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Reality check: Can India ‘punish’ Pakistan by revoking the Indus Water Treaty?

The heightened tensions between the countries following the dastardly Pakistan-sponsored Uri attack, which left 18 Indian soldiers martyred, has put the spotlight back on the 56-year-old Indus Water Treaty, signed between India and Pakistan way

India TV News Desk, New Delhi [ Updated: September 26, 2016 16:36 IST ]
PM Modi | India TV
PM Modi | India TV

The heightened tensions between the countries following the dastardly Pakistan-sponsored Uri attack, which left 18 Indian soldiers martyred, has put the spotlight back on the 56-year-old Indus Water Treaty, signed between India and Pakistan way back in 1960. 

The decision to re-examine the Indus Treaty comes days after foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Sawrup said while India did not intend to violate the 1960 treaty, “eventually any cooperative arrangement requires goodwill and mutual trust on both sides”. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting today where he was briefed on the provisions of the treaty as well as the possible ways of punishing Pakistan. 

While India’s move will be closely watched by the international community, here is an insight into the one of the most liberal water-sharing pacts in the world. 

What is the Indus Water Treaty about?

Signed on September 19, 1960, in Karachi between the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan's President Ayub Khan, the treaty covers water distribution and sharing rights of six rivers – Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab and Jhelum which flow from India to Pakistan. 

The treaty allocates 80 per cent of water from the six-river Indus water system to Pakistan. According to the treaty, Beas, Ravi and Sutlej are to be governed by India, while, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum are to be taken care by Pakistan.

Why was the treaty signed?

The treaty was signed because the source of the rivers of the Indus basin were in India (Indus and Sutlej, though, originate in China).

However, since Indus flows from India, the country is allowed to use 20 per cent of its water for irrigation, power generation and transport purposes.

Why is it termed a ‘lop-sided’ agreement?  

Although the two countries have managed the waters without major disputes, experts say the agreement allows India to use only 20 percent of the six-river Indus water system. 

Pakistan in July this year sought an international arbitration if India sought to build hydro power projects on the Jhelum and Chenab rivers. 

The current tension between the two South Asian neighbours, however, could well lead to a flashpoint. 

Can India revoke the treaty altogether? 

This is unlikely since the treaty has survived three wars between the two countries. Although India raised the issue on Thursday, saying that for a treaty to work there had to be “mutual cooperation and trust” between the two sides, this seems to be more of pressure tactics than any real threat to review the bilateral agreement. 

And the idea that India can intimidate Pakistan by threatening to cut of river waters is nothing new. It has arisen before every major conflict. A unilateral abrogation would also attract criticism from world powers, as this is one arrangement which has stood the test of time.

What repercussions could India face after abrogation?

If the abrogation happens, not only will Pakistan face a drought-like conditions, but it will also lead to floods in the Valley as India is not in a position to stop or divert the waters of Indus river. Moreover, it will take years of work to build huge dams to change the flow of water. 

The decision of not giving water to Pakistan may provoke the neighbouring country to intensify their attacks on India. Also, the construction works for diverting the flow of water would be on the target of terrorists all the time. This will force India to deploy huge security forces which will further drain the Indian economy. 

The treaty cannot be abrogated on a short notice as 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. 

Short of abrogation, can India do something?

Some experts have said that if India starts making provision for storage facility involving the “western rivers”, which it is allowed under the treaty of up to 3.6 million acre feet, this may send a strong message to its neighbour. Pakistan has often sought arbitration proceedings just on mere impression that India may do so, seeking to dissuade its larger neighbour from tinkering with the status quo.

Moreover, India can engage with Afghanistan on the development of the Kabul river that flows into Pakistan through the Indus basin. The move will likely upset Pakistan.

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