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Indus Water Treaty: Pakistan And India Under International Law

Via Eurasia Review, commentary on the Indus Water Treaty:

Water is increasingly being recognized as one of the key impediments to development in arid and semiarid nations, where adequate quantity and quality of water for varied needs has already become a very tough challenge. All present trends point to a considerable growth in the complexity and scope of this challenge in the near future. Under such conditions, the Indus Water Treaty is no less than a success story. After nine years of discussions between India and Pakistan with the assistance of the World Bank, which is also a signatory, the Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960.

The Indus River originates in China’s southwestern Tibet Autonomous Region and runs through the disputed Kashmir region before entering Pakistan and draining into the Arabian Sea. Numerous tributaries, most notably those of the eastern Punjab Plain—the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers—join it.

Since time immemorial, the Indus River system has been used for irrigation. Around 1850, modern irrigation engineering work began. Large canal systems were built during British control in India, and existing canal systems and inundation channels were revived and modified. However, British India was partitioned in 1947, resulting in the establishment of an independent India and Pakistan. As a result, the water system was divided, with the headworks in India and the canals running through Pakistan.

On April 1, 1948, after the short-term Standstill Agreement of 1947 expired, India began withholding water from canals that ran into Pakistan. In exchange for annual payments, the Inter-Dominion Accord of May 4, 1948, compelled India to give water to the Pakistani portions of the basin. This, too, was meant to be a transitory measure, with further talks to follow in the hopes of establishing a lasting solution. However, negotiations quickly came to a halt, with neither side ready to compromise.

David Lilienthal, former head of both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the United States Atomic Energy Commission, visited the region in 1951 to research articles for Collier’s magazine. He proposed that India and Pakistan cooperate together to develop and manage the Indus River system, maybe with World Bank assistance and money. Eugene Black, the World Bank’s president at the time, concurred. However, political reasons stopped even these technical conversations from reaching an agreement. The World Bank made a proposal for a settlement to the impasse in 1954. In September 1960, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Mohammad Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty after six years of negotiations.

Former World Bank President Eugene Black spearheaded the negotiations. It is regarded as one of the most successful international treaties, having withstood numerous difficulties, including violence, and providing a foundation for irrigation and hydropower development for more than a half-century. The Western Rivers (Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) are assigned to Pakistan, whereas the Eastern Rivers (Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej) are assigned to India. At the same time, the Treaty grants each country specific rights to use the rivers allotted to the other. It also authorized the finance and construction of dams, connecting canals, barrages, and tube wells, most notably the Tarbela Dam on the Indus River and the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum River. These assisted in providing Pakistan with the water it had previously received from the rivers now allotted to India’s exclusive usage. The World Bank’s member countries provided the majority of the funding. The treaty requires the establishment of a Permanent Indus Commission, with a commissioner from each country, to maintain a line of communication and to attempt to resolve concerns about treaty compliance. A dispute resolution tool was also given.

The Treaty establishes the Permanent Indus Commission, which comprises a Commissioner from each nation, as a vehicle for collaboration and information sharing between the two countries over their use of the rivers. The Treaty also establishes various procedures for dealing with potential issues: “questions” are addressed by the Commission, “differences” are decided by a Neutral Expert, and “disputes” are sent to a seven-member arbitral tribunal known as the “Court of Arbitration.” The World Bank’s participation as a signatory to the Treaty is restricted and procedural. Its involvement in connection to “differences” and “disputes” is confined, in particular, to the nomination of individuals to play certain positions in the context of Neutral Expert or Court of Arbitration proceedings when requested by any or both of the Parties. 

The treaty has been a success story, but Pakistan, as the lower riparian, has frequently raised objections since India began building dams in violation of the treaty. The Permanent Indus Commission has successfully resolved numerous disputes throughout the years. In a significant challenge to the treaty, India completed the Kishanganga dam in Kashmir and continued construction on the Ratle hydroelectric power station on the Chenab River in 2017, despite Pakistan’s objections and ongoing negotiations with the World Bank over whether the designs of those projects violated the treaty’s terms.

The Hague Court is currently reviewing Pakistan’s objections to India’s Kishenganga (330 megawatts) and Ratle (850 megawatts) hydroelectric power plans. Pakistan has raised concerns about the design elements of India’s Kishenganga (330 megawatts) and Ratle (850 megawatts) hydroelectric power facilities, which are being built on tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers, respectively. The treaty grants Pakistan unrestricted access to these two rivers. The Treaty allows India to build hydroelectric power plants subject to the limits established in the Annexures to the Treaty, yet there is a breach of the Annexures.

Pakistan has raised concerns about the 7.5 million cubic metres of pondage in the Kishanganga project, which should be one million cubic metres. Pakistan also wants India to elevate the intake by up to 1-4 metres and the spillways by up to nine metres. Regarding the Ratle Hydropower Plan, Pakistan wants India to keep the freeboard at one metre rather than two metres. Pakistan intends to limit its pondage to eight million cubic metres rather than 24 million cubic metres. Pakistan wishes to boost the project’s intake by up to 8.8 metres and its spillways by up to 20 metres.

Despite the treaty’s success, there have been times of friction between India and Pakistan over the management of the Indus waters since its signing. Water scarcity and the application of treaty terms, in particular, have led to disagreements between the two countries. However, these disagreements have been mostly overcome, and the treaty remains a success story of a successful and equitable water-sharing arrangement between two nations.

Overall, the Indus Water Treaty is a significant example of international collaboration, as it provides for the equal use of the Indus waters by India and Pakistan. This agreement has shown to be durable and provides a framework for the two countries to collaborate on the management of this crucial resource.



This entry was posted on Sunday, January 29th, 2023 at 6:45 am and is filed under China, India, Indus, Pakistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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