• What is Indus river treaty?

The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank (then the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). The treaty was signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960 by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru and President of Pakistan Ayub Khan.

According to this agreement, control over the three “eastern” rivers — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej — was given to India, while control over the three “western” rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum — to Pakistan. More controversial, however, were the provisions on how the waters were to be shared. Since Pakistan’s rivers flow through India first, the treaty allowed India to use them for irrigation, transport and power generation, while laying down precise regulations for Indian building projects along the way. The treaty was a result of Pakistani fear that, since the Source Rivers of the Indus basin were in India, it could potentially create droughts and famines in Pakistan, especially at times of war.

Since the ratification of the treaty in 1960, India and Pakistan have not engaged in any water wars. Most disagreements and disputes have been settled via legal procedures, provided for within the framework of the treaty. The treaty is considered to be one of the most successful water sharing endeavours in the world today, even though analysts acknowledge the need to update certain technical specifications and expand the scope of the document to include climate change.[3] As per the provisions in the treaty, India can use only 20% of the total water carried by the Indus River.

How it functions?

The countries agree to exchange data and co-operate in matters related to the treaty. For this purpose, treaty creates the Permanent Indus Commission, with a commissioner appointed by each country. It would follow the set procedure for adjudicating any future disputes arising over the allocation of waters. The Commission has survived three wars and provides an ongoing mechanism for consultation and conflict resolution through inspection, exchange of data and visits.

 India’s grouse


Jammu and Kashmir, State Assembly has often complained about the treaty being “unfair”. At present, India has access to the use of three “eastern” rivers of the Indus — the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, while it is allowed limited use of about 20 per cent of the three ‘western’ rivers — the Indus (Sindhu), Chenab and Jhelum.


  • How the Indus Treaty was signed

Amongst the more prominent of the problems that bedevilled relations between India and Pakistan was the Indus Waters dispute. This was a legacy of the Partition. The line dividing the two Punjab’s cut right across the Indus canal systems developed over a hundred years. Pakistan found that the headwaters of the main canals were on the Indian side of the border. All the five tributaries of the Indus also originated in India and flowed through Indian territory in the upper reaches. Even before Partition, Sindh and Punjab had witnessed wrangles over the sharing of the waters of these rivers.

The situation worsened after the holocaust of the Partition. There were hysterical cries in Pakistan for taking up arms to defend their rights over the waters. Fortunately, an arbiter came forward in the garb of the World Bank that eventually succeeded in thrashing out a settlement. The main credit should go to Eugene Black, the World Bank president.

Demarcating boundaries

While the negotiations about the sharing of the canal waters were going on, officials from both countries were grappling with the demarcation of boundaries that had defied solution all those years. These disputes had arisen over the interpretation of the award of Radcliffe. Two teams were sent out by India to tackle the thorny problem [in 1959]. The discussions the Indians held with their Pakistani counterparts were in a spirit of friendship and cordiality hitherto unheard of in Pakistan. To a large extent, this was due to the fact that the leaders of the respective teams were old friends and college mates from pre-Partition Lahore. The leader on the Indian side was Sardar Swaran Singh; General Khalid Shaikh led the Pakistani team. Once these two men established their rapport, they left the details to their principal advisors: on the Indian side M.J. Desai, and on the other side Sikander Ali Baig. Once it was established that the main purpose of the exercise was to achieve maximum agreement and that neither side was out to steal an unfair advantage, it was easier to work out a solution. It was found that neither India nor Pakistan had an overwhelming case to be made on its stand on a particular dispute. One side gracefully conceded the other’s claim were valid, and that was that. In this way the two negotiating teams were able to settle a number of irritants in this field and pave the way for a period of real détente between the two countries.

