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Insights into Editorial: Indus Waters Treaty




Insights into Editorial: Indus Waters Treaty


In a bid to find out ways to “punish” Pakistan without actually waging a war, India is reportedly considering to review its position on the Indus Waters Treaty.

  • The 56-year-old Indus Waters Treaty between both the countries has become a rallying point for many.
  • It has been suggested by some politicians that India should either revisit or abrogate the treaty as it would be the easiest way to punish the neighbouring country that refuses to control terrorism emanating from its land.
  • Many in India claim that the treaty is too one-sided, hence it requires introspection. However, the suggestion is fraught with dangers, according to experts.


About the treaty:

Signed in 1960 by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Pakistan President Ayub Khan, the treaty allocates 80% of water from the six-river Indus water system to Pakistan.

  • Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum from the Indus water system that flows from India to Pakistan. The Indus river basin spans parts of 4 countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China) in an area that is more than 30% arid.
  • Under the treaty, control over six north Indian rivers were divided between the two countries. India got control over the rivers Beas, Ravi and Sutlej whereas Pakistan got control over Indus, Chenab and Jhelum.
  • This is a unique treaty involving a third party. It was brokered by the World Bank.
  • A Permanent Indus Commission was set up as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the Treaty. The Commission solves disputes arising over water sharing.
  • The Treaty also provides arbitration mechanism to solve disputes amicably.


How will changes in this treaty affect India?

  • India may face environmental damage if it decides to scrap the treaty. The river flows through earthquake prone region.
  • It would take years of work to build huge dams or reservoirs or canals to change the flow of water. This may also lead to floods in the valley.
  • The decision of not giving water to Pakistan may further enrage the terror elements in the country, making them intensifying their attacks on India. Even the construction works for diverting the flow of water would be on the target of terrorists all the time.
  • To check terrorist activity, India will have to deploy huge security forces. This would further drain the Indian economy.
  • India’s decision to abrogate the treaty may be detrimental to the country’s interests in the long run. Experts say that people in Pakistan already do not like the fact that India controls its rivers, even as it has complied with the provision of the treaty sincerely.
  • India at present enjoys a moral high ground because it respects all its treaties with the neighbouring countries. The decision to abrogate the treaty would make other smaller neighbours uneasy. Not only the neighbours would be distrustful of India, even the country would not be in a position to say anything if China also takes a similar move against it. The country may also earn the ire of China. Indus originates in China and if the country decides to divert the Indus, India would lose over 35% of its river water.
  • Not respecting the treaty, may invite global condemnation to India as the treaty is an international agreement. At present India is on a moral high ground vis-a-vis Pakistan after the Uri attack. This would be lost if India doesn’t follow the deal. Such decision by India would automatically bring World bank in the picture and in support of Pakistan.


How will this affect Pakistan?

About 65% area of Pakistan, including the entire Punjab province, is a part of the Indus basin. Interestingly, Pakistan boasts of the world’s largest canal irrigation system because of its development of the basin, which covers over 90% of irrigated area. The water from Indus is important for the country for irrigation, drinking and other purposes. India’s decision to abrogate the treaty would affect Pakistan severely. Pakistan may face draught-like conditions.


What’s the way out then?

Pakistan can be pressured even without stopping the waters or violating any other provisions of the Indus Treaty. India has never used its rights on the western rivers. Under the Treaty, India can make use of the waters of the western rivers for irrigation, storage, and even for producing electricity, in the manner specified. If we just do what we are entitled to under the Treaty, it would be enough to send jitters through Pakistan. It would be a strong signal without doing anything drastic.

India also needs to engage with Afghanistan on the development of the Kabul river that flows into Pakistan through the Indus basin. This again can make Pakistan extremely nervous. It is in our strategic interest in any case to enhance our engagement on developmental issues with Afghanistan.



So far the treaty has survived wars and phases of frosty ties between India and Pakistan. India’s any move affecting the treaty would be closely watched by the international community. India cannot abrogate the treaty on a short notice. It takes years to divert the flow of a river. The government of India will have to prepare a long-term strategy if it intends to threaten Pakistan by diverting or stopping the water.