The Indus Water Treat for water sharing and distribution between Pakistan and India was signed on 19th September 1960. This treaty is considered as one of the most successful water-sharing attempts in the world. After independence, the Indus along with other rivers which include Chenab and Jhelum, Beas, Sutlej and Ravi flows from India into Pakistan. The Agriculture sector provides around 21 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) of Pakistan. So the agriculture sector depends on the flow of river water. As compared to Pakistan, India has several more 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 the Jammu and Kashmir region and comes into Pakistan before emptying into the Arabian Sea. It is joined by numerous tributaries on the way. The Indus river system has been used for irrigation since time immemorial. During the period of British rule in India, a large canal system was constructed and also old canals were revived.
In 1947 British India was partitioned, resulting in the creation of an independent India and Pakistan. The water system was divided between them, the headworks being in India and the canals running through Pakistan. Later on, there was a short-term Standstill Agreement of 1947, but in 1948 India began withholding water from canals that flowed into 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 the 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 in International Court of Justice (ICJ) but India refused this, arguing that the conflict should be solved through bilateralism. The Indian government several times made promises not to go against the due right of Pakistan but in reality they many times threatened to cut the flow of the rivers.
In September 1950, the Indian government agreed to solve this issue through arbitration. India also demands 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 too. Later on, in 1951, David Lilienthal, the former head of Tennessee valley authority (US agency to control floods) and the US atomic energy commission, visited the region to write a research article for Collier’s magazine. He had a keen interest in the subcontinent region. He wrote that: “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, took up responsibility. He made a committee of both sides to overcome this problem. In his suggestion, engineers from both countries formed a working group with the World Bank to offer advice. In 1954 the World Bank proposed talks. Within six years of talks between the two arch-rivals, on September 19th, 1960, an agreement was signed between Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani president Ayub Khan in Karachi that is commonly known as 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 in financial assistance of building new dams, link canals, and barrages. Some notable work is Tarbela Dam on Indus River and Mangla dam on Jhelum River.
Furthermore in the Agreement, it was also decided that Pakistan would be helped to build dams, barrages and around 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 has also been 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.
In the 1970’s India started building hydropower projects in Kashmir. On the other hand, Pakistan raised concerns about such projects. In 1984 Pakistan objected to India building the Tulbul barrage on the Jhelum and India stopped it. In 2007 Pakistan raised concern over Kishan Ganga hydroelectric plant, but Indian went ahead and now it is completed.
After the attack in Uri, India threatened to revoke the treaty, as the attack was one of the deadliest on Indian security forces in Kashmir. This increased the tension between both states. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the statement that “blood and water cannot flow together.” But this sort of threat didn’t materialise on the ground. Later on, India decided to restart the Tulbul Project on the Jhelum River in the Kashmir Valley, which was previously suspended in response to Pakistan’s objections. After Pulwama attack 2019, the Minister of Road and Water Resources Nitin Gadkari stated that “all water presently flowing into Pakistan in the three eastern rivers will be diverted to Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan for various uses”.
India can reduce the flow of water but cannot stop it. Pakistan disagrees on Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric power plants being built by India. Pakistan has a lot of concerns and still, Pakistan officials keep meeting with the World Bank regarding their concern. The two countries also disagree over the technical design features of the two hydroelectric plants. The plants are on, respectively, tributaries of the Jhelum and the Chenab rivers. The Treaty designates these two rivers as well as the Indus as the “Western Rivers” to which Pakistan has unrestricted use. Under the Treaty, India is permitted to construct hydroelectric power facilities on these rivers subject to the terms.
The construction of dams by India on Pakistan-allocated rivers could lower the quantity of water in the western rivers, which can affect access to water for the people who regularly consume the water of these rivers in Pakistan. Moreover, blocking the Indus and other rivers from India could cause a shortage of water in Pakistan, especially in Punjab region, which would deprive a large number of people who are dependent on access to this river water for drinking, agricultural, and domestic needs.
Kishanganga dam is located in Gurez Valley of Bandipora District. It is a 330 MW power project and is expected to generate around 1,713 million units per annum by diverting water from Kishanganga River to an underground powerhouse. This project is operated by National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) of India and will benefit several north Indian states. It will provide 12% of its generated power to Jammu &Kashmir. It is a 37-mt-high concrete-faced rockfill dam constructed on Kishanganga River in Jhelum River basin. Its construction was started in 2007 and completed in 2016. Pakistan believed that India was not permitted under the Indus Waters Treaty to divert waters from one tributary to another. Pakistan believes that Kishan Ganga dam project will decrease the flow of the river water. The Kishanganga river in Pakistan is called Neelum River. Pakistan has contacted the International Court of Arbitration regarding the Kishan Ganga project. On 20 December 2013, the International Court of Arbitration gave its decision in favour of India. India was allowed to build the dam but India had to make sure that the flow of water should not be decreased.
The COA ruled that India shall not lower the water level below the storage level for sediment flushing purpose. COA also stipulated in its verdict that India shall maintain minimum environmental flows in the Kishanganga River at the line of control point, not less than 9 cumecs continuously. However, the minor differences between India and Pakistan over the project are still not settled.
As India again plans to fully use its share of water without violating the long-standing treaty, India has started work in states like Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan to utilise more of its share of river water.
Indus water treaty has been one of the most successful water sharing treaties. Though ups and downs happen between both states, and still they have a major ongoing conflict which is Kashmir, but both states should cooperate with each other and conflict should be minimised. As a historian said: the next war will be fought for water.
The writer tweets @furqanraja1122