However, some [issues] proved to be intractable. One of these was the dispute regarding the Rann of Kutch. As neither side gave way, it was decided to leave it for further negotiations through routine diplomatic channels. Subsequently, Pakistan was to take the law into its own hands and send a raiding force into the territory only to be halted by Indian Army units. The dispute was then put to international arbitration, as a result of which India agreed to give up a part of the disputed area to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Ayub Khan had taken another bold step. This was the decision to stop over at Palam airport in New Delhi [in September, 1959] during one of his periodic visits to Dacca, to meet the Indian Prime Minister. He was no doubt prompted to do so by Rajeshwar Dayal, the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan who had received prior approval from Delhi. The Pakistani President deserves full credit for following it through with good grace and aplomb. The Palam meeting, that lasted for nearly two hours, went well. At the end, a brief statement was issued in which the leaders emphasised the need to conduct relations in a rational and planned manner. It was also agreed that outstanding issues should be settled in accordance with justice and fair play, in a spirit of friendliness and cooperation. Later, when speaking to the Press, Ayub Khan stressed the need for re-appraisals, for forgetting and forgiving, and for a more realistic and rational approach to settling disputes that had tarnished relations between the two neighbour states. For a few moments, the ice seemed to be broken. Right-thinking people on both sides appeared to heave a sigh of relief.

  • Nehru’s visit to Pakistan

Soon it was clear that bigger things were in the offing. The protracted negotiations about the distribution of the canal waters were drawing to a close. The agreement on the canal waters was the biggest single achievement to date between the two countries, and it was decided to have it signed with due pomp and show. This provided an appropriate opportunity for the Indian Prime Minster to reciprocate Ayub Khan’s stopover at Palam and to demonstrate the friendly relations that were developing between the two countries. The historic visit of Pandit Nehru from September 19 to September 23, 1960, was to be his last visit to Pakistan.

While the arrangements of the visit were under discussion, Rajeshwar Dayal had to leave Pakistan. The task of organising Panditji’s visit fell on my shoulders. Fortunately, I had very able colleagues to help me.

Prime Minister Nehru’s visit commenced on a rather low key. The welcome at Karachi was formal and correct, but not enthusiastic. The decorations along the route from the airport to the presidential palace were minimal. By contrast, a lot of the local populace had gathered along the streets to have a glimpse of Panditji. But they did not cheer him. It was evident that the military authorities had ordained it that way.

The same evening was the signing of the Indus Waters Treaty. This was done with due decorum and solemnity. Nehru signed on behalf of India, Ayub Khan on behalf of Pakistan, and William Iliff, the vice-president of the World Bank, on behalf of the Bank. The treaty was based on the principle that after a transitional period of 10 years, extendable to 13 at the request of Pakistan, the three eastern rivers, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, would be exclusively allocated to India, while the western rivers, Indus, Jhelum and Chenab, would be allocated exclusively to Pakistan except for certain limited uses by India in the upstream areas. During the transition period, Pakistan would undertake a system of works, part of which would replace from the western rivers such irrigation uses in Pakistan as had hitherto been met from the eastern rivers. While the system of works was under construction, India would continue to supply water from the eastern rivers according to the agreed programme. The Indus works programme was estimated to cost around $1,070 million, of which $870 million was to be spent in Pakistan. It was a colossal undertaking.

Once the signing ceremony was over everyone breathed a sigh of relief. What had been an insurmountable problem was out of the way. Could one proceed to other items on the agenda? This was the nagging question that troubled the advisers on either side. Panditji had brought a team of advisers that included Desai, the Commonwealth Secretary, an able administrator, and a tough negotiator. Ayub Khan had great respect for his abilities.

However, the discussions that followed proved to be desultory and unproductive. It was clear that neither side was prepared for any major concessions. We talked primarily of trade between the two countries and for cooperation in economic spheres. A number of ideas were thrown out. Ayub Khan in a generous mood offered to divert the waters of the Indus River to the parched areas of Rajasthan by erecting a barrage in the lower reaches of the river; also to supply the Sui natural gas from Baluchistan to the Bombay area.

