Indus Waters Treaty: India faces dilemma over a good pact with a 'bad' country

Experts are divided over whether India should abrogate the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan after the Uri terror attack.

FP Staff September 26, 2016 14:08:08 IST
Indus Waters Treaty: India faces dilemma over a good pact with a 'bad' country

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was briefed on the Indus Waters Treaty on Monday afternoon in a meeting with senior officials of the departments concerned with the implementation of the treaty.

The Supreme Court on Monday was also urged to hear a plea challenging the constitutional and legal validity of the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan.

Needless to say, ever since Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup made it clear that "mutual trust and cooperation" was important for such a treaty to work, the Indus Waters Treaty has become a critical point for discussions linked with India-Pakistan ties.

Indus Waters Treaty India faces dilemma over a good pact with a bad country

Vehicles cross a wooden plank cable suspension bridge over the Indus river. Reuters

The treaty, brokered by the World Bank between the two countries in 1960, divides the control over six north Indian rivers between India and Pakistan. Under the treaty, India got control over the rivers Beas, Ravi and Sutlej whereas Pakistan got control over Indus, Chenab and Jhelum.

It is is considered to be one of the most successful water-sharing agreements in the world today. Thus, the fact that India is even thinking about abrogating the treaty could have an effect on its ties with Pakistan.

As Dinesh Unnikrishnan points out in this Firstpost article, the Indus Waters Treaty is "the backbone of Pakistan’s agricultural economy, which constitutes 19.8 percent of that country’s GDP and is the largest employer (42.3 percent of the country’s total labour force)."

The three rivers controlled by Pakistan under the Indus Waters Treaty support 90 percent of the country's agriculture.

Brahma Chellaney, professor at the Centre for Policy Research, further pointed out in this article in Livemint that Pakistan has regularly backed away from following the provisions under bilateral agreements with India. "When Pakistan refuses to observe the terms of the 1972 peace treaty signed at Shimla, it undercuts the IWT. It cannot selectively demand India’s compliance with one treaty while it flouts a peace pact serving as the essential basis for all peaceful cooperation," he said.

Moreover, the treaty is a highly one-sided agreement, according to this Firstpost article by Srinivasa Prasad.

"Nehru virtually gifted to Pakistan 80 percent of the water, amounting to some 5,900 tmcft every year. You can imagine how huge a quantity this is, if you see that the Supreme Court’s order to Karnataka to release 3.8 tmcft of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu has created ruckus," said the article.

The article said that because India gave away control over the three rivers to Pakistan, this led to shortage of power generation and lack of industrial development in Jammu and Kashmir. "In other words, it keeps the Kashmiris frustrated with the Indian government. The feeling of the average Kashmiri is that India had made his state a 'sacrificial goat' in signing the treaty," said the article.

Another fact which strengthens the reason for abrogation of the Indus Waters Treaty is that China has stealthily built a dam on the Indus.

But Prasad also said in the article that cutting down the water supply to Pakistan will take a lot of time and effort because India has to build dams on the rivers to store water, which will take time. The dams might also become targets of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

Stopping the waters from flowing into Pakistan without taking adequate measures could harm India as this could cause floods in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.

According to this DNA article, the three rivers under Pakistani control could not be connected to the other rivers because the Pir Panjal mountains insulated them from the rest of the country.

Even the United Nations is of the opinion that the treaty should not be abrogated. "In the second half of the 20th century, more than 200 water treaties were successfully negotiated. The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan has survived two wars, and remains in force today," PTI had quoted UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson as saying.

The UN opinion is especially significant because this shows that India's reputation in the world may be damaged if it abrogates the treaty. "A measure like stopping water for agriculture and other uses will hit ordinary people the most and trigger a humanitarian crisis. It might work as a strategy to bring Pakistan on its knees but it would take the moral sheen off India, particularly in the eyes of the international community which the government has managed to wean in its favour after the Uri attack," Akshaya Mishra wrote in this Firstpost article.

The article also said that such a provocative measure may, in fact, ironically result in a full-fledged war between India and Pakistan, something the measure aims to avoid in the first place.

Strategic affairs expert G Parthasarthy also warned in this NDTV article that abrogating the treaty might not be viewed favourably by China.

If China decides to divert the Indus, India could lose as much as 36 percent of river water. Moreover, China is building 11 dams on the Brahmaputra and "is in a position to hurt India's interests".

Another article in Daily Mail said that because the Indus Waters Treaty was brokered by the World Bank, "India’s open withdrawal from the treaty will automatically draw the World Bank into the dispute - and in support of Pakistan." The article also said that if the abrogation did take place, Pakistan could take the issue to the International Court of Justice and most probably win the case.

An article in Hindustan Times explained that India abrogating the Indus Waters Treaty could have an adverse impact on other water-sharing pacts.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date:

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