A Pakistani Perspective On Indus Water Treaty History Essay

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14. In this chapter the violation of the treaty by various constructions carried out by India to include Baghligar and Kishanganga dams are discussed including its possible ramification on agriculture production and economy is considered. The same shall be seen in light of potential leverages in the hand of Indian Government to arm twist Pakistan in the future.

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The Chapter will analyse the veracity of Pakistan’s claim on the Indus Water Treaty being unequal as it affects its economy and sovereignity. It will also consider the weak political establishment of Pakistan and try to draw out future scenarios in which a conflict on water may lead to a larger armed conflict between the two countries. It will suggest recommendations to the Indian political establishment to resolve the issue and provide for a framework to placate Pakistan’s feelings.

A Pakistani Perspective on Indus water treaty :

A model Treaty or Source of Conflict ?

‘There is nothing softer and weaker than water,

And yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things.

For this reason there is no substitute for it.’

-Lao-Tzu (c. B.C. 550)



1. The Indus Water Treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960 has been a stabilising factor of assuring basic right of life to the millions who straddle its banks even though both countries have gone to war four times. The treaty which was an epitome of how civility was important in the subcontinent mindset even in the darkest of hours is an example for the so called civilized and developed western world.

2. Though the silver lining is for all to see, but the fundamental issue of trust and mutual assurance of water flow which is fundamental to the preamble has been repeatedly twisted around by India. Though Indian perspective of being a ‘Big Brother’ and the colossal advantage it derives from the treaty has led to her justification of the various violations it has committed but it has not been the same for Pakistan. Pakistan whose very survival as a nation depends on the Indus basin has only been able to fathom the realities of the treaty and its effects post signing. To have a feel of the problem of the water dispute it may be noted that the mean average flow of the Indus Basin is 1,68,000,000 acre feet which is twice that of River Nile – ten times that of Colorado River…… 36,500,000 acres are provided with irrigation from these rivers-31,000,000 in Pakistan(84.9%) and 5,900,000 in India (15.1%). Of the 82,400,000 culturable acres within Indus Basin, 74,800,000 acres (90.78%) are in Pakistan, while 7,600,000 acres(9.22%) are in India. The numerous violations by India and the


realisation of its potential as a Damocles sword in future conflict has wounded the Pakistani pride and has manifested in fears for her future sovereignty . This particular aspects has become the No. 2 fear factor of the population, the other being obviously Kashmir. This aspect has now more or less conjoined the rallying factor of Kashmir to provide it a potent agenda to rally world opinion in general and the kashmiri diasporas’ opinion in particular to the high handedness of India towards all issues of dispute.


Statement of the Problem

4. The Treaty provides a comprehensive framework for resolution of water issues between both the countries and had been followed in letter and spirit. The issue has raised its ugly head again with the construction of various dams along rivers by India in brazen contrivance to the treaty threatened the very survival of Pakistan as a nation.

5. This paper would analyse the Pakistani perspective on the treaty of it being a model treaty or cause for conflict. It will seek to prove that the concerns of Pakistan about the treaty is genuine and the treaty in the present form without adequate safeguards is a potential cause of conflict in the future between the two nuclear neighbours.


6. Indus Water Treaty is unequal and disadvantageous to Pakistan considering her heavy reliance on Indus Water Basin for sustaining her economy and this fact has been used by India to arm twist her on various issues and is thus a vital impediment to mutual trust between two countries and a potential source of conflict in future.

Justification for the Study

7. India and Pakistan are two nuclear capable neighbours who have fought four localized conflicts. The primary issue is the lack of trust between two countries whose conflict ridden birth has led to the distrust and suspicion of each other motives. Therefore any issue which may affect the core value of these countries


are likely to lead to worrisome retribution from each other. The likely flashpoints are many to include sovereign interests, Kashmir, Proxy war and an emerging flashpoint of Water.

8. Providing adequate water to feed the burgeoning population has become the most critical issue for both India and Pakistan. The dependence on monsoons which has been less than expected and reduced outflow of perennial river system of Himalayas has led to India trying to scrounge water from all possible sources. This has resulted into construction of many dams on Eastern Indus River System which has reduced the flow of water into Pakistan and has led to a suspicion on the motive of India which is a signatory to the treaty. Indus Water Treaty without adequate safeguards and subjective terminology provides leverage in the hands of India and is a potential powder keg for future conflict between two nuclear capable states. Therefore there lies a need to understand the Pakistan’s sensibilities on the issue and find means and mechanisms to address the same for a safe South Asia.