The Indian side in its turn agreed to consider sympathetically the proposal enabling Pakistan to run a through-train across India connecting Lahore and Dacca. Even cooperation and co-ordination in the military fields came under discussion. India expressed concern about Chinese activities on the northern border of Kashmir and emphasised the concern they felt about a possible threat to Pakistan also from them.

Ayub Khan, without batting an eyelid, shook his head gravely and promised to study the question with his military advisors. Little did the Indian side suspect that Pakistan would be handing over to the Chinese sizeable chunks of the territory in the northern part of Kashmir in return for China’s support of Pakistan’s claim for the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir.

In fact, all our bilateral discussions and grandiose schemes came to practically nothing because of Pakistan’s insistence that India should make substantial concessions with regard to Kashmir. Thereby ended another chapter in the unfulfilled agenda of cooperation between India and Pakistan.


Under the present circumstances, what can India do to achieve strategic & political goals?


The government has decided to build more run-of-the-river hydropower projects on western rivers, to exploit the full potential of 18,600 MW (current projects come to 11,406 MW) and to expedite the construction of the Pakal Dul, Sawalkot, Bursar dams in Jammu and Kashmir A decision has been taken to review restarting the Tulbul navigation project that India had suspended after Pakistan’s objections in 1987.

  1. LOW INTENSITY “water wars” can take place, putting a sense into pakistastan’s wayward thinking. “Concerns over water security are brewing. Some say that there will be wars between countries over water,” adding that scientists must come up with solutions to ensure that water can be used more efficiently and land used better to improve crop varieties.
  2. MAKE GOOD THE LAPSES – The treaty has not consideredGujaratstate in India as part of the Indus river basin. The Indus river is entering the Great Rann of Kutch area and feeding in to Kori Creek during floods. At the time of the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, the Great Rann of Kutch area was disputed territory between the two nations which was later settled in the year 1968 by sharing total disputed area in 9:1 ratio between India and Pakistan. Without taking consent from India, Pakistan has constructed Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) project passing through the Great Rann of Kutch area with the assistance from the world bank. LBOD’s purpose is to bypass the saline and polluted water which is not fit for agriculture use to reach sea via Rann of Kutch area without passing through its Indus delta. Water released by the LBOD is enhancing the flooding in India and contaminating the quality of water bodies which are source of water to salt farms spread over vast area.  The LBOD water is planned to join the sea via disputed Sir Creek but LBOD water is entering Indian territory due to many breaches in its left bank caused by floodsGujarat state of India being the lower most riparian part of Indus basin, Pakistan is bound to provide all the details of engineering works taken up by Pakistan to India as per the provisions of the treaty and shall not proceed with the project works till the disagreements are settled by arbitration process


1. From the rivers flowing in India, India got nearly 33 million acre feet (MAF) from eastern rivers whereas Pakistan got nearly 125 MAC from western rivers. However India can use the western river waters for irrigation up to 701,000 acres with new water storage capacity not exceeding 1.25 MAF and use the rivers for run of river hydro power generation with storage not exceeding 1.6 MAF and nominal flood storage capacity of 0.75 MAF.

2. The water allocations made to the J&K state of India are meagre to meet its irrigation water requirements whereas the treaty permitted enough water to irrigate 80% of the cultivated lands in the Indus river basin of Pakistan.

3. The storage capacity permitted by the treaty for hydro power generation is less than the total annual silt that would accumulate in the reservoirs if the total hydro potential of the state was to be exploited fully. Ultimately, J&K state is bound to resort costly de-silting of its reservoirs to keep them operational. Whereas Pakistan is planning to build multipurpose water reservoirs with massive storage for impounding multiyear inflows such as 4,500 MW Diamer-Bhasha Dam, 3,600 MW Kalabagh Dam, 600 MW Akhori Dam project with huge population resettlement. Pakistan is also losing additional benefits by not permitting moderate water storages in upstream J&K state whose water would be ultimately released to the Pakistan for its use and avoid few dams requirement in its territory. It is totally unfounded that water deluge / flooding from the reservoirs by the upstream state would cause any appreciable damage in the Pakistan territory after passing through the steep valleys of J&K state.

