6 facts about the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan


The Indus Water Treaty was signed in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1960 as an agreement between then Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru of India and Ayub Khan of Pakistan. It has come to light again following the cross-border attacks, as India seeks to revisit the treaty and review its dos and don'ts that seem to be lopsided against India. 

The agreement laid out terms on how the waters of the six rivers in the Indus basin are to be shared between the two countries. Indus, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas originate in the Indian Himalayas and Tibet (Indus and Sutlej) regions and flow out to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan. 

Here's what you need to know about the treaty:

Brokered by the World Bank

After the partition, Pakistan's insecurities about India's use of the rivers fuelled concern that India could purposely cut off the rivers from flowing into Pakistan, especially during war. In an effort to reduce tensions between the two countries which were already on the verge of a war over Kashmir, the World Bank initiated the pact. It has been declared as one of the most successful water treaties in the world. 

India uses only 20% of the river basin

According to the treaty, India gets to use Beas, Ravi and Sutlej, rivers that flow through Punjab, to use without restriction. Indus, Chenab and Jhelum, which go through Jammu & Kashmir, and reportedly accounts for nearly 80% of the total volume of the river system, was given to Pakistan. India, however, is allowed to put up storage facilities on the Western rivers, up to a limit of 3.6 million acre feet. 

Permanent Indus Commission continues

The Permanent Indus Commission was set up to facilitate the treaty. Besides resolving conflicts related to water and providing consultation, the commission also eases the flow of data exchanged between India and Pakistan. Scientific visits and inspections related to the rivers also take place bilaterally. Despite tensions between the two countries, the commission meets regularly to discuss potential conflicts (there haven't been any major ones till date).

India proposes revisiting the agreement

India highlighted the issue a few days after the Uri attack on September 18. Speaking to the media on September 22, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said that any cooperative arrangement required goodwill and mutual trust on both sides. The central government will be revisiting the treaty, and J&K has said that it will agree with its decisions. 

The treaty has survived Indo-Pak conflicts

Deputy Secretary-General of United Nations, Jan Eliasson, said that the treaty was more a tool of peace and resolution than a source of conflict. However, J&K has reportedly been asking for a reassessment of the agreement, since it cannot utilise the water due to restrictive conditions of the treaty. Pakistan, which relies heavily on the rivers for its water requirements, claims to not receive “enough water”. 

Controversies and pressure tactics

Experts opine that India's threat to review the agreement is merely a pressure tactic. There also isn't a chance of abrogation, or repealing of the agreement, from India's side, for fear of being criticised by world powers. Pakistan has often internationally voiced fears, and in July, sought arbitration, if India went ahead to plan and build hydro-power projects on Chenab and Jhelum. This, again, is only an assumption and a pressure tactic, according to experts. 

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