India’s decision to participate in the bilateral meeting on Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), to be held in Lahore later this month, is a welcome move, given the lingering tensions between the two countries. It reflects the triumph of pragmatism over belligerent posturing. The 56-year-old World Bank-brokered treaty, which has withstood wars, should not be allowed to become hostage to bilateral hostilities. Soon after India carried out surgical strikes targeting terror launch pads across the border, in retaliation to the terrorist attack on an army camp in Uri that killed 19 soldiers, doubts were raised over the future of the treaty. In the surcharged atmosphere, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had publicly stated that India would not allow even a “drop of water” to go waste into Pakistan. There were even calls for scrapping the agreement to teach Pakistan a fitting lesson. However, the government did well to resist such a temptation as it would have besmirched the country’s image. Signed in 1960, the IWT is a shining example of how water resources can be shared through an international legal framework. The Permanent Indus Commission has been meeting every year without fail, even during the war time, to discuss issues related to utilisation of waters of six rivers of Indus system. Under the treaty, India has full control over the use of three ‘eastern’ rivers (Beas, Ravi, Sutlej), while Pakistan has control over the three ‘western’ rivers (Indus, Chenab, Jhelum).
By agreeing to attend the Lahore meeting, India has displayed its sincerity on the issue of water-sharing. A section of the ruling party had argued for the suspension of talks with Pakistan until it stops exporting terror. The decision to pull out of the Saarc summit in Pakistan was cited as an example to isolate Islamabad globally. However, it must be noted that the Indus Treaty was born out of goodwill and a sense of mutual accommodation. The water-sharing issue must be kept out of political bickering. It is essential for India to use the meeting to articulate its concerns and seek greater control over utilising waters of western rivers. At present, India grossly underutilises its entitlement. Under the treaty, India is allowed to use waters from western rivers for domestic and agricultural purpose, subject to certain limits. There is ample scope for utilising our share of water more efficiently without jeopardising the treaty. India is well within its rights to increase utilisation of rivers flowing through Jammu & Kashmir. Since Indus flows from India, the country is allowed, according to the treaty, to use 20 per cent of its water for irrigation, power generation and transport purposes.