  • The best among limited options

In the early dawn of September 18, Pakistani irregulars belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) attacked an Army camp in the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir, killing 18 jawans and inflicting grievous casualties on many more. The fidayeen were able to breach the Line of Control as also the camp’s security, employing a combination of incendiary grenades and close-quarter weapons to inflict heavy casualties.

Questions are being raised as to how this could happen when Jammu and Kashmir was on maximum alert — this being one of the worst periods in the State’s history since the 1990s. This is, however, not the time for introspection on security breaches and failures; there are far more serious matters on hand.

Uri and the UN

The Uri attack had an eerie similarity to the attack on the Pathankot Air Force base in January this year, in which seven security personnel were killed. Lessons from that incident obviously have not filtered down. What is significant is that the JeM was responsible for both attacks. The JeM — even more than the Lashkar-e-Taiba — is the handmaiden of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It obeys implicitly, and acts directly on, the directions of the ISI. There is, hence, a message in the latest attack, coming as it does straight from the deepest recesses of the ‘Pakistani Deep State’.

The timing is hardly fortuitous. The carefully planned attack — with intelligence obviously provided by the ISI — was timed to coincide with the debate in the UN General Assembly (featuring both Pakistan’s Prime Minister and India’s External Affairs Minister), thus helping rivet world attention to an otherwise hardy annual event. Whatever be the nature of evidence produced by India, Pakistan will still remain in denial.

The question is: quo vadis, India-Pakistan relations? Tensions remain high on both sides. All of India feels that mere impotent rage and euphuistic excesses are insufficient. There is clamour for action, all the more because the present government had come into office promising strong action against Pakistan after accusing the United Progressive Alliance government of pusillanimity vis-à-vis the neighbour. The shoe is now on the other foot, and the wearer is since learning where the shoe pinches.

Words options & actions

Strong words had similarly accompanied the attack on the Indian Parliament (2001) and ‘Operation Parakram’ (2001-02) in the wake of the Kargil conflict. Policymakers at that time had been compelled to step back subsequently on account of the prevailing international climate.

India faced a similar dilemma following the multiple terror attacks in Mumbai city on November 26, 2008, in which over 170 people were killed. Pakistan’s perfidy was clearly proven in this instance, following the live capture of one of the attackers. Yet — and despite the fact that many of the attack victims were foreigners — deciding on a coherent response that would adhere to international ‘best practices’ had proved difficult.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (at the time headed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) had examined and considered several options. It was not pusillanimity, but mature judgment based on a cost-effective analysis, that led to the withholding of ‘direct action’ in the form of an overt attack on Pakistani targets. A mature nation like India could hardly afford to function like a ‘rogue state’, viz. Pakistan.

Mature response the Key

The need for caution is even more imperative today, as not only is the world more interconnected and events in any one region do have a geopolitical impact, but the stakes for India as one of the world’s leading economic powers have become considerable. It is, hence, necessary to temper the voices being heard about paying Pakistan back in its own coin, that strategic restraint is passé, and that the government must exercise the military option. Many former members of the armed forces are seen indulging in rhetoric that verge on ‘jingoism’. This could prove dangerous at a time when emotions are running high. Pakistan’s military is anxious to engage in a conflict not so much to assess its own capabilities, but to gauge how soon the world and its allies like China would step in and internationalise the conflict, including issues such as Kashmir.

The foremost issue before India, at present, would thus be whether to maintain diplomatic relations with Pakistan at the existing level or not. It is important to recognise, however, that while we can choose our friends, we cannot select our neighbours. Once diplomatic relations are broken, healing the rift will become still more difficult.

