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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Water for peace: Revisiting the 1960 Indus water treaty

India and Pakistan, under the term of the treaty, were obliged to cooperate in managing and sharing the rivers in the Indus Basin. Under the Indus Waters Treaty, annual meetings are to be held before March 31 each year, alternately in the two countries. The Pakistani delegations had paid a visit to India from March 23 to March 24 in 2021. 

Pakistan and India held a high-level 117th meeting of the Permanent Commission on Indus Waters (PCIW) on 1-3 March 2022 in Islamabad. The meeting was organized by the office of Pakistan’s Commissioner for Indus Waters under the obligations of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. It was the second meeting after India revoked the special status of Indian occupied Kashmir in August 2019. The last meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission under the World Bank-brokered Indus Water Treaty was held in New Delhi in March 2021.

In 1960 Pakistan and India resolved the longstanding water-resources distribution problem resulting from the partition and concluded the Indus Waters Treaty which was brokered by the World Bank. According to the treaty three eastern rivers namely the Sutlej, the Beas, and the Ravi were assigned to India while allowing unrestricted use of the waters of these rivers. Pakistan got control over the unrestricted use of the waters of the western rivers including the Chenab, the Jhelum, and the Indus, although India is allowed to partially use the waters for generating hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects. Pakistan, however, can object to the projects if it fears that they may enable India to use water for other than hydroelectricity generation purposes and thus cause water scarcity downstream.

Read more: Pakistan appeals to World Bank over Indian violation of Indus Water Treaty

Understanding the matter better

India and Pakistan, under the term of the treaty, were obliged to cooperate in managing and sharing the rivers in the Indus Basin. Under the Indus Waters Treaty, annual meetings are to be held before March 31 each year, alternately in the two countries. The Pakistani delegations had paid a visit to India from March 23 to March 24 in 2021.

The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) contains a self-executing procedure for resolving the differences and disputes. It lays three procedures to resolve disputes under Article IX. Firstly, the treaty establishes a Permanent Indus Commission consisting of two commissioners for the Indus waters appointed from each country. Any matter relating to “interpretation or application” of the treaty is to be submitted to the commission which serves as a regular channel of communication between two countries on all matters relating to interpretation and implementation of the treaty. Secondly, the treaty provides the services of a neutral expert for the resolution of the dispute.

If the commissioners of the two countries do not settle the dispute, then the matter is to be submitted to a neutral expert at the request of either side provided it falls within the jurisdiction of the neutral expert. The treaty has listed the matters which fall in the expert’s jurisdiction. Thirdly, the matter is to be referred to a seven-member court of arbitration at the request of either side provided the matter does not fall within the expert’s jurisdiction.

The annual meetings of the Commissioners for the Indus Waters are significant activities for the exchange of information which has made the Indus Waters Treaty successful to a great extent amid the intense adversarial relationship between the two neighbors. A 10-member Indian delegation was headed by Indian Commissioner P.K. Saxena while the Pakistani delegation was headed by Syed Muhammad Mehr Ali Shah. According to media reports, Pakistan objected to over 10 Indian hydroelectric projects (HEP) namely 19MW Durbuk Shyok, 24MW Nimu Chilling, Kiru, Tamasha, Kalaroos-II, Baltikulan Small, Kargil Hunderman, Phagla, Kulan Ramwari, and Mandi during the current three-day meeting.

Read more: Pakistan Warns India Over Talk Of Scrapping The Indus Water Treaty

It is significant to mention that Pakistan has already raised her objections over the designs of the 1000 MW Pakkal Dul and 48 MW Lower Kalnai hydropower projects on the Chenab in the Illegally Indian Occupied Kashmir. On the smaller hydroelectric projects, India has shared data which was unacceptable to Pakistan because of the gaps in the manner and technical charts some of them were even illegible. Pakistan has also raised 15-20 additional objections to be addressed by India, particularly five major objections to 624MW Kiru and 48MW Lower Kalnai projects.

Pakistan’s issues

Pakistan considers these projects as a violation of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty because these objections have mainly pertained to the spillway, pondage, and little-level outlet. The design of the 644 MW Khetro Hydropower Project on the Chenab River by India could affect the flow of the Chenab River in Pakistan. This will have a direct impact on the agricultural areas adjacent to Head Marala which is a major reservoir near Sialkot.

Pakistan has also sought advanced information about flood flows during the current season and maintenance of the free flow of water flow in the Sutlej river. However, as per media reports, the Indian side has refused to share it and argued that it could only be shared during the flood. It is pertinent to mention that under an agreement reached in 1989 between the two neighboring states, India is also required to share data about flood situations in all the rivers in advance so that Pakistan may take precautionary measures accordingly to protect the life and property of its citizens.

However, India is not sharing the required data about flood situations for the last few years which portrays its stubbornness. An overview of the Pakistan-India negotiations over the water issues reveals that India always uses delaying tactics whether it was the Wullar barrage issue or other hydroelectric projects.

Read more: Why Pakistan’s water crisis needs urgent attention?

Historically, water has been a source of unity, closeness, and cooperation and is shared rather than divided. But, in the case of Pakistan and India, the waters of the six rivers of the Indus Waters Basin have been divided in such a way that the existence of civilizations along the eastern rivers in Pakistan, especially along the Sutlej, has been threatened. Therefore, the Indus Waters Treaty needs to be implemented in earnest, while the inclusion of the Sutlej in the agenda of negotiations is also a matter of urgency, as the preservation of the Sutlej civilization is possible only when a certain amount of water flows into the Sutlej all year round.


Dr. Tahir Ashraf holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and writes extensively on global politics. He teaches at the Department of International Relations, Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan, Pakistan and can be contacted at tahirmian1@bzu.edu.pk.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.