India seeks changes in decades-old Indus water treaty with Pakistan

Pakistan had objected to two hydro-power projects on tributaries of the Indus river in India’s portion of the disputed region of Kashmir. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - India wants to change a 1960 World Bank-negotiated Indus river water-sharing agreement with Pakistan and has issued a notice to its South Asian neighbour, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The current dispute first flared in 2015, when Pakistan objected to two hydro-power projects on tributaries of the river in India’s portion of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Islamabad said the projects violated the pact by aiming to divert the Indus waters.

Pakistan initially asked for neutral experts to examine their objections - something New Delhi agreed to - but later asked for legal arbitration.

Last year, the World Bank moved on both fronts, appointing independent experts and initiating arbitration proceedings.

India has said that Pakistan’s actions make the treaty unworkable, one Indian official said.

The Indus Waters Treaty, which held up even in times of war between the two often-hostile neighbours, has been touted as an example of a successful water-sharing pact.

It is a lifeline for millions of farmers in both nations and sets out a mechanism for cooperation, information exchange and use of waters of the Indus river and its main tributaries.

India has not explicitly mentioned what modifications it is seeking, the officials said, adding that Islamabad has refused to discuss its objections at subsequent meetings of the Indus Water Commission.

Pakistan has three months to respond to India’s notice, the people said, adding that this is the first time such a step has been taken since the treaty was signed in 1960. 

India’s Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment on the matter.

“We are not privy to any such notice. This is a privileged communication on the level of the two commissioners,” said Mr Sajeel Saeed, deputy secretary of Pakistan’s Water Resources Ministry.

The Indus Water commissioner was currently attending arbitration proceedings in The Netherlands, “so we can’t give an official stance at the moment”, said Mr Saeed. BLOOMBERG

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