Understanding the Indus Water Treaty: Can India Really Block Pakistan’s Rivers?

Water is an undeniable need of every living being on the planet. In recent years, the importance of water has increased even more as water shortages are predicted for the future.

Pakistan and India share 6 rivers, almost all of which originate from outside Pakistan and have had issues regarding how they deal with the matter since the countries split in 1947.

A Brief History

Punjab gets its name from the five rivers that flow through it. During the time of the partition, Sir Cyril Radcliffe was unable to decide on how to partition the province. This is because the British administration had built the Indus River System in the 1800s, which irrigated the whole land. The task was eventually handed to the Chief Engineers of East and West Punjab.

As a result, several hydro-electric generation, water storage and transportation projects were split between the countries. Headwater projects were given to India, and the canals running into Pakistan were to be used in the new country.

This system stayed valid for about a year before India took over Kashmir and blocked water supplies towards Pakistan. This is resulted in the Inter-Dominion Accord where Pakistan had to make annual payments to India in return for water.

However, the matter of Kashmir overshadowed the water issue and it took nine years after 1951 (the year when Pakistan and India stopped communicating with each other) to design a treaty. This treaty formed the basis of water supply sharing between the two nations.

We know this treaty as the Indus Water Treaty.

The Indus Water Treaty

The treaty was signed on September 19, 1960 by Indian PM Nehru and Field Marshal Ayub Khan in Karachi. The terms were mediated by the World Bank (then called the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). WB brokered the Indus Water agreement between the two countries.

Since the Indus river is the main source of water for the whole of Pakistan, the treaty held great importance for the country.

Terms of the Indus Water Treaty

The treaty consisted of 11 articles, detailing different provisions and rules for both parties. The 8 appendixes  present in the treaty listed the detailed conditions and technical information that was to be followed by both parties.


Under the conditions set in the Indus Water treaty, out of the six rivers that flow into Pakistan, the three western rivers (as highlighted in the picture above) were allocated to Pakistan.

According to the Indus Water Treaty, Pakistan has unrestricted access to the three rivers, i.e. Jhelum, Chenab and the Indus. For its part, India was allocated unrestricted to access to the three eastern rivers, i.e. Ravi, Sutlej and Beas.

India paid Pakistan a onetime replacement fund of 62 million pounds while the World Bank and other international agencies also provided $870 million to Pakistan.

The funds were given to Pakistan to help it develop a canal irrigation system and dams. The goal here was to eventually help Pakistan replace its dependency on the three eastern rivers. India was also provided $200 million by the world agencies to cover its infrastructure costs.

The treaty consisted of a ten year transition period allowing Pakistan to develop the required infrastructure, following which Pakistan was required to pay India if it wanted to extend the transition period.

You can view the complete treaty documents here.

Restrictions on Both Parties Under The Treaty

Despite having control over the upstream of the three western rivers, India isn’t allowed to store any water or modify the natural drainage of the river flow. However, the treaty does allow India to use the water for domestic, agricultural, power generation and any other non-consumptive purposes.

The same applies for Pakistan with respect to the three Indian rivers up until the rivers reach Pakistan. Following that, Pakistan had nearly unrestricted access to the rivers. Pakistan isn’t allowed to alter the three Indian rivers in any way which could cause damage to India.

As mentioned before, Pakistan has unrestricted access to its own rivers and is allowed to manage the water as it sees fit. However, Pakistan was also asked to develop the capacity to make the best possible use of its water resources.

Other Provisions of the Treaty

The treaty enabled Pakistan to construct the Tarbela and Mangla dams along with several barrages and canals. A provision in the treaty allowed mediation and arbitration by a neutral umpire in case both parties cannot agree on anything. So far, the treaty is in its original state and has not been modified since it was signed in 1960.

In addition to that, the treaty required both countries to employ a qualified Indus water commissioner. The commissioners would then oversee the water system and establish the Indus Water Commission. If any disputes arose, the commission is supposed to handle them first. In case of an impasse, the dispute is then taken to the respective governments.

The two countries had also agreed to provide daily data on all project operations, water flow, irrigated agriculture and literally anything related to the Indus water system.

Fast Forward to 2016

More recently, just during the past couple of days, India has been reviewing the Indus Water Treaty to see if there’s anyway it could block Pakistani rivers to dry out Pakistan in totality.