9. The paper will analyse the history of the treaty and the various actors involved. It will also try to understand the dependence of Pakistan’s agriculture on the water of the Indus River Basin and the rationality of its alarm to the Indian stand on the issue which has repeatedly vacillated. It shall factualise repeated Indian violations and Pakistan’s viewpoint on the same. Finally the paper will analyse future course of action on the treaty with recommendations to Indian establishment.

Method of Data Collection

10. The data and information will be collected from the books, periodicals and magazines of Defence Services Staff College library. Relevant impetus will also be given to articles from internet and other open sources for relevant analysis to understand the basic premise of the subject.


Organisation of the Dissertation

11. It is proposed to study the subject in the following manner:-

Chapter I – Introduction and Methodology.

Chapter II – History to the Treaty.

Chapter III – Dependence of Pakistan on Indus Water Basin.

Chapter IV – Indian Stand and Violations of the Treaty.

Chapter V – Analysis of Pakistan’s Rationality and Future Prospects.

Chapter VI – Conclusion.




‘History teaches everything including the future’ – La Martine

The certainity of history seems to be in direct inverse ratio to what we know of it -Anonymous

12. Historically, the utilization and management of water resources has been pivotal to to the economies and societies of South Asia and so disputes over water has been consistent feature of the politics in the region. If the politics of class have been important in shaping development policies, the politics of federalism has arguably been more decisive. As the cohesiveness of nation-state has given way to a more regionally differentiated polity, particularly in India and Pakistan, political tension over water resources have become more emblematic of the perceived grievances of different provinces. Attempts at resolving these inter dominion rivalries by the national governments have more often than not exacerbated feelings of disadvantage in the respective population.

It is often remarked that ‘history is the mirror of the future’ and hence it will be sacriliege to draw clear and relevant analysis of future course of action to be undertaken by both India and Pakistan to tide over a potential storm in the offing without understanding the geographics and history to the treaty which is a mix of environmental realities mixed with political and ideological intertones of two recently born countries. It has more meaning to Pakistan which has a greater stake in understanding the structure in its entirety as its very nationhood is engulfed in the quagmire.


Geography of the Indus Water Basin

14. The Indus flows through the north-west of both india and Pakistan. It arises within Tibet from a holy lake called Mansarovar ‘the mouth of the lion’. After rising in Tibet, the Indus runs north-west between the Karakoram and the Himalayas. The principal tributaries of the Indus in the west are Kabul and Khurram rivers, while its five main tributaries in the East are the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas rivers. The British laid the foundation of the Indus Basin River System in the late 19th Century. The system existed prior to the British annexation of the area but in a rudimentary form. The irrigation network constructed by the British rule, especially after 1885, was based on perennial canals which were fed from river-spanning weirs and headworks. In the Punjab, two major systems of irrigation were developed — Bari Doab and the Sutlej Valley Project(SVP).

Fig 1. Indus Water Basin in Pakistan


15. Under the British the traditional irrigation system was expanded and modernized. The provincial governments recognized the value of increasing irrigation in terms of increasing coffers and they too wished to continue the development of their own irrigable land. As work progressed, these provinces came to compete for the allocation of water. After the partitioning of India, the dispute, centering on the waters of the River Sutlej, became a potential powder keg with Pakistan, demanding an uninterrupted supply to its existing uses, and India, claiming the waters for its own development.


16. Sind which was part of the Bombay Presidency until 1935, was granted separate status. Regarded as the ‘step-child’ to the Punjab’s ‘golden child’ status in the British nursery, Sind was desperate to achieve development in agriculture to which it came in dispute with then undivided Punjab province over the size of Bhakra Dam on Sutlej River. In 1935, the Government of India, appointed the Anderson Commission which recommended essentially a compromise, whereby losses made in one area were offset by gains made in another, though overall the Punjab was to benefit the most which was rejected by Sind.

17. In October 1939, Sind formally complained and a special commission was convened in September 1941 with quasi-judicial powers called the the Indus Commission which comprised of two Chief Engineers, P F B Hickey and E H Chave, and was chaired by Justice B N Rau . The Commission’s report recommended two barrages to be constructed, the cost of which was to be paid by Punjab. Neither Punjab, nor Sind accepted the Indus Commission’s findings, and both appealed to the central government. The issue was soon to be overwhelmed by the travails and tribulation of partition.

