The now-contentious Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan

India's magnanimity in regional affairs can no longer be taken for granted. National interests now come first.

Terror, Water and Foreign Relations


After the September 2016 terrorist attack on Indian army camp at Uri in Kashmir, and later at Nagrota in end November, 
tension between the two neighbouring nations scaled yet another peak. India was aghast at the brazen display of another aggression, and Pakistan stoutly defended its neutral role, as always!

In the aftermath, Pakistan unsuccessfully tried raising the issue of alleged atrocities on the Kashmiri people by the Indian security forces, and pleaded with the international community to mediate urgently. There has been hardly any positive response. India, on the other hand, has tried to isolate Pakistan internationally on the basic issue of sponsoring and breeding terrorism. It seems to be gaining traction in its moves.

[Read this Bodhi in Hindi, here]

Both the nations may have engaged in four bloody wars against each other, but at no juncture, has the Indian sentiment been so disturbed as is being witnessed this time round. The Indian establishment has been mulling over the option of suspending the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan, which has been a sacred cow during all these near six decades.

Indus (Sindhu) is a historically important river. Its waters begin in Tibet and the Himalayan mountains, and flow from the hills through the states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir and Sindh through Pakistan, and empty into the Arabian Sea near Karachi. The mighty Indus River Valley civilization that flourished in these basins more than 3000 years ago had more than 1000 urban centres in its heyday!

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World Bank got it done


The Indus Water Treaty for water-sharing was signed between India and Pakistan on 19th October 1960, brokered by the World Bank (then IBRD). The treaty deals with six rivers – the three eastern rivers of Ravi, Beas, Sutlej and their tributaries, and the three western rivers of Indus, Jhelum, Chenab and their tributaries. Accordingly, India is under obligation to allow Pakistan to use 80% of the water flow of the western rivers. That alone makes it one of the most liberal water sharing treaties in the world!

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As per recent reports, the Indian government is seriously thinking about the option of suspending the Indus Water Treaty. But would that be as easy? The answer to this question has many dimensions.
  1. Water sharing agreements are very difficult to arrive at. India is a party to three of the seven water sharing treaties between countries in the region – the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan, the Ganga Water Treaty with Bangladesh, and the Gandak water treaty with Nepal. India’s response to the Indus Treaty may have an impact on the other two treaties as well.
  2. The Kashmir issue will get an additional dimension, and this strong response from India is likely to give Pakistan another reason to link it with that. Moreover, India’s action may arouse humanitarian concerns at the international level, and some sympathy for lost water may flow to Pakistan.
  3. Further, if India twists Pakistan’s arm in this way, Pak’s close ally China may try the tactic with the Brahmaputra river treaty. China anyway is damming the river aggressively.
  4. Lastly, there is no guarantee that despite this step by India, Pakistan will mend its ways. Experience suggests that Pakistan loves losing wars with India, and peace is not on its immediate agenda.
There is little doubt that India needs to put an end to the terror flow from Pakistan, but it will have to be prepared in totality for all repercussions that’ll emerge. A cohesive, long-term and sustained response is the need of the day.

[इस बोधि को हिंदी में पढ़ें, यहाँ]

With the surgical strikes inside PoK by the Indian Army, it is clear that Pakistan can no longer take for granted any aspect of its relationship with India, and must reciprocate peacefully if it hopes to continue a positive relationship.


  • [message]
    • Terror and Water won't go together
      • The differences between India and Pakistan under the treaty concern the Kishenganga (330 megawatts) and Ratle (850 megawatts) hydroelectric power plants. The power plants are being built by India on the Kishenganga and Chenab rivers, respectively. Due to the  18 September Uri terrorist attack, PM Modi directed the government to step up the exploitation of India’s share of water in the Indus Water Treaty, and called off India’s participation in meetings of Indus water commissioners on 27 September. Pakistan cried foul, and wanted international intervention, which has not materialised. US has bluntly refused to mediate, and India has asked the World Bank to send netural experts to assess.


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Bodhi Saransh

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The Indus Waters Treaty signed on 19-09-1960 by Jawaharlal Nehru and President Ayub Khan. Mediator was World Bank. It administers how river Indus and its tributaries that flow in both the countries will be utilised. Beas, Ravi and Sutlej are governed by India, and Indus, Chenab and Jhelum by Pakistan. Since Indus flows from India, India to use 20 % of water for irrigation, power generation and transport. A Permanent bilateral Indus Commission set up to implement and manage. Though Indus originates from Tibet, China is not a part of the Treaty.




The Assembly Elections 2017 results have reinforced the Modi Doctrine that pushes India's interests positively abroad. 

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This Bodhi will be regularly updatedKeep visiting. And do share your thoughts in the Comments thread.

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    • Bodhi Links (for deeper study; Caution: some may be external links, some large PDFs)
      •  ##chevron-right## Indus Water Treaty – Original document pdf here  ##chevron-right## Water Resources Ministry, Government of India – Brief summary of IWT pdf here  ##chevron-right## Rivers of India and the World – a comprehensive resource guide here  ##chevron-right## Send neutral experts, says India here  ##refresh## Running updates - Current Affairs here 


  • [message]
    • ##paper-plane-o##  A direct question in Civil Services Mains Exams 2016 
      • Present an account of the Indus Water Treaty and examine its ecological, economic and political implications in the context of changing bilateral relations. | सिन्धु जल संधि का एक विवरण प्रस्तुत कीजिए तथा बदलते हुए द्विपक्षीय संबंधों के संदर्भ में उसके पारिस्थितिक, आर्थिक एवं राजनीतिक निहितार्थों का परीक्षण कीजिए।

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Bodhi Booster: The now-contentious Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan
The now-contentious Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan
India's magnanimity in regional affairs can no longer be taken for granted. National interests now come first.
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