An Atlantic report
The signing of the Indus Water Treaty in Karachi in September was, as President Eisenhower so correctly put it at his press conference, “One bright spot… in a very depressing world picture.” The treaty marks the end of a twelve-year fight between India and Pakistan over the division of the waters of the immense Indus River basin, a parched and hilly region which overlaps northwest India and a major section of West Pakistan. The Indus treaty is the first real rapprochement India and Pakistan have had since the bloody partition of the Asian subcontinent in August, 1947. And inasmuch as the fight over the waters was considered by many to be the most explosive of the many disputes between the two countries, there now is at least hope that India and Pakistan can become more neighborly.
When the British raj pulled out of the subcontinent two years after the end of World War II, Muslim Pakistan also pulled out of predominantly Hindu India. In partitioning the land on a religious basis, the peculiarities of the Indus momentarily were ignored. This 1800-mile-long river rises in the Himalayas of Tibet, is fed by six tributaries, and now forms a sort of unwieldy international fire hose with India, at the headwaters, controlling the spigot, and Pakistan, down-country, at the unpredictable nozzle. Further complicating this, the canals and barrages built under British rule to serve a unified area were, under partition, left pretty much on the Pakistani side of the border.
India temporarily restored the flow – at a price. But basic negotiations between India and Pakistan had little success until August, 1951, when David E. Lilienthal, former head of both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Atomic Energy Commission, did an on-the-spot article for Collier’s magazine. Lilienthal noted that almost half the Indus waters, with a flow equal to that of the Nile and four times that of the Colorado, are wasted during the summer months, either through evaporation or flow into the Arabian Sea. He suggested that the problem was economic, not political, and that it should be settled by engineers agreeing on a unified development of the basin. He thought it conceivable that the World Bank might help.
The World Bank thought so too. Within a month of the article’s publication, Eugene R. Black, the Bank president, made a “good offices” proposal to both India and Pakistan, and it was accepted. But as negotiations continued, it became apparent that Lilienthal’s unified development idea had ignored the deep enmity of India and Pakistan. The waters would have to be split.
The Bank proposed that India be given the waters of the Indus’ three eastern tributaries –the Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi – and Pakistan the waters of the three western rivers – the Chenab, Jhelum, and the Indus proper. The Kabul, which rises in Afghanistan and flows into Pakistan, was excluded. Pakistan’s share was, and is, the larger – 80 per cent of the flow. But unlike India’s, its land is only marginal desert right now. India’s gain was to be in increased development, in Punjab in the north and in parched Rajasthan, south of Delhi. In addition, India was to foot the bill in diverting the waters, so that the existing Pakistani canals and irrigation works would be fed from the three western rivers and left independent of India’s three eastern ones.
But negotiations were delayed. Pakistan, beset by changing governments and political opportunists, was unable to commit itself. India, growing impatient, delivered an ultimatum that it would divert what water it needed by 1962, settlement or no settlement. Border incidents arose. Pakistan prepared to take the case to the United Nations. Then, last year, the Bank suggested foreign loans and grants to help India with the financial burden. The program grew more ambitious. Pakistan, with outside help, could now look to water storage and hydroelectric development, instead of mere replacement of what it once had.
Coincident with this, two outside factors came into play. Communist China began its incursions, first into Tibet, and then into the Indian border regions themselves, causing Prime Minister Nehru to realize he now had more than the Pakistani boundary to defend. And in Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan became a strong-man President, fully as much a popular master of his country as Nehru was in India. As one Pakistani official in Washington put it, “Ayub no longer had to do the political truckling his predecessors did.”
In the midst of these rosy prospects for settling the Indus dispute, negotiations all but stopped last July in a very deep disagreement over water which India needed to retain from Pakistan’s three western rivers in order to irrigate and develop some isolated areas in the Indian hill land.
William A. B. Iliff, the British-born vice president of the World Bank, who has nursed negotiations along for a good many years, left Washington immediately for more face-to-face conferences with Nehru and Ayub. “One had to use cajolery,” he explained. “An international treaty where each side gets what it wanted must be a bad treaty. And certainly, in this instance, each side is not getting all it wanted.”
Ghulam Mueenuddin, Pakistan’s chief negotiator, later explained: “The biggest factor was the moral pressure of the Bank. Both of us were terribly reluctant to appear before the world and say we were not prepared to accept the Bank’s advice.”
