Rivers are a source of life and a crucial resource for both India and Pakistan. The two countries share six rivers, including the Indus River. While the 1960 Indus Water Treaty has been the foundation of water-sharing between the two nations, it has not prevented river disputes. The dispute has also extended to China, which is building dams on rivers that flow into India.


The river dispute between India and Pakistan is a long-standing issue that has caused tensions between the two countries. India has been building dams and diverting river water that flows into Pakistan, leading to massive water shortages. The Pakistani government has accused India of violating the Indus Water Treaty by building dams and diverting water and using water as a weapon against the country. 

Signed in 1960 between India and Pakistan, the Treaty is considered a significant milestone in resolving river disputes between the two countries. It aims to ensure equitable water distribution from the Indus River and its tributaries between the two countries. However, over the years, the treaty has faced several challenges, including political tensions between India and Pakistan.

River disputes have escalated in recent years, with India building more dams and diverting an increasing amount of water. In 2019, the country announced that it would divert water from its rivers to irrigate farmlands in Punjab and Haryana, a move that would further reduce the flow of water to Pakistan. The latter has warned India that any attempt to divert the water of the Indus River would be considered an act of aggression. 

But India and Pakistan aren’t the only nations fighting over water. China’s construction of dams on rivers that flow into India has also caused concerns for Indians. The Asian superpower nation is building a dam on the Brahmaputra River, which flows into India’s northeast region, raising concerns about the reduction in the flow of water to India and a potential water shortage in the region.

Conflict Resolution Mechanisms

To resolve the river water dispute, India and Pakistan need to come to the negotiating table and find a solution that benefits both countries. The Indus Water Treaty needs to be updated to address the current challenges, such as the lack of trust faced by both countries. The World Bank, which facilitated the Treaty, should also step up to try and solve river disputes.

India needs to be more transparent in its water management policies and ensure that it does not violate the Treaty. Meanwhile, it is also important that both governments improve their water management policies and reduce water wastage as well as invest in the construction of more dams and reservoirs to store water.

As for the river dispute between India and China, the countries need to engage in dialogue to address concerns on both sides regarding the construction of dams on rivers that flow into India and must work on a solution that benefits both countries and does not cause harm to the environment.

Political Implication

In recent years, there have been concerns that the treaty is being used as a political tool by the Indian government. In 2016, following a militant attack in the Uri region of Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hinted at the possibility of rethinking the Treaty. However, Modi’s statement was seen by many as an attempt to use the water treaty as a bargaining tool for political benefits in Kashmir in the form of justification to remove article 370 of the Indian constitution,which aknowledges the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in terms of autonomy and its ability to formulate laws for the state’s permanent residents.

Using the Indus Water Treaty as a bargaining tool for political gains can have severe negative impacts on its effectiveness. It undermines the spirit of the treaty and can lead to further tensions between India and Pakistan. The treaty’s renegotiation or termination could also result in a significant humanitarian crisis in Pakistan, where millions of people rely on the Indus River for their livelihoods.

The statement raised concerns in Pakistan, which relies heavily on the water from the Indus River for irrigation, power generation, and drinking water. The government raised the issue at various international forums, including the United Nations, highlighting the Treaty’s importance in ensuring regional stability and peace and thus the necessity to protect it and ensure all parties remain loyal to their promises.

China’s construction of the Zangmu Dam on the Brahmaputra River has been a significant point of contention between the two countries. India has raised concerns that the dam could reduce the water flow of the Brahmaputra, which could have severe consequences for India’s food security and the livelihoods of millions of people. China built the Zangmu Dam in the upper course of the Brahmaputra River in Tibet and it was operationalised in October 2015. This river flows downstream into India and later enters Bangladesh. China’s dams in the area resulted in huge suffering for the rural populations of India and Bangladesh, as hardly any water was left in these regions for agriculture and fishing purpose.

Furthermore, China’s construction of dams on the Indus River has also raised concerns in India, as it could lead to a reduction in the river’s water flow, with adverse consequences for Pakistan’s agricultural sector and the livelihoods of millions of people. The precise reason is that the Indus River originates in Tibet and enters into India’s Leh and Ladakh regions, eventually making its way into Pakistan. Similarly to the Zangmu Dam mentioned above, if China or India were to build a dam in this area, people living int he Punjab and Sindh regions of Pakistan would suffer immensely.

Final Thoughts

The river dispute between India and Pakistan and between China and India is a significant issue that requires urgent attention. Water scarcity is a growing concern globally, and it is essential for countries to manage their water resources responsibly. The Indus Water Treaty, which has been in place for over 60 years, needs to be updated based on the contemporary geopolitical and environmental realities in order to address the current challenges faced by both countries. It is essential to find a solution that benefits all parties and ensures sustainable use of water resources.