Reports that India is reviewing its position on the Indus Waters Treaty have evoked a strong response in Pakistan, where river waters form a lifeline for the country’s agricultural economy. Headlines suggested that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was planning to “steal” Pakistan’s waters and let the country run dry in the wake of heightened tensions over the recent terror attacks. This was followed by a statement from Sartaj Aziz, adviser on foreign affairs to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, that any violation of the Indus Waters Treaty by India would come with the risk of war and hostilities between the two countries. “Pakistan will not accept Indian aggression in any form, and any Indian step for disrupting water flow as (an) upper riparian state will pertain to considerable risk of war and hostilities,” Aziz said recently in the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament in response to a calling attention notice. Water remains a contentious issue not only with India but within Pakistan, with provinces accusing each other of stealing their share of river waters, but chances of India going ahead with its threats are minimal, experts said.
“Under the treaty, India cannot make any unilateral changes and the danger of this happening is not very apparent,” said a Pakistani water expert. The expert added that the Pakistan government is using this information to strengthen its case against India. Former water advisor Kamal Majidullah said, “There is an established procedure in place and India has in the past, by and large, respected the terms of the treaty, which continues to be one of the successful such treaties signed between the two countries.” But there are those who benefit from taking the issue to levels of hysteria. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf parliamentarian Shireen Mazari has questioned the claim that the treaty cannot be unilaterally changed by one party. She insisted Pakistan should take the issue to the UN and the World Bank before India shuts off the tap.Aziz was clear in his reply in Parliament. He said none of the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty states that the World Bank was a guarantor of the pact between the two countries. Rather, the World Bank was a facilitator and the treaty will continue to be in force until it is modified by both countries after an understanding. “This treaty is for an indefinite period and binding. It is not time-specific or event-specific,” he said.