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Dialogue offers only hope for India and Pakistan: Water Laureate

In an exclusive interview with, he spoke about the India and Pakistan transboundary water conflict, and said that, in fact, he sees this as a potential chance for the two countries to foster regional cooperation.

Earlier this year in March, McCaffrey was named the 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for his trailblazing work and contribution to the field of international water law. He received the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the Patron of Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony on August 30. The ceremony was conducted during World Water Week 2017, organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) being held in Sweden’s capital from August 27 to September 1.

Sitting in the Stockholm City Conference Centre a day ahead of receiving the prize, McCaffrey talked of how managing transboundary freshwater sources could become a solution instead of a problem for India and Pakistan. “Both India and Pakistan have found that cooperation produces more benefits and stability than conflict does,” he said.

India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) in 1960. In McCaffrey’s opinion, it is remarkable that the Indus Waters Treaty system, and the permanent Indus commission that it set up, has continued to function between periods of conflict. “Since 1960 there have been some 12 instances of armed conflict between India and Pakistan. Yet members of the Commission continue to meet. Why? Because water is vital. It’s the only avenue there is for the two countries to relate to each other with respect to these shared water resources,” said the academic who has also worked as legal counsel to governments in transboundary disputes pertaining to the Ganga, Mekong and Nile rivers. McCaffrey is accredited with articulating the human right to water, which was recognised in 2010 by the UN General Assembly.

As one who believes in dialogue as the only way out of a conflict, McCaffrey is in favour of commissions like the one formed under the IWT. “We find that cooperation through these commissions produces more benefits than no cooperation. I am sure India and Pakistan believe the same thing. Unfortunately, India and Pakistan are not so close, but if they keep meeting, at least there is some stability in the knowledge that the two countries know where they are with respect to the six streams of water that are divided between the two countries.” While saying that he is no political scientist, McCaffrey is of the opinion that such commissions help countries to communicate on a constant basis, which he sees as a starting point on the path to mutual cooperation. “There may have been some problems, but the IWT Commission is still in force and is still observed; in case of a problem they follow the procedures in the Treaty.”

McCaffrey recognises the water rivalry between the two neighbours. He quotes what he said in his remarks at the World Water Week that the root of the word “rival” comes from the Latin words for river and someone who shares a river with someone else. “This rivalry is not unique to India and Pakistan. But India and Pakistan have other issues that just exacerbate the issue.”

Read: Politics dictated Indus Waters Treaty from first to last

He feels that the water boundaries of the two countries are mapped out in such a way that it leaves the two countries in a world ripe for conflict. He adds that India and Pakistan’s conflict over water is one of the most difficult ones. “It is not because of the water per se, but because of the underlying relationship between the two countries that has historical explanations,” he says, adding that the water relations between countries are dependent largely upon their general political relations. “If they have good relations, they can work anything out. If they don’t, the tiniest problem becomes huge. Development of water resources being what it is, things tend to become cast in concrete, literally. You build dams, and it’s not easy to reverse a dam.”

For achieving a mutually beneficial result, McCaffrey is convinced that it would take a lot of goodwill and trust on both sides. “That is something that may be lacking to some extent in the case of India and Pakistan. It may be, then, that the only option is third party dispute resolution, where you have to live with the third party’s decision. However, the good thing is that third parties do realise the importance of achieving a balanced solution because if you don’t, the likelihood of acceptance is diminished. Because if [you do not have a balanced solution], the party that believes they got the better deal will trumpet that, and the other one will be disgruntled.”

He cites, as examples, the two famous cases of dispute between India and Pakistan that have gone to third parties – the Baglihar and Kishanganga dams. The case of the Kishanganga dam has been in the news more recently, as India is constructing two hydropower projects on the Chenab river. Pakistan had objected to the construction of the Ratle and Kishanganga hydropower schemes, saying that building them would adversely impact flow of the Chenab and Neelum rivers. Under the IWT, both countries had begun negotiations under the World Bank (WB), which has continued to broker the water treaty between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed neighbours with a track record of an easily combustible relationship.

Read: Win some, lose some, Indus Waters Treaty continues

While the WB paused its latest arbitration on the Kishanganga dam in late 2016, it recently allowed India to build the two dams, albeit with certain restrictions in light of the IWT.

In both the cases of Baglihar and Kishanganga, India contacted McCaffrey to advise them. “I end up advising one country or the other; that’s just how the system works. It’s unfortunate that these dispute resolution procedures are always, in any treaty, set up this way that there is an adversarial meeting instead of one that takes advantage of knowledge and different techniques of dispute resolution to achieve a result that is mutually beneficial,” he said.

McCaffrey feels strongly that in this era where the world is faced with the most pressing challenge of climate change, it is time both India and Pakistan show flexibility. “The unpredictability of the water supply is worrisome. The Indus originates in the Himalayas. The glaciers are going to melt which means too much water; you will get rain instead of snow. Does Pakistan have the storage capacity to handle that much water? Do India’s dams that are built under the IWT have the capacity to release that much water?” He mentions the very real threat of dams getting overtopped, in the event of historic, unprecedented flows of water.

McCafferey expresses his tenacious hope for a peaceful and pragmatic solution to Pakistan and India’s water disputes. “What I would hope for between the two countries is coordinated action and planning, so that the development of the water courses produces the most benefits for both – that’s the ideal. I would hope that the leaders of both countries could support this ideal.”

