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Indus Water Treaty: Five key facts

The Modi govt is under tremendous pressure to take concrete actions against Pakistan to rein in terrorism emanating from its soil against India in the aftermath of the gruesome killing of 18 soldiers in the Uri terror attack on 18 September.  Photo: HTPremium
The Modi govt is under tremendous pressure to take concrete actions against Pakistan to rein in terrorism emanating from its soil against India in the aftermath of the gruesome killing of 18 soldiers in the Uri terror attack on 18 September.
Photo: HT

PM Modi's meeting on Monday to review the Indus Water Treaty has raised the possibility that the govt may seek to alter the provisions of the 1960 agreement

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting on Monday with senior government officials to review the Indus Waters Treaty has raised the possibility that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government may seek to alter or scrap the provisions of the 1960 pact with Pakistan.

The Modi government is under tremendous public pressure to take action against Pakistan to rein in terrorism emanating from its soil against India in the aftermath of the killing of 18 soldiers in the Uri terror attack on 18 September.

But the key question is: Can India take unilateral action to alter the provisions of the treaty? There are no straightforward answers to this question.

To put it in perspective, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah noted in a Tweet on Friday that the 1960 World Bank-mediated Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan has survived three wars and numerous lows in India-Pakistan relations.

Also read: Narendra Modi chairs meeting to review Indus Water Treaty

Not surprisingly, it is regarded as one of the great success stories of water diplomacy between two neighbours, whose relations are often fractious.

What is the 1960 Indus Water Treaty?

The treaty was signed by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru with Pakistani president Ayub Khan on 19 September 1960 in Karachi. The Indus Waters Treaty primarily covers the water distribution and sharing rights of six rivers—Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum. All the rivers of the Indus Basin are in India (although both of them originate in Chinese-controlled territories).

In simple terms, the treaty is an arrangement to implement a fair distribution of a natural resource between India and Pakistan. It also provides for mechanisms to resolve disputes over water sharing.

What are the provisions of the water-sharing agreement?

Under the treaty, Pakistan received exclusive use of waters from the Indus and its westward flowing tributaries, the Jhelum and Chenab, while the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers were allocated for India’s use. Although India can construct storage facilities on “Western rivers" of up to 3.6 million acre feet, it has so far not taken recourse to it so far.

Also read: Centre won’t scrap Indus water treaty with Pakistan: Omar Abdullah

Water as a weapon

Post-the Uri attack, most media debates and discussions to punish Pakistan has centered on using the treaty or more precisely “water as a weapon" against Pakistan. But it is easier said than done.

First, India lacks storage facilities to create a drought in Pakistan in the immediate term. Also, it is a huge infrastructural challenge to diver the waters of the three rivers (Indus, Jhelam and Chenab) to other geographical regions in India. Strictly speaking, India can temporarily stop the flow of water but cannot divert it.

The China factor

Moreover, India cannot ignore the China factor as both major rivers originate in Tibet. India does not have a treaty with China pertaining to this.

Neighbourhood jitters

Any unilateral action to scrap the treaty will draw criticism from world powers and may instill fear among other neighbours such as Nepal and Bangladesh with which India has similar treaties.

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