Reports in the Pakistani media that the US had offered to intervene to bring down tensions between the two nations over Indus water-sharing would have foxed watchers of international affairs for quite a few reasons. First, the offer was reportedly communicated to the Pakistan government; given India’s increasing importance as a strategic partner for the US, it seems highly unlikely that the latter would take such an approach. Two, with the government in transition in the US, it would be too late in the day for the outgoing Obama administration to get involved in what isn’t yet a dispute, and too early for the Trump administration. Third, the US stand in the past has been that sharing of Indus waters is a bilateral issue, and any dispute has to be settled through negotiations between the two countries—a stand it reiterated on Wednesday.
The primary reason, however, is that the US has no locus standi in the matter. Dispute resolution as laid down by the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) has been vested in the Permanent Indus Commissions of the two countries. Any dispute has to be first discussed at the Commission level. If talks fail, it is to be taken to a Neutral Expert—a highly qualified engineer appointed jointly by the governments of India and Pakistan, or by a body or person authorised by them to make the appointment. If such an agreement doesn’t exist, the World Bank is to then appoint a Neutral Expert. Beyond this, the IWT provides for arbitration only if both parties approach a court of arbitration or one party finds the issue not headed towards resolution or the other party delaying negotiations. Against this backdrop, it would seem that Pakistan was hoping to stare down India in a conflict that hasn’t yet begun with a short-lived misinformation campaign.