This move was triggered by Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, who is looking for options to attack Pakistan; either through a conventional war or in any way possible.

Prime Minister Modi was briefed about the treaty and was told that India can not scrap or even violate the treaty as it will result in negative consequences for the country.

Here are some of the reasons why violating the Indus Waters treaty is ill-advised:

  • It is almost impossible for India to block all rivers and consume water before it enters Pakistan,
  • Violating a bilateral treaty — with World Bank as a guarantor — will only bring India on back foot,
  • In retaliation, China could block water supplies to India from rivers that originate from Chinese soils.

What are India’s Options?

  • Violate Treaty and Block Water at once
  • Build Dams and Consume the water (up to a certain scale)

The treaty prevents India from doing anything which could hurt Pakistan’s river system (with respect to the three rivers owned by Pakistan). However, over the years India has been keen to develop dams. It has done so over its own rivers and it has tried to construct dams on Pakistani rivers for power generation purposes.

At the moment, India has 45 large and small scale power generation projects underway. India has developed Salal hydroelectric project over Chenab, after its acceptance from Pakistan.

However, projects like Indian projects like Baglihar, Wullar and Kishenganga are disputed by Pakistan. India has been developing these projects for many years now and it was in 2010 that Pakistan managed to stop the Kishanganga project after appealing to the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Can India Violate Indus Water Treaty?

Technically, India has the upper hand. They have built some dams but with the current setup, they cannot completely stop the river flow towards Pakistan.

However, if India wants to only block the water, it has all the power to do so by using means other than dams to block the flow of water. Doing so could still be treated as a violation of the treaty.

As per the agreement, however, India is allowed to build dams only to consume the water, which they are currently not doing. Which means that only option left for India is to build dams and restrain or slow-down the flow of waters. In such a scenario, it will take India at least 12-15 years to build the required number of dams to put Pakistan in trouble.

For immediate blockade, it will have to violate the treaty. In this case, the matter can also escalate and may lead to a full-blown war between both the countries, which again is something India wouldn’t want.

Not to mention, in case of any violations, India could face international reaction especially from its neighbors like Nepal and Bangladesh. India has water treaties with these countries as well. It would also tarnish India’s name in the world.


Major rivers flowing in India and Pakistan (Indus, Sutluj, Ganga, Brahmaputra, Koshi, Gandak) originally come from China

One other aspect to note is that Indus river is sourced from Tibet (China) which means that China could block the river from its source if the matter is escalated further. China isn’t part of the treaty and has complete authority over the Indus river’s source.

China could also block other rivers that flow into India in worst cases.

What Can Pakistan Do?

In many ways, it is Pakistan’s own fault that it has had international mediators going against it whenever the water issue arises.

Take for instance the Kalabagh dam. It is an integral part of the treaty so that Pakistan can make proper use of the water resources. However, the progress on the dam is halted by the internal bickering between Sindh, Punjab and KPK.

If Pakistan is to gain international support and deal with the issue permanently, we need to conserve our water resources as much as we can. Pakistan requires more dams, to store water, and barrages, to control water flow in case India releases water from its dams.

The government needs to step up and start on small and large scale dams, so that Pakistan can still manage in case India blocks our main water source.

Pakistan needs to make full use of all the rivers in KPK and Balochistan so that the water doesn’t get wasted by draining straight to the Arabian Sea.

If a dispute arises, Pakistan will need to raise the issue with the UN, World Bank and international courts but that process could take time. While Pakistan cannot manage without its three rivers at the moment, it needs to plan ahead and set up a water management system which provides a complete backup in case India violates the treaty.

He is the Chief Content Officer at ProPakistani. Reach out at aadil.s[at]propakistani.pk

  • Due to following, India will never violate the treaty:

    1) India has gained image of a responsible state since independence.
    2) China may hurt India by blocking river flows from Tibet.
    3) Kashmir issue will be highlighted since all rivers of treaty originate from J & K.

    Further, just my opinion that with power you must learn to become responsible. Pakistan should get rid of so called friendly militants before its too late. India by keeping calm (except Modi case) has always won the hearts of international community. We should try to make our positive image in the world. First step may be taken by handing over foreign policy to civilian government.

