Altering the Indus Water Treaty


The Indian government’s decision to seek a modification of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) has added to the list of violations and may cause further decline in is relationship with Pakistan. The IWT was signed in 1960 between India and Pakistan with the World Bank as a signatory. The treaty aimed to divide the water of the Indus river and its tributaries fairly between the two countries. India was allocated the use of water from Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej and Pakistan was allocated the use of water from Chenab, Indus, and Jhelum.

The notice sent by the Indian government to Pakistan on January 25, 2023, was sent in accordance with the provisions of Article XII (3) of the IWT, which regulates the sharing of waters of cross-border rivers. It sends a clear message that the country is willing to take a tougher stance on the treaty, and is prepared to renegotiate the terms of the agreement if necessary. India has expressed its dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s principal stance to resolve disputes through a World Bank-appointed neutral expert and arbitration by a World Bank-constituted court in 2015. Climate change is a major concern for Pakistan, particularly in the context of the Indus River system. The overall flows in the Indus river system have decreased by about 5% since 1960 due to the effects of climate change, and this trend is expected to worsen in the future.

At the same time, Pakistan’s population has grown significantly since independence, and is still growing rapidly. This means that demand for water is increasing, and dependence on the Indus River system is becoming more pronounced. These factors are putting additional pressure on Pakistan’s water resources, making it increasingly important for the country to find sustainable solutions to manage its water resources and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Pakistan is concerned that the dam designs which India is constructing will block the flow of water to its western rivers, which provide water for 80% of its irrigated crops. According to Pakistan, this would be a violation of the treaty and would severely impact its agriculture.

In September 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave statements to reevaluate the IWT. Later on, In February 2019, Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that the Indian government had decided to stop sharing water with Pakistan.

In August 2019, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat stated that the process of blocking water to Pakistan without violating the IWT had begun. This statement reflected India’s intention to utilise its water resources as leverage in response to ongoing tensions with Pakistan.

The notice given by India to Pakistan regarding the IWT is a combination of India asserting its position and making a statement of intent. Despite the current tensions, the treaty is expected to remain in place for the near future. Even if the treaty were to be scrapped, it would not immediately impact Pakistan, as India does not currently have the infrastructure in place to alter the flow of water into Pakistan or divert it for use in India. It would take a few years for any changes to take effect.

Thus any intension to modify IWT by India, may threat Pakistan’s national security. Any changes could potentially disrupt the flow of water into Pakistan, affecting its agricultural and hydropower production. This could have a negative impact on the country’s economy and the livelihoods of its people, particularly in the agricultural sector. Modification of the treaty could also increase tensions between India and Pakistan, potentially leading to further conflict. It could also have a broader impact on regional stability, as water resources are becoming increasingly scarce and contested in South Asia.

o prevent any changes to the IWT, Pakistan may opt for bilateral diplomatic engagements with India to maintain the existing agreement. Secondly, Pakistan can seek the assistance of international organisations, such as the World Bank, to mediate the dispute and preserve the treaty; furthermore, strengthening its own water management.

Thirdly, Pakistan can explore legal options, such as approaching international courts, to protect its rights under the treaty. It is important for both India and Pakistan to engage in constructive dialogue and work towards a mutually beneficial solution that preserves the IWT and the interests of both countries.

This article was originally published in The Nation

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