The Indus Water Treaty

The Indus Water Treaty

Raja Furqan Ahmed

The Indus Water Treaty between Pakistan and India was signed on 19th September 1960. This treaty is considered as one of the most successful water-sharing agreements in the world. After independence in 1947, the Indus along with other rivers which include Chenab and Jhelum, flows from Jammu and Kashmir into Pakistan. The Beas, Sutlej and Ravi flow into the Indus through Punjab. As Pakistan is an agricultural state, it depends critically on the flow of that river water. As compared to Pakistan, India has several rivers and water sources to support its agriculture.
The water of the Indus river mainly starts from the Tibet region of China and flows through Jammu and Kashmir before it comes to Pakistan. The Indus is joined by numerous tributaries on its way to the Arabian Sea. The Indus river system has been used for irrigation throughout history. During the period of British rule in India, some changes were brought. A large canal system was constructed, and old canals were revived.
When British India was partitioned, the Indus water system was divided between India and Pakistan. Most of the headworks came to India and most of the canals to Pakistan. There was a short-term Standstill Agreement of 1947, but in 1948 India began withholding water from canals that flowed in Pakistan. The Inter-Dominion Accord of May 4, 1948, required India to provide water to the Pakistani parts of the basin in return for annual payments from the government of Pakistan. In 1948, India cut off supply in most canals that went to Pakistan but restored it later. The accord was meant to meet immediate requirements and was followed by negotiations for a more permanent solution. However, neither side was willing to compromise their respective positions. Pakistan wanted to take that matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) but India refused this and argued that the conflict should be solved through bilateralism. The Indian government several times made promises to not deny the due right of Pakistan but in reality, it many times threatened to cut the flow of the rivers.
In September 1950, the Indian government agreed to solve this issue through arbitration. India demanded that there should be a court in which both members should be from each side and one neutral chairman. The proposal was accepted by Pakistan. In 1951, David Lilienthal, the former head of Tennessee Valley Authority (US agency to control floods, improve living standards of farmers, navigation, etc), visited the region to write a research article for Collier’s magazine. He had a keen interest in the subcontinent. He wrote:
“No armies with bombs and shellfire could divest a land so thoroughly as Pakistan could be devastated by the simple expedient of India’s permanently shutting up the source of water that keeps the field and the people of Pakistan green.”
After both states agreed, the chairman of World Bank, Eugene Black, made a committee with members from both sides to overcome the problem of water sharing. Engineers from both countries formed a working group, with the World Bank offering advice. In 1954 the World Bank proposed a solution. Within six years of talks between the two arch-rivals, on September 19, 1960, an agreement was signed between Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Ayub Khan in Karachi, commonly known as the Indus Water Treaty. In the agreement, the World Bank divided the whole reservoirs into two parts. Beas, Ravi and Sutlej (Eastern Rivers) were assigned to India while the rivers Chenab, Jhelum and Indus (Western Rivers) were granted to Pakistan.
The treaty also helped with financial assistance for building new dams, link canals, and barrages. Some of the notable work done under the treaty is the Tarbela Dam on the Indus and the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum. It was decided that for the storage of water Pakistan would be helped to build dams, barrages and seven link canals in which India would financially help, while the remaining amount would be given by the World Bank, US, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and other friendly states of Pakistan. Moreover under the treaty, all the waters of the three eastern rivers, averaging around 33 million acre-feet (MAF), were allocated to India. The waters of the western rivers (Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) averaging to around 135 MAF were allocated to Pakistan except for ‘specified domestic, non-consumptive and agricultural use permitted to India.’ India was also given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers which is subject to specific criteria for design and operation.

The writer is a student of International Relations and freelance journalist currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan. [email protected]

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