    • FYI
      No body cares for image in war. The rivers like Ganges and Yumna originate form UttarKhand. Just Brahmaputra, Satluj and Indus originates from Tibet. Indus will affect Pakistan and currently no dam exists on Brahmaputra or Satluj to stop temporarily or divert water. Moreover it will only a problem for North Eastern India and Bangladesh.

      • We once created Taliban and now killing them. In 5 years we will be getting rid of so called friendly militants but then it will be too late. Anger will bring nothing to this country but peace and prosperity will help us all the way. Today’s champions are those who are economically strong. Nukes will not feed you otherwise North Korea would have been a super power.

    • So you mean eliminate friendly militants and forget about Kashmir? Pakistan need Kashmir and Khalistan to gurantee solution of its water and to eliminate future threat. Currently Pakistan is so weak in intl courts because it wastes the most of water. It doesn’t build any dams to store water. And India uses this as arguments.

        • Time to help Sikhs again for their independence from India. Time to correct mistake of Benazir giving files of Sikh leader to Rajew Gandi.

          • Funny how people love to hate Hindus for killing lots and lots of Muslims during Partition but forget that Sikhs killed Muslims too.

            And all you want to do to help Sikhs be “independent” is to make them a pain for India, not because you really care for their suffering.

            Tell me, what does Quran say about people who spread mischief? By supporting Khalistan are you doing it to help more people become Muslims? NOT AT ALL.

            Please go read about your own religion before damning all of us Pakistani Muslims with your stupid proxy wars. I refuse to fund the murder of people just to annoy India for no reason.

    • India has nothing against Pakistani civilians, just against the state ideology and the Pakistani army. Yes, India violates HR in the valley, but lawless citizens deserve every bit of whats coming to them. Had it been China, Russia or Israel in place of India – there would have been a mass purging in the valley.
      1) Pakistan is a special case, no responsible state can tolerate what the army has done and continuing. India under Modi will give 2 hoots about its image when it comes to Pakistan, and it looks like today the world is okay with it given today’s image of Pakistan and India.
      2) Why would China block some rivers coming to India? Is it facing some terrorism threat from India? Yes, it may due to friendship or politics, but it would only hurt China’s standing as a terror state supporter.
      3) Kashmir issue should be highlighted broadly, not just the valley – Gilgit – Baltistan, Aksai Chin etc. As also Balochistan and Sindh. Lots of HR issues, blasphemy laws, Vadera slavery etc. all need to come out into the open.

      • Reply:
        1) Political World is OK with what Modi is doing but India’s image is deteriorating to World common.
        2) Would China say that why they are doing something…..
        3) World has no problem with Gilgit Baltistan and Sindh. Balochistan is badly dealt by @rmey. Lots of HR issues.. yes…. same as India.

  • good image? , thats what india worried about ? , we dont need a Ghandian image , we dont want to live like a saint .. On china , illegal occupier China has to vacate Tibet .. On UN , that toothless tiger , does nothing .. We know the legal loop holes we can exploit the same treaty ..

  • Hey all Indian and pak guys we are still Slaves of east india company as before 1857 ,I think India and Pakistan not made by Gandhi or Jinnah ,British make it intentionally, to fight each other and run their businesses, and just look our military budjets it’s more than 53 bln India and Pakistan has 7 bln per year,
    Subcontinent never saw True face of war 13 days or 17 days are not called war, war so worse then our imaginations, Japanese and polish, Germans even Europian each family knows war,
    So don’t fool in this era so called modern era of web and internet.

  • تو اِدھر اُدھر کی نہ بات کر
    یہ بتا کہ قافلہ کیوں لُٹا؟

    مجھے راہزنوں سے گلہ نہیں
    تیری راہبری کا سوال ہے!

  • or yun hamary siyastdan busapni jaib bharny ka scohny lagy or india ny Pakistan ko banjar bna diya.no where is kala bagh dam shame on Pak crupt siyastdan.Enev bangladesh has better economy shame all of siyasatdan.plz die you all

  • On three rivers india has complete control, and on other three india is allowed “to use the water
    for domestic, agricultural, power generation and any other
    non-consumptive purposes”. What kind of treaty is that????

    • Since 100% of the water flows from their territory to ours, and they have the power (before treaty) to cut off 100% of our water supply through rivers, it’s a very good one for us.

    • What did you expect to see? Tech crap? There is a large world outside tech world, and you live in it.

