is fed by Tibetan and other Indian glaciers of Karakoram and Zanskar ranges and describes a course of nearly 3,000 km through Tibet, India, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Pakistan before draining into the Arabian Sea near Karachi. In this long journey it is joined by several tributaries, mainly the three eastern rivers of the system – Beas, Sutlej, and Ravi; as well as the other two western rivers of Chenab and Jhelum.
Chenab originates in Kulu and Kangra districts of Himachal Pradesh and is fed by tributaries Chandra and Bhaga as it enters J&K near Kishtwar.
After cutting across Pir Panjal range, it enters Sialkot district in Pakistan. Kishenganga (also known as Neelum), an important tributary of Jhelum, rises in the mountain complex west of Dras (Ladakh), is fed by a number of small tributaries and merges with Jhelum near Muzaffarabad in PoK. The Jhelum or Vitasta originates in the foothills of Pir Panjal near Verinag and flows right through the entire Kashmir valley before entering PoK.
While the IWT gives unrestricted use of the three western rivers to Pakistan, it allows India to have run of the river (ROR) projects on the three rivers. This means that these three rivers and all their upstream tributaries can be harnessed by India for non-consumptive use i.e., where the water is not actually consumed but only the energy associated with its flow is utilized for power generation and navigational purposes. The Baglihar, Kishanganga and Ratle dam over the Chenab, which Pakistan has objections to, are ROR projects and actually in full conformity with the provisions of the treaty. Pakistan has also had similar reservations about the Wular Barrage (also known as the Tulbul Project) the purpose of which is navigational and not power related.
There is a political and strategic dimension to this whole architecture. In an intra-Pakistan context, Punjab province of Pakistan is the upper riparian of Balochistan and Sind provinces that receive only the agrarian run-off of the punj-aab (Five Waters) from Punjab. The power generated on the western rivers is used mostly by Punjab and not by Sind or Balochistan.
Also, the Kashmir baby has an umbilical relation with the IWT as the headwaters of all the rivers the use of which is given to Pakistan flow through Kashmir and India is the upper riparian here. The Editor of ‘Hazara Times’, Shams Kashmiri, writes in his book ‘Naya Kashmir’ that “Ayub Khan had – in signing the Indus Basin Treaty – accepted the renunciation of three rivers of Kashmir, thus accepting the partition of Kashmir in principle.” International Law experts privately agree that Pakistan’s signing of the IWT is a tacit admission, by it, of India’s de jure sovereignty over the areas of J&K under its de facto control.