Why India Must Preserve the Indus Water Treaty?

The Indus Water Treaty which was brokered by World Bank, between India and Pakistan in 1960 has stood the test of time. Even after  two full scale wars (1965 and 1971) and one “conflict” (1999 Kargil) between India and Pakistan, both the nations have ensured the preservation of this treaty. However, during the last two years, especially in the wake of Pathankot and Uri Attacks, there has been an ensuing debate in India over the question of retaliating back to Pakistan’s export of terror by unilaterally withdrawing from the aforementioned treaty.

Since, Pakistan’s entire agricultural economy depends upon the water from Indus river and it’s tributaries this measure has been called by some as a befitting reply to Pakistan. However, despite of all this Indian government has time and again made it clear that it will not scrap this treaty. Thus, it is but natural to ask what is the significance of this treaty and why has India preserved it despite of public opinion being in favour of dissolution.

Indus Water Treaty was signed in 1960 by the then Indian Prime Minister JL Nehru and the then Pakistan’s President Ayub Khan. It was evolved as a peaceful and mutually beneficial water sharing agreement between the two nations. As per its provisions the three western tributaries along with Indus were reserved for Pakistan while India was entitled to draw water from the the two eastern tributaries. Moreover, India was also allowed to use 20% of the Indus water for developmental projects like, hydro-power generation, Dam construction and for agricultural purposes. Despite of this mechanism, Pakistan has time and again shown its disapproval of any project such as the construction of dam over the Indus river. They have at times appealed to international tribunals also like for example the appeal made against Kishanganga Dam to Permanent Court of Arbitration. Invariably, almost always the decision has been in India’s favour.

Now coming to the question of why India must preserve the Indus Water Treat especially in the face of increasing provocation from Pakistani side – this is because if India decides to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty there may be adverse global consequences for India, such as -:

  1. Loss of Credibility – India’s biggest asset is its international perception of being a law abiding nation. By breaking an international treaty, it will invite bad repute and thus will harm its soft power. Moreover, today India is trying to ink various Water sharing agreements with its other neighbours like Bangladesh and Nepal, and such an action from India will only send wrong signals to these nations who may then be reluctant to cut a deal with India.
  1. Secondly, the threat of similar action from China vis-a-vis Brahmaputra river – The situation in which Pakistan today is vis-a-vis Indus river, exactly the same situation is of India with respect to Brahmaputra river. As the river originates in China, if it (China) initiates a similar action against India, we stand to lose immensely through it, especially the North East States which are dependent on Brahmaputra river.
  1. Threat of PCA verdict – Pakistan in an event of unilateral withdrawal from IWT is likely to appeal before the Permanent Court of Arbitration and if the latter delivers the verdict in favour of Pakistan, this will come as international humiliation to India.
  1. Loss of moral high ground – Chinese actions in the south China sea have been criticised by India indirectly by resorting to the use of phrases like “open and free navigation”. India has also criticised China over the latter not abiding by the verdict of PCA in South China sea dispute. So if India does the similar thing with respect to IWT, it will lose the international diplomatic edge over China. It may not be able to mount due pressure on China at various multi-lateral forums.

Lastly, there are practical reasons also which make the blocking of Indus Water by India unfeasible as India doesn’t have enough resources required to divert or store the extra water. India is developing country and short of necessary resources, it is unlikely that we will be able to build a similar capacity in the foreseable future.

Thus, India despite of the provocations from Pakistan must remain stuck to its current stand of preserving the Indus Waters’ treaty. However, as the recent policy decisions claim, India must also simultaneously make optimum utilisation of the Indus water treaty especially for the economic development of J&K, something which it has not done in the past.

-Contributed by Suryansh

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