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Partition and Beyond

18. With the Whitehall’s decision for divison of power in India, it was left for the Radcliffe Commission to divide India. American attitudes to partition is best exemplified by this quote “Another consequence of the notorious Radcliffe Award was that power of life and death over Pakistan was put into the hands of a lawyer, rather than those of a skilled topographer and economist.'” The correspondence was from American Consul General, Hooker A. Doolittle, to the Pakistani Secretary of State, January 1949.


19. Though Radcliffe was of the opinion that canal intake at Ferozepur should be under joint control he however, decided to split the canal system, thus awarding headwork to India to canals lying in Pakistan. The Madhopur headworks on the River

Ravi controlled the Upper Bari Doab canal (UBDC), and the Ferozepur headworks on the River Sutlej controlled the Dipalpur and the Eastern Grey canals.

The First Standstill Agreement

20. Relations between the two halves of the Punjab appeared, initially, to be promising. On 20 December 1947, Chief Engineers from East and West Punjab signed a Standstill Agreement. The status quo of supply of water to Pakistan was to continue on the UBDC and the Dipalpur canals. On 1 April 1948, after expiry of the standstill agreement, , East Punjab stopped the flow of water closing the Ferozepur headworks on the River Sutlej affecting the UBDC and the Dipalpur canals. Though East Punjab, in the absence of a formal agreement, was justified legally to suspend supply, its action proved to have far reaching consequences. What was of importance was that this quenched the thirst of the most fertile parts of West Punjab which in turn fed the complete Pakistan. In addition, in terms of timing of the agricultural clock it could not have been worse for West Punjab. The winter crop needed water to be ready for harvesting, and the summer crops needed water to be ready for sowing. The repercussions were felt beyond the fields in the political corridors of New Delhi and and more so in Islamabad wherein the government of Pakistan sensed the extent of its vulnerability to potential Indian arm twisting.

21. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, proposed on 24 April 1948 an Inter-Dominion conference to settle the dispute, and asked for the “immediate restoration of the water supply” . Prime Minister Nehru invited Pakistani PM to visit India to settle outstanding disputes which paved way for Delhi Agreement.

The Inter Dominion Agreement or Delhi Agreement

22. The Inter-Dominion Agreement, also known as the Delhi Agreement, was signed on 4 May 1948. The Inter-Dominion conference in Delhi agreed to restore water to the UBDC and the Dipalpur canals. However, it was also decided that the East Punjab government would gradually diminish supply to these canals for its own use, thereby giving the West Punjab government time to find alternative sources. The West Punjab government agreed, in turn, to pay seigniorage charges for the cost of transporting water through canals in East Punjab, and give its share of any maintenance costs.


23. Even before the ink had dried on the agreement, it became clear, that neither the Delhi Agreement of May 1948 had been unsuccessful in allaying Pakistani fears about its upstream neighbour nor had it put forth a roadmap that could resolve the dispute on the River Sutlej. Due to increasing bellicose attitude of India with regards to increasing height of Bhakra Dam and the survey for Rajasthan Canal, Pakistan started making plans to divert water from the Sutlej, upstream of the Ferozepur headworks. India regarded this as hostile behaviour, and demanded that Pakistan stop the project, because it was perceived that the by-passing of the headworks would reduce the flow to the Indian canals off taking from it. Also Pakistan refused to increase value of the seigniorage to India after the devaluation of Pound Sterling in September 1949. To clear repeated disputed, Pakistan started requesting India to allow the involvement of a third party, specifically the International Court of Justice(ICJ) to which India refused discounting of any third party mediation which Pakistan perceived to be due to unstable Indian position on the issue which would have got defeated in an International forum.

Involvement of Third Parties

24. In September 1950, Indian proposal for a tribunal headed by judges of two countries was refused by Pakistan on the basis that the tribunal did not have an impartial chairman which meant the forum could be used by India to delay resolution of the dispute. Though a legal third party was rejected by India, an alternative intervener was becoming apparent. India and Pakistan had both applied to the World Bank for loans to construct their irrigation works. The Bank, unable to fund projects on the disputed Sutlej River, was willing to assist the countries in resolving their dispute. Thus, after an initial prompting, the World Bank offered its good offices. India and Pakistan accepted its intervention, and this marked the start of the Indus Basin mediation process.


