The India-Pakistan imbroglio(2): Indus Waters Treaty(1960)

The second issue between India and Pakistan is a riparian one. It pertains to the sharing of waters of the River Indus and its major tributaries, namely, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Satluj.


  • Post partition, there arose a dilemma regarding sharing of waters of the Indus river.
  • Origin and considerable drainage area of Indus and its tributaries in India(and nearby) along with the advantage being an upper riparian state gave India an upper hand in controlling the river waters in the region.
  • Pakistan found itself worried by this fact as it could have serious implications like drought, famines etc. especially during wars.
  • A series of measures taken to address the concerns of both sides eventually culminated into what is today called the Indus Waters Treaty.

Image result for indus river

About the treaty:

  • Signed by the mediation of the World Bank.
  • According to the treaty:
    • River systems were divided into two categories, namely Eastern and Western.
    • Eastern: Ravi, Beas and Satluj. Western: Indus, Jhelum and Chenab.
    • Agreement: Eastern rivers to be controlled by India and Western by Pakistan.
  • It allowed India to use the Western rivers for irrigation, power projects and transport.
  • It laid down a well-defined framework for Indian projects to be built upon the Western rivers to prevent misuse and conflicts.

Importance of equitable sharing Indus waters for India and Pakistan:

  • Economic:
    • Agricultural and Industrial development highly depends upon these waters in Pakistan and Northern India.
    • A huge hydroelectric  potential of the rivers could accomplish the coveted energy needs.
  • Social:
    • Agriculture is the livelihood of the maximum number of people in both countries. Water availability impacts it directly.
    • Day-to-day work depends upon these waters.
  • Political:
    • Any inequity in water sharing could lead to a serious political crisis between the two countries, especially pertaining to Kashmir

Issue:   Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project

  • Pakistan–> constructing–> Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower plant downstream of the Kishanganga river
  • India’s Kishanganga Hydel project operates in the same way —>it diverts the flow of Kishanganga water before discharging into Wular lake–>then to Jhelum river which flows into Pakistan.
  • Contention: Pakistan claims—> it will reduce the flow of water of the Neelam river(Kishanganga is called Neelam in Pakistan) into Pakistan–> thus, reducing the power generation .
  • This is claimed to be a breach of INDUS WATERS TREATY by Pakistan.
  • Pakistan–> International Court of Arbitration–> halt of project for a while.
  • Final verdict–> in favour of India–>allowed to contruct dam with a condition that at least 9 metre cube/ second.

Kishanganga project map

Shall India bargain on the IWT to penalize Pakistan?

India is an upper riparian state when it comes to the Indus Water treaty. This gives it an upper hand in controlling the flow of waters. With increasing attacks, like the recent one in Uri and earlier in Pathankot, India needs to look at strategies to tackle Pakistan’s increasing aggression.

Bargaining the IWT is seen as one such options as it would deeply impact the Pakistan socially, economically and politically. This could be an impactful penalizing measure looking at the grave impact.

However, when we talk in the Indian context it may not be quite suitable due to the following reasons:

  • India’s record as an upper riparian state has been exemplary. Any such stand would set a negative precedent for other nation-states which are having a water sharing agreements with India(Bangladesh and Nepal)
  • May give another dimension to Pakistan’s Kashmir propaganda. Kashmir situation may worsen as radical leaders may step up the anti-India stance in the valley.
  • Pakistan-China partnership: If India takes an advantage of being an upper riparian in the case of Indus, it may face similar consequences from Pakistan’s ally China which is an upper riparian in the case of Brahmaputra river(where India is a lower riparian state).

The Indus Water Treaty has been one of the major successes in India-Pakistan relations with minor contentions and that too sporadically. It is in long-term benefits of both the nations to continue this near utopia of the Indus waters distribution.






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