Niranjan D. Gulhati, India’s chief negotiator, conceded that his greatest frustration was in having his word as a professional engineer doubted because he happened to be sitting at the negotiating table in a political cause. But, said he, “We had to keep in view the interests of the other side: they must live; we must live. They must have water; we must have water.”
What has been the result of settling this twelve-year fight, this series of on-again, off-again negotiations which almost became hopelessly snagged on the very eve of agreement? The settlement gives the green light to irrigate an area of almost 30 million acres in India and Pakistan. (The United States in its entirety possesses only 27 million acres of irrigated land.) The people who will receive the benefits – more food, more power, more water, and better flood control – total 47 million, a figure equal to the entire population of Italy.
Although India now has agreed to slow down its program for using the Indus waters to irrigate the Punjab and Rajasthan until a ten-year transitional period is over, it still will be gaining enormously in improving the livelihood of its people. And Pakistan, with outside help, can now look forward not only to a continued water supply but to the funds to build more irrigation canals and two large dams which will give it constant water and power, even in times of drought.
This international planned development will cost some $1.3 billion over the next decade. Almost half of this money is to be provided in loans and grants from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, West Germany, and the World Bank itself.
There is hope that the Indus settlement will help to quiet tempers in the other disputes between India and Pakistan. After their formal signing ceremony in Karachi, Nehru and Ayub had a series of informal talks in various parts of Pakistan, examining these disputes. All of them stem from partition in 1947 and the mutual hostility between Muslim and Hindu.
Religious differences, which only festered before the British pulled out, exploded immediately afterward. In the midst of massacre on both sides, some nine million Hindu refugees poured into India from East and West Pakistan. Muslims similarly fled from India. Today there are 40 million Muslims living in suspicious insecurity in India and 10 million Hindus feeling just as unwelcome in Pakistan. One unsettled problem is the treatment of these minorities and a need to break down prejudices so that they may have the chance to earn a livelihood.
Another dispute centers around the settlement of intergovernmental debts, India and Pakistan having both fallen heir to British India’s liabilities as well as its assets.
Still another involves the financial claims for the property the refugees were forced to leave behind. And even though this ledger is predominantly in favor of India, most Indians acknowledge that to collect claims from a country as poor as Pakistan is almost impossible.
The greatest remaining dispute lies in Kashmir. This jewel set on the sides of the Himalayas between northernmost India and northeast West Pakistan is the size of Idaho and has a population which is predominantly Muslim and a ruling group which is Hindu. Whatever the yearnings Kashmir might have to go it alone, these desires are not being assisted by the country’s joint occupation by Pakistani and Indian troops.
Aside from the claims and counterclaims of which nation has transgressed, Kashmir, to Pakistan, means a land of oppressed and unliberated coreligionists. For India, the larger, the richer, and the more piously idealistic of the two, the claim to Kashmir secretly rests a bit uneasy on its conscience. But, until now, to give in to Pakistan would mean to acknowledge another religious state and to encourage India’s Hindu extremists into another outcry against its 40-million Muslim minority.
But time, the Indus River, and a good many other factors may be healing these sores. The border crossing of refugees is now at a minimum. The treatment of minorities, on each side, has somewhat improved. There has been some murmuring about settling the intergovernmental debts. The disputed portions of India’s 2300-mile border with East Pakistan were resolved last fall, and the disputed portions of its 1200-mile border with West Pakistan are just about resolved. Communist China now is a serious border threat to India. And Pakistan, even though it recognizes Peiping diplomatically, still regards all Communist nations as enemies.
Nehru and India, now that they have more reason to be assured of the United States’s genuine respect for Indian nonalignment, simultaneously can be less fearful that United States military aid to Pakistan will end up on the wrong border. And very important, both India and Pakistan have huge economic development programs underway or about to start. Neither has as much money as it would like, to improve the welfare of its people. Any easing of the enormous military cost needed to protect their borders would prove welcome.
Kashmir unquestionably is a very large problem, an emotional problem. Should Nehru, for instance, suddenly decide to become magnanimous, any yielding in Kashmir might well bring about his political downfall.
Nevertheless, the settlement of the Indus and the easing of other disputes go far beyond the resolving of the “little pinpricks” which Nehru and Ayub agreed to look at in a brief meeting a year ago. And after their several days of quiet talks in Pakistan in September, the subcontinent now can at least hope for neighborliness in the future.