Nandita Das – The real thing in a virtual world

Nandita Das on being comfortable in her own skin

Published: March 29, 2015
Nandita believes youngsters shouldn’t bother about thinking where they fit in the social hierarchy. PHOTO: VIDHI THAKUR

Nandita believes youngsters shouldn’t bother about thinking where they fit in the social hierarchy. PHOTO: VIDHI THAKUR

LAHORE: “I never bleach my face,” says Nandita Das. Stunningly beautiful in a plain gray kurta, here is a woman whose description always has prefixes and suffixes like ‘dark and dusky’ or ‘earthy’ in write-ups about her. But Nandita is more than these qualifications.

We are sitting in Lahore on a chilly March morning in the home of Nuzhat Manto, Saadat Hasan Manto’s daughter, where Nandita is a house guest. She sips healthy green tea and nibbles on unhealthy mithaai. All she needs is a subtle cue and starts to talk, because Nandita has a lot to say. She feels talking about herself, “is corroding” to the self, but admits that this is an occupational hazard and hence, agreed to do this interview.

“I don’t even get a facial more than once a year. My mother never got her face bleached. She is 72 and has great skin. I stay away from artificial things,” she says, and shares that she has had emails from young girls wanting to commit suicide because they were unable to be fair, because they were disappointing their parents, because they would never find the right husband. “I internalise all this so much that I feel I must correct this, so I do the exact opposite. I almost asexualise myself… one reason why I have always worn dheela (loose) kurtas.”

As perhaps the most popular face of the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign, she condemns the ‘gora complex’. “The big companies are cashing on this prejudice. It is not a standalone issue. I grew up as a dark person in a country like India. In the film industry, the few dark actresses we had have also progressively become fairer, like Rekha and Kajol. We take on the burden of looking good all the time. We, women, objectify ourselves. If we all look like Barbie dolls, how uninteresting the world would be. I see young girls who have completely lost their sense of self-worth because they are trying to fit into that standardised notion of beauty. Can you imagine the struggle? They spend all that time doing that instead of discovering their talent or being happy.”

The actor is considered, by many, one of the most attractive women of Indian cinema. “But that’s all about perception. Some might say ‘she is so dark’! There is always a hierarchy in things. Some people will be above you, others below you. If I waste my time thinking where I fit in that hierarchy of things…There’s so much to do. Travel. Eat good food. Meet interesting people,” she says, and adds that people label her as being “attractive to the intelligent man”.

“There’s a word for people who find intelligent people attractive… yes… sapiosexual. If at all somebody finds me attractive, I hope it is not just for what I look like because there is more to all of us.” Yet, Nandita does not like looking unkempt.  “Without Kajal I feel dead. But if there are 10 things I want to do today, looking good is the 11th thing, “says the actor who doesn’t carry cosmetics in her handbag and has no issues announcing that she is 45.

Actor, director, social activist, writer, wife and mother of a four-and-a-half year old boy, she juggles many roles. She is faced with the dilemma of every working woman who is a mother. “But at the same time, your work gives you a sense of purpose in life. If I’m not a happy person I will not be a happy mother. Once a woman has worked and tasted that freedom, she cannot be bound.”

When asked if she sees herself as the real thing in a world where so much is artificial, she says, “you don’t want to be so indulgent that you are constantly seeing yourself when there’s so much else to see. The film world can make you take yourself too seriously because you get too much attention too quickly; you start believing in the myth that you are important”.

Nandita never wanted to be an actor originally. “I thought it was a powerful medium to say the things that I wanted to say, just like the writing and speaking engagements I do”. All these mediums are means to an end for her, which is advocacy. “You meet people who are doing amazing work with no media light on them. It’s a tough life but that’s the life they have chosen and if given a chance would lead it all over again. When you admire people who are fighting for all of us, how can take yourself seriously just because people recognise you?”

Born in Mumbai, and raised in Delhi, Nandita relates more to Delhi as she feels it is a more culturally and politically engaged city. “The people of Delhi, however, are more aggressive and don’t have so much of work ethic. I’m sure the comparison reminds one of Lahore and Karachi. Delhi is also not as women-friendly and safe. Mumbai is very cosmopolitan. Delhi is more patriarchal.”

Her parents have been a very important influence in her life. “I owe a lot to my parents. My father is a painter; my mother is a writer. I grew up among writers, painters, photographers, musicians, theatre people. My parents have been extremely inclusive with friends from all places, religions, castes. I was never conditioned to differentiate. I didn’t know my caste till college. I am culturally Hindu but I have never done pooja on my own. There are no idols in our house. I grew up as very secular.”

While her father stayed at home, her mother used to go to work and that is what used to make her think that her father’s job is to cook and clean, and that he paints for recreation.

“He’d help the female maid in housework. I was embarrassed as a kid when he would do jhaaroo outside the house. This is why I grew up with no divisions,” she says in a flow. She wants her son to grow up with the same vision.

From her father the conversation jumps to Saadat Hasan Manto. “The reason why I emotionally anchor towards Manto is that my father is like Manto in so many ways. Bindaas, moun phatt, jo mann mein aaya bola,” she says, and confesses that she is also blunt and straight forward. Directing a film about Manto is her labour of love. “Manto was not from any ‘ism’. He was just himself. Making this film is a tribute to people who have lived life on their own terms. We have started believing there is no other way to live life but compromise. But people like Manto have shown us there is. For that, they paid a price.” Nandita pays that price too, as an informed choice. “When I lie down to sleep, I think a lot. See, there are too many lines on my palm.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2015.