The next issue for India would be whether it is possible to impose a heavy economic burden on Pakistan. The inherent weakness in any such step is that few nations would be willing to follow India’s lead and, treating Pakistan as an outcast, impose an economic blockade on that country. Pakistan has every reason to be certain that China would not go along with any such Indian initiative. Apart from this, Pakistan’s importance vis-à-vis China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, and the criticality of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in China’s overall geostrategic plans make it highly unlikely that China would take sides against Pakistan. Other Asian nations, including members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), may also be less than willing to take sides in a conflict of this kind.

Utmost care again needs to be taken when considering any military option. Pakistan may be a ‘basket case’ approximating to North Korea, but like the latter it is a ‘militarised’ state which has ‘nuclear teeth’. In 2008, India did not exercise the military option not due to any fears of a possible nuclear conflict, but because of the futility of resorting to any such step as it was likely to be indeterminate. The decision to eschew the military option was based on mature consideration of all facts available at that time. In retrospect, it greatly added to India’s prestige, instead of the country being equated with a ‘rogue state’ like Pakistan. India also won the ‘perception war’, gaining international support and sympathy, while Pakistan was consigned to the position of an ‘international outcast’.

Sober reflection not Strike

Sub-military options available to India to put pressure on Pakistan are not too many. In 2008, after the Mumbai attacks, similar suggestions had been made by some experts from outside the government. These were not considered viable, as merely hitting a few terrorist training camps inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was hardly likely to hurt Pakistan. At the time, India lacked the capability to carry out spectacular raids like the one by the Israel Defense Forces at Entebbe and German GSG 9 forces in Mogadishu in the 1970s or the taking out of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad by the U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011.

The reality is that India’s security agencies, including the armed forces, still do not have adequate capabilities of this kind — notwithstanding claims to the contrary. The Army, the Navy and the Air Force do have their Special Forces, but unlike the U.K.’s Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS), the Green Berets and SEALs of the U.S., Germany’s GSG 9 and Russia’s Spetsnaz, these are primarily intended for military operations ‘behind the lines’ during a period of war. They are not capable of any independent operation. The Special Frontier Force has some capability for very limited operations and in specified circumstances. The National Security Guard, though raised as a counter-terrorist force, is not in the same league as the GSG 9.

All this should induce sober reflection. India is, of course, in a position to engage in a ‘water war’ with Pakistan, to deprive Pakistan of water from the Indus river. This would, of course, mean reneging on India’s international obligations under the Indus Waters Treaty.

Perhaps, India’s best option would be to engage in cyber sabotage and cyberwarfare, hiding behind the plausible deniability available in such attacks. Our capacity in this area is considerable, and it should be possible to engage in extensive cyber sabotage and cyber warfare to bring Pakistan to its knees. This may be worth examining, instead of adopting ‘tit for tat’ methods with a ‘rogue’ nation.


  • The two NSAs must meet

The fidayeen attack, reportedly by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists, on an Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday morning is a very serious provocation. As we know, Pakistan does this periodically, whether it was theKaluchak attack of May 2002 or the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. In fact, the Kaluchak attack was very similar — the death toll crossed 30, and in fact, families of officers and jawans too were killed. That attack, in the summer of 2002, broke the proverbial camel’s back.

The background to the Uri attack is the high-pitched rhetoric from the Pakistani establishment, and it is interesting to note that this change came in the wake of the Panama Papers exposure that weakened Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif politically. Till then there was a good chemistry between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Sharif. The Panama Papers isolated him politically, and made him vulnerable vis-à-vis the military. Subsequently, you heard uncharacteristically aggressive rhetoric from him on Kashmir, and on Burhan Wani’s killing. It seemed to go against the grain, and that he was under pressure was evident. To this escalation in rhetoric, India brought up Baluchistan.

Raising the stakes

For whatever reason, Pakistan has chosen to dangerously raise the stakes with the Uri attack. It is the worst attack on the Indian Army by Pakistan-backed terrorists since Kaluchak more than a decade ago, and the Prime Minister had no option but to say that the strike would not go unpunished.

