A day after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting on India’s options vis-à-vis the Indus Waters Treaty, Pakistan’s official response has been marked by restraint. Much of this may be because the Indian response has been within the parameters of the treaty, and while parts of the Indian media and some former officials have spoken of abrogating the treaty, India has chosen to merely point out that distrust and violence may endanger the working of the treaty.
According to the media, Modi stated that “blood and water cannot flow at the same time”, implying that if terrorists, which India believes are operating out of Pakistan, continue to attack Indian targets, India would consider stopping the water. To show how this would work in practice, the Indian government cancelled, indefinitely, the meeting of the Indus water commissioners.
The Pakistani government has not officially reacted to the cancellation of these meetings, but Sartaj Aziz, the advisor on foreign affairs to the Pakistani Prime Minister, did react to the implication that water sharing can be ceased. Briefing the lower house of the Pakistani parliament, Aziz said that India could not pull out of the treaty unilaterally, and that Pakistan would approach the International Court of Justice if this were to happen.
Those speaking in a less official capacity were more blunt. In an interview with Geo TV, Jamat Ali Shah, a former Indus Water Commissioner, implied that even a nuclear war was possible in such a scenario. “Pakistan and India both are nuclear states and if they deprived us of water, then we would be compelled to get it restored by using force,” he said. Reacting to the idea that India might end up using more water from the western rivers – which are, under the treaty, almost exclusively for the use of Pakistan, he added that, it would only delay the water, not stop the supply. This, though, could be catastrophic for farmers, as Pakistan’s agricultural economy is almost totally dependent on water from the Indus Basin rivers.
Referring to the Indian Prime Minister’s call that India and Pakistan should declare war on poverty and unemployment rather than each other, Shah said, “What should we believe of what the Indian PM says: ending poverty or blocking flow of water into Pakistan. This is open economic terrorism.”
The Dawn, on the other hand, featured an interview with Ahmer Bilal Soofi, a lawyer practising at Pakistan’s Supreme Court, who is a former federal law minister and the president of the Research Society of International Law. Soofi explained that the treaty has no clause for unilateral abrogation. Under Article 12 of the treaty, any changes would be by both countries. He also pointed out that the treaty implicitly protects the downstream riparian country Pakistan, and if India were to use its position to restrict the waters to a downstream neighbour, it would also allow China to assert its rights to do the same vis-à-vis the Indus and the Brahmaputra, both of which originate in Tibet.
Soofi added, “In the event of a war, states are entitled to suspend treaties, including diplomatic relations. In fact, if India considers revoking the treaty, it is itself signalling the same to be an act of war or a hostile act against Pakistan.”
Meanwhile, a meeting between the Indus Water Commissioners of India and Pakistan was scheduled to take place at the World Bank headquarters in Washington later Tuesday. The meeting had been called because in July, Pakistan had objected to two hydropower projects being built by India in Jammu and Kashmir.
The World Bank is the guarantor of the 1960 treaty, and the meeting had been scheduled before Modi’s decision to suspend the meetings between commissioners. The matter will go to an independent arbitrator if the World Bank’s mediation fails to resolve it.