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U.S. report raises questions over Indus Water Treaty

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Washington: With an increase in demand for water and energy resources in both India and Pakistan, a Congressional report has questioned the long-term effectiveness of the Indus Water Treaty, which has been implemented for more than six decades between the two South Asian neighbours.

“While the IWT has maintained stability in the region over water, experts question the treaty’s long-term effectiveness in light of chronic tensions between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region, where a significant portion of the Indus River’s headwaters originate,” it said adding that as the existing agriculture system becomes more water-intensive and, in some areas, more inefficient, water may prove to be a source of instability in South Asia.

The report, “Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” sheds light on the drivers of water scarcity in Central and South Asia and provides recommendations for how the U.S. should strategically approach water-related issues, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Written by the majority staff of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the report draws attention to the growing problem of water scarcity in Central and South Asia and how it has the potential to exacerbate existing regional conflicts and lead to new ones.

“While much of our focus currently rests on Afghanistan and Pakistan, we must also consider the interests in the shared waters by India and the neighbouring five Central Asian countries Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan,” John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a statement.

“In addition, others question whether the IWT can address India’s growing use of the shared waters and Pakistan’s increasing demand for these waters for agricultural purposes,” said the 28-page report. “Signed in 1960, the IWT is considered as the world’s most successful water treaty, having remained relatively intact for 50 years and having withstood four Indo-Pak wars,” it added.

The report said the drive to meet energy demand through hydropower development is occurring in India and Pakistan, two countries that lack sufficient access to energy. This is particularly true with respect to India, which faces a rapidly expanding population, growing economy and soaring energy needs.

To meet growing demand and cope with increasing electricity shortages, the government has developed plans to expand power generation through the construction of multipurpose dams. “India has 33 projects at various stages of completion on the rivers that affect this region,” the report said adding that the number of dams under construction and their management is a source of significant bilateral tension. “Currently, the most controversial dam project is the proposed 330-megawatt dam on the Kishenganga River, a tributary of the Indus.

While studies show that no single dam along the waters controlled by the Indus Waters Treaty will affect Pakistan’s access to water, the cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season,” the report said.

“In the difficult 60-plus year bilateral relationship, water has not yet been used in this way. However, staff met with some experts that argue the treaty’s long-term stability is threatened by a lack of trust between these two countries.-ONLINE

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