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.