25. The physical wealth of the Indus Basin’s water supply belies a significant problem that hampers use of the waters. The distribution and timing of water flow results in a situation of feast or famine. But the central aspect in the complete argument was the perceived head strong attitude of India by Pakistan. It believed that India was aiming for a much sinister design in the future to choke Pakistan and thus disprove the very ideology of its existence. Each side feared having insufficient water to feed its population. The political representatives of each country possibly, also, feared losing their power base. The scene appeared to be haunted by what would be lost by each side, and not what stood to be gained by mutual cooperation. It was into this arena that the World Bank stepped in to offer its good offices. It was hoped that the stalemate would be broken by this intervention and the new approach of mediation.




Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict. 

— Kofi Annan

Water is fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights.

-The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, 

Environment News Service, 27 Nov 02 


25. The development of Pakistan as a nation is largely dependent on its ability to provide a quality life to her citizens. This particular factor is more or less dependent on its ability to harness agricultural resources in the most economical fashion. The Indus Water Basin is pivotal to this complete affair. It not only provides the bedrock to the most fertile part of Pakistan but also support ancillary resources.


Geography and Climate

26. Pakistan as a country has a landmass of approximately 796 100 km2 and is divided into four provinces, namely the Punjab, Sindh, North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan.

27. The Indus Plain which is the valley of the River Indus covers a large geographical sub-division of Pakistan. It is flanked on the west by the Iranian Plateau (the Sulaiman Mountains and the Kirthar Range), on the north by the Salt Range, and on the east by the Thar Desert. The valley corresponds to about 1000 km along the course of Indus with a width of 350 km in Punjab ad approximately 200 km in the Sindh region.

28. The major land use is for agriculture and rangelands. In 2007, the total cultivated area was approximately 22.3 million hectares which is about 75 percent of the cultivable area. The annual crops accounted for 21.5 million hectares or 96.4 percent and permanent crop consisted of 0.8 million hectares or 3.6 percent.

29. Pakistan lies in the subtropical arid zone and most of the country is subjected to a semi-arid climate.

Economy, Agriculture and Food Security

30. In 2008 Pakistan’s, GDP was US $168 276 million of which agriculture accounted for 20.4 percent. Pakistan also has a near total dependence on agriculture for employment with over 25 million or 40 percent economically active population indulging in it. The impact of possible food insecurity can be realized by the fact that approximately 28 percent of the population is Below Poverty Line as per 2008 estimates.

31. Exports of food group account for 13.2 percent of total exports, or US $2050 million and contributes 26.1 percent to the overall export growth. Pakistan’s primary export is rice which grows in the rich alluvial plains of the Indus Valley. The rice as a staple crop has a high dependency on water vis-à-vis wheat. This is further compounded by increased demands from China and other south-east asian countries which has led to increase in profits for the farmers.


Role of Irrigation in Agricultural Production

32. Irrigation accounts for cultivation or sustainment of nearly 90 percent of all cotton, rice, wheat, sugarcane, fodder, maize grain, fruits, vegetables, freshwater fisheries, dairy livestock. The other traditional agricultural pursuits like grains, pulses, groundnut, sorghum and millets are normally grown under rainfed farming and spate irrigation which are the other models of irrigation. Around 10 percent of the wheat area is under rainfed farming, but this contributes only 5 percent of wheat production. Wheat, pulses and coarse grains are grown under spate irrigation.

33. The total harvested and irrigated crop area was estimated at 21.45 million hectares as per governmental report in 2008. The major irrigated crops in the country are wheat, rice, sugarcane, cotton and fodder. These crops constitute almost 78 percent of the total harvested area and consume 82 percent of the total available water resources. The area under these crops is 16.60 million hectares of which 7.33, 2.52, 1.24, 3.05 and 2.46 million hectares for wheat, rice, sugarcane, cotton and fodder, respectively. Full control irrigated agriculture provides 90 percent of wheat and small grains besides nearly 100 percent of sugarcane, rice, cotton, fruits and vegetables.

The Factor of Rainfall

34. Due to a primarily semi arid climate, Pakistan has a large dependency on Indus Valley to satisfy the food and water requirements of the burgeoning millions. Water remains both the critical and limiting resource for sustained economic development of the country.

35. The average annual precipitation is on an average 494 m, but is uneven over the country. It varies from less than 100 mm in Balochistan and Sindh provinces to more than 1 500 mm in the foothills and northern mountains of Punjab and NWFP. The mean Rabi season rainfall (October to March) varies from less than 50 mm in parts of Sindh province to more than 500 mm in the NWFP. The mean Kharif season rainfall (April to September) varies from less than 50 mm in parts of Balochistan to more than 800 mm in the northern Punjab and NWFP. About 60 percent of the rainfall in the monsoonal climate is received during July to September. The extreme variability in seasonal rainfall has direct impacts on river flows which have rather larger variability during the Rabi and the Kharif seasons. Around 92 percent of the country’s area is classified as semi-arid to arid, facing extreme shortage of precipitation. Most of the irrigated area is classified as semi-arid to arid in climate.


