New Delhi: India sent a notification to Pakistan on January 25 (this is the first time that such action has been taken on either side) to review and modify provisions of the treaty that decides how the water of the Indus River and its tributaries are distributed. While the dispute resolution mechanism of the treaty needs to be clarified, sources said that the entire treaty can be under discussion. Pakistan has six months to reply to the proposal.
India’s step comes after a series of letters to the World Bank, which has a role but a limited one and Pakistan to discuss a serious problem that has occurred. These relate to the Indian Kishanganga project that Pakistan had objected to in 2015. India had provided all the information, but as in previous cases, Pakistan’s response had been objections and asking for further details.
The IWT clearly states how disputes are to be resolved. First, the water commissioners of both countries ought to try and resolve it. If they fail, the World Bank can appoint a neutral expert and if that fails, appoint a court of arbitration.
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In 2015, Pakistan asked for the appointment of a neutral advisor. India too did so. Then, a year later, Pakistan took back the request for the appointment of a neutral advisor and asked for a court of arbitration. Why Pakistan did what it did is not clear. India has objected to such a move for two reasons. First, it is wise to ask for arbitration after the neutral expert has said what he has to and not before. And secondly, Pakistan’s decision was unilateral.
Worse, the World Bank has agreed to a neutral expert AND appointed a court of arbitration. After initial protests, the World Bank had “paused” both processes, but in March last year, it lifted the pause. So, the neutral expert and the court are working towards a solution. India wonders what will happen if there are contradictory judgements as it would make the situation even worse.
Also, in the last 62 years, both countries would have learned a lot about the functioning of the treaty. During the discussions on modifications, the necessary changes can be made.
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There has not been any serious decision to abrogate the treaty, even though the two countries fought wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999. There has been rhetoric about it, though, in recent times. So far, at least, the treaty benefits both sides. But now, the Pakistani response is awaited.