Looking at past provocations, such as Kargil and the Parliament and Mumbai attacks, we have often used diplomatic pressure, and on most occasions it has worked. After Uri, Mr. Modi has said India will isolate Pakistan internationally, and there is some merit in going down that route. For instance, after the Parliament attack of December 2001, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government downgraded diplomatic relations with Pakistan. This option is now on the table.

There is also talk of a surgical strike. These things have been thought of in the past too, and obviously this is a call the government has to take, all things considered. However, here two things are not in India’s favour. One, relations with Pakistan is already not good; and it may sound strange to say this, but surgical strikes work when bilateral relations are better.

Two, we currently have a mess in Kashmir. Normal life has been thrown out of gear for more than two months, the death toll continues to rise, and the government and security forces are not able to break the cycle of protests. The fallout of rising bilateral tensions would be to encourage the boys — or militants — in south Kashmir. Kashmir needs to be dealt with separately, not in conjunction with our relationship with Pakistan. We have already wasted too much time, and containment is never going to be enough. We did contain the situation in the 1990s. But there cannot be a solution through containment by the security forces. It’s a political matter. All this is an aside, and may not be directly related to our response to Uri, but it is part of the backdrop.


Better sense needed

The fallout of Uri is not looking very good, and I hope better sense will prevail in Pakistan. There is talk of the DGMOs (Directors General of Military Operations) talking, but that is a formality. Information may be shared, but as we saw after the Pathankot attack earlier this year, and after the Mumbai attacks, nothing is likely to come out of this.

There is a more serious dialogue needed. I am, instead, hopeful that the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of both countries are talking to each other. This is a serious juncture, and I would hope that they will meet somewhere — it does not have to be in the media spotlight. India has some stern lecturing and questioning to do. Pakistan has some explaining to do, and the onus is on Islamabad to help us all get out of a mess that is of their making. The two countries have already done away with the backchannel — the NSAs, who reportedly have a good rapport, are the only backchannel of sorts that we still have. They must meet. And after that New Delhi must do what it has to do.

After the Mumbai attacks, there were reports that the Director General, Inter-Services Intelligence, would be sent to India. Even at the time, the idea seemed a bit unrealistic, and eventually he did not come. But had he come, it might have soothed public opinion. Something out of the usual, out of the ordinary, is needed today.

Meanwhile, suggestions that the Prime Minister should call off his scheduled visit to Pakistan for the SAARC summit are premature. There is plenty of time to take a considered view on that. This is not the right time.

Uri, however, is a reminder that India needs a long-term strategic policy on Pakistan. And in the immediate aftermath, the government should do what it needs to do, without saying too much — else, things you may have nothing to do with get attributed to you.

By holding a meeting on the Indus Waters Treaty and scheduling another later this week on MFN (Most Favoured Nation) status to Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has signalled his intent to examine all the non-military options before the government for a strong response to the Uri attack. “Blood and Water cannot flow together,” he is reported to have said. However, after the meeting, officials made it clear that the IWT will hold, at least for the moment. Instead, the Centre drew up a list of measures to optimise use of the Indus waters, that India has so far failed to do. The fact is that abrogating the IWT is a non-starter as an option, and the holding of the meeting at this juncture ill-considered. For one, it confused the message in Mr. Modi’s Kozhikode speech, appealing to Pakistani citizens’ better instincts to “wage a war on poverty”. More important, the 1960 treaty for the Indus and five tributaries flowing from India to Pakistan was brokered by the World Bank (then, the IBRD), and has held through wars and conflicts along the Line of Control. Revoking it would threaten regional stability and India’s credibility globally. It remains unclear what India intends to do with the “western” rivers in question beyond the short-term plan to irrigate Jammu and Kashmir’s fields better. Dams required to hold the course of the tributaries of the Indus to alter water levels to Pakistan dramatically would take more than a decade to build. Given the environmental and geopolitical consequences of such actions, they are unlikely to elicit any international funding.

It is clear