  • India has linked supply of water to control on terror immenting from pakistan.. no country is gonna dispute that in principal.. and India too is willing to play ball with pakistan on all issues if it stops terror.

  • china stopping water to India, because India stops to pakistan.. wishfull thinking.. when did China come to Pakistans rescue , in any of the wars

  • what makes you think we Indians wouldn’t want a “full blown war” ?
    to bring international community on our side and prevent China from making any Justifiable retaliatory actions its important that pakistan will be the first country to launch an attack.
    After that we can go nuclear, unrestricted.
    And we know that Pakis wont attack first because of our power disparity, so technically you people can go Only a couple of international courts and at max cancel Indian funding by WB , that’s it ? we don’t get much loan fro WB as we used to and our direct foreign investment is more than enough .

    China cant do anything on Brahmaputra as 70% of its water comes from India. Forget about Nepal and Bangladesh picking your side in any matter after recent cancelled SAARC summit

    India as a “responsible state” is compiled to protect its citizens from from Terrorists and the Countries who support/sponsor terrorists. And if Pakistan pro-actively does not dismantle its gov established terrorists we have full rights to do it in what ever “Non-violent” and diplomatic ways therefore suspending this IWT treaty is justified in which India does not need to fire any bullets. “Blood and water can’t flow together”

    Its very easy for us to break it just by tell that Pakistan has declared us as “enemy state”,which violated the clause in the treaty stating that it is based on “Good Will” and pak controlled territories will not be used by terrorists to attack india. Both of them are violated and so we can end the treaty any instant

    • @Manish Sing Sardar Ji konsi wali Pi hay? Sasti Wali? China finally stopped your water. Speaking of SAARC and having *Super Powers* like Nepal, Bangla at your end, take them. Pakistan don’t need such crap and SAARC anymore. Infact many already talking here that Pakistan quit SAARC shit and rather focus on other important bloc

      • and what happened when China stopped water ? Nothing. they cant stop it anymore.

        But if we do it in Indus you people will starve.

        So stop smoking Opium and start learning geography

        • Abhi Bhi Sasti wali pi rahay ho. Sardar Ji your government is protesting. As far as closing Pakistan’s water, do It please and next day India will be flooded and Indians like you would be enjoying Hell. Quit be a keyboard warrior and take action.

          • i don’t know if you realize , gov protest is non-serious. Chinese cant use it for consumption but rather only hydroelectricity. But we can consume Idus for consumption. Unlike you we can divert thwwm through canals to the bottom 3 rivers from where we can connect it to yamuna ……go some some heroin from afgan ………..anyway you wont be getting any water

            • >Unlike you we can divert thwwm through canals to the bottom 3 rivers from where we can connect it to yamuna

              Sardar JI online Moo K Fire Na kAro.. Apni Government ko batao jo eik Kabootar se Pareshan hay LOL!! Ek Surgical Strike hoti nahin pani band karay gay

              • dude at least type in English , i am not here to correct your illiteracy…

                And don’t blame us for being hyper active, when it is your gov which has went to ICJ even without indian gov starting anything on the treaty

                • >dude at least type in English , i am not here to correct your illiteracy…

                  Idiot, It’s Roman Urdu/Hindu rather than English.

                  • “Sardar JI online Moo K Fire Na kAro.. Apni Government ko batao jo eik Kabootar se Pareshan hay LOL!! Ek Surgical Strike hoti nahin pani band karay gay”

                    I do not know how big of a duffer you are
                    , but above quoted sentence which is using “English alphabets” it is certainly not English.

                    if you want to write in Hindi/urdu use Sanskrit or Arabic alphabets ………. illiterate.

  • Pakistanis are human beings. As human beings, we understand it. We will not stop water to flow into Pakistan, as Pakistanis are our DNA brothers. But, you guys need to stop terrorism. Otherwise, we will follow your footsteps to create suicidal squad to enter into Pakistan and create havoc there as you know that we have a large population. There are so many volunteers who are interested to do this. Please stop funding terrorism & interfere in the matters of your neighbours.

  • Pakistanis are smart. They support terrorists like JeM to kill Indians.

    Now Modi is smarter. He will reduce Indus water which will cause water scarcity and rioting inside Pakistan.

    Then have fun with JeM. Die from thirst.

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