Water resources and its Use

36. The Indus basin covers more than 566 000 km2, or 71 percent of the territory. The river basins outside the Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS), the Makran coast and the Karan closed basin, are flashy in nature and do not have a perennial supply.

37. The Indus basin has a total drainage area of 1.06 million km2, of which 56 percent lies in Pakistan, and the other 44 percent in China, Afghanistan and India. The mean annual inflow into the country through the western rivers (the Indus, including the Kabul tributary, the Jhelum and the Chenab) amounted to 170.27 km3. The mean annual natural inflow into the country through the eastern rivers (the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej) is estimated at 11.1 km3. Given the seasonal nature of the Himalayan runoff, roughly 85 percent of the annual flows are in the Kharif season (summer), and only 15 percent in the Rabi season (winter).

Hydro-electricity Generation

38. In 2005, total dam capacity was estimated at 23.36 km3 . The designed live storage capacity of the 3 large hydropower dams in the Indus Basin ie. Mangla, Tarbela and Chasma is 17.89 km3, representing an overall loss of storage of 22 percent (WB, 2005). Pakistan can barely store 30 days of water in the Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS). Pakistan has a hydroelectric potential of about 50 000 MW primarily from rivers of the Indus, when the whole of Chitral as well as Skardu goes are comprehensively assessed. The Indus River and its tributaries are the main source of water. Its main gorge, between the Skardu and Tarbela, has a potential of almost 30 000 MW. The traditional model of thermal power generation does not have much scope due to lack of high purity coal in Pakistan. Only hydro electricity provide a way forward .

Utilisation of Water

39. The total water withdrawal in Pakistan is estimated at 183.4 km3, of which surface water withdrawal accounts for 121.8 km3 (66.4 percent) and groundwater withdrawal accounts for 61.6 km3 (33.6 percent) as per government report in 2008. Within given figures, water withdrawal by agriculture is estimated at 172.4, or 94 percent of the total water withdrawal. Most summer rains are not available for crop production or recharge to groundwater because of rapid runoff of torrential showers.The overall irrigation efficiency in the IBIS is 40 percent (canal efficiency 75 percent, conveyance efficiency 70 percent and field application efficiency 75 percent). The water lost during conveyance and application largely contributes towards recharging. Hence, any change in water flow in future will directly affect the growth of the country and its ability to support the teeming millions.

Future Roadmap of Government

40. The government plans for Human Index Development is closely integrated with its ability to increase agricultural production which will be the mainstay of its economy in near future. The future water availability has been estimated upto 107.3 and 126.6 MAF in year 2013 and 2025 respectively. Without requisite and assured water supply, food and fibre deficits would be irrecoverable. The future food security seems fragile as a recent government report predicts food, fibre and edible oil shortfall upto 48.5 m Tons in year 2013 if Pakistan is unable to harness adequate water. The water availability would fall short of requirements by 107.3 and 150.8 MAF in years 2013 and 2025 respectively which would reveal a very disastrous scenario indeed. No substantial increase in the water supply is possible in the short run because no dam can be built even if there are no political or other bottlenecks. In other words nothing can be done to reduce water shortages substantially by year 2013. Out of 35 to 40 MAF flowing to the Sea and allowing 10 MAF minimal escapes below Kotri Barrage for environmental and other abstractions, a meager potential of 25 MAF is left for development of surface water resources. Groundwater residual potential of 8 MAF remains to be exploited. So overall remaining water potential both surface and sub-surface resources would be about 33 MAF against additional requirement of 40.3 MAF in the year 2000 and 107.3 MAF in year 2013 respectively. In nutshell there will no water to meet future requirements even if full residual potential are developed by any magic name.


41. Pakistan as a country depends upon water to sustain its economy, human resource and its future roadmap towards a self reliant economy. Indus water including its various tributaries are the bedrock of this foreseeable development matrix. Any shortfall or likely threat to its free flow from India may lead to violent retribution which is expected of any self respecting country in world polity. The very threat or its manifestation may thus rock the thin thread of stability and peace between the two volatile neighbours. This is not only a matter of concern for South Asia but concerns the world as a whole.

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