The International Court of Arbitration has ordered India to share the water it releases from the Kishenganga Dam equally with Pakistan, and not to bring it below the dead level. This, according to Indus Water Commissioner Mirza Asif Baig, was decided by the Court after Pakistan had appealed to it against the Indian design. Though the Court had, according to Baig, accepted Pakistan’s plea, it decided that India would be allowed to go ahead with the construction of the Dam. This would indicate that Pakistan’s stand, that India had violated the Indus Waters Treaty, had been vindicated, but the implications have not been fully thought out. The first lesson that India would learn is that it is possible to undermine the Treaty, because it has been allowed to continue construction even though its design has been found to violate the Treaty. That would affect its ambitious plans of dam-building on the rivers that the Treaty had declared would be apportioned to Pakistan, as it would use this design as the basis of further violations. Second, at the end of it all, India would end with a dam that might be hedged with certain restrictions, but which it would operate. In the event of hostilities, such as recently occurred on the Line of Control, there is no mechanism on ground to prevent India from using the dam against Pakistan, either to starve it of water into barrenness, or to flood it. Besides, the stipulation of sharing the water merely sets up another bone of contention between the two neighbours.

The Treaty itself acknowledges that it must not affect a final settlement of the Kashmir issue. This makes clear that the issue of the Indus waters will not go away until the issue of Kashmir is solved. Though the water issue alone is an existential threat for Pakistan, it must not be forgotten that it is just subsidiary to the main Kashmir issue.

Islamabad should not celebrate or for that matter the Indian government which ought to take the court’s decision as something of a snub. Also to both the neighbours, the centrality of lots of other treaties, accords and resolutions – meant to ensure peaceful co-existence – should become obvious and hence should make obvious various ways and means that diplomacy, good sense and argumentation holds out. The verdict offers a lot more than just a ray of hope; it indicates that conflicts such as these can always be peacefully resolved.