Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Pak delegation in India for Indus Water Treaty talks


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Indus Water Treaty

Mains level : Restoration and normalization of India-Pak ties

A five-member Pakistani delegation has arrived in India for talks over the ongoing water dispute under the Indus Water Commission between the two countries.

Why in news?

  • India is building 10 hydro plant projects to cut excess water into Pakistan.
  • Pakistan is expected to raise the projects being constructed by India under the Indus treaty.

What is Indus Water Treaty?

  • The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank signed in Karachi in 1960.
  • According to this agreement, control over the water flowing in three “eastern” rivers of India — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej was given to India
  • The control over the water flowing in three “western” rivers of India — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum was given to Pakistan.

Basis of the treaty: Equitable water-sharing

  • Back in time, partitioning the Indus rivers system was inevitable after the Partition of India in 1947.
  • The sharing formula devised after prolonged negotiations sliced the Indus system into two halves.
  • Equitable it may have seemed, but the fact remained that India conceded 80.52 percent of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system to Pakistan.
  • It also gave Rs 83 crore in pounds sterling to Pakistan to help build replacement canals from the western rivers.
  • Such generosity is unusual of an upper riparian.
  • India conceded its upper riparian position on the western rivers for the complete rights on the eastern rivers.
  • Water was critical for India’s development plans.

What were the rights accorded to India?

  • The treaty allowed India to use western rivers water for limited irrigation use and unrestricted use for power generation, domestic industrial and non-consumptive uses such as navigation, floating of property, fish culture, etc.
  • It lays down precise regulations to build any water or hydel projects.
  • India has been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers subject to specific criteria for design and operation.
  • The pact also gives the right to Pakistan to raise objections to designs of Indian hydroelectric projects on the western rivers.

Significance of the treaty

  • It is a treaty that is often cited as an example of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence that exist despite the troubled relationship.
  • It has survived 3 crucial wars.
  • It may be listed among the most successful international treaties as it has withstood the test of time.

Why has the treaty survived?

  • It is for India’s generosity on Pakistan for sharing waters of its own rivers.
  • India has refrained from weaponizing waters. Pakistan cannot survive without this treaty.
  • About 80% of Pakistan’s agriculture depends on Indus and the riparian rivers waters.
  • Backtracking on the treaty could affect India’s stand as global reliable partner who disrespects bilateral agreements.

A tacit nerve of terroristan

  • Responding to state sponsor of terrorism by Pakistan, India can escalate a water war , which can kill the crippling economy of Pakistan.
  • If India wants, it can either flood or drought-starve Pakistan by not obligating to this treaty.

Need for a rethink

  • But PM Modi’s words equally hold relevance that “Blood and waters cannot flow together”.
  • There is no reason to believe that India could start a water war with Pakistan on humanitarian grounds.
  • Floods and droughts will starve ordinary Pakistanis while their politicians would still live in luxury.

Way forward

  • The role of India, as a responsible upper riparian abiding by the provisions of the treaty, has been remarkable.
  • However, India needs to rethink or re-negotiate this treaty.
  • Just like water affects ordinary Pakistanis, so does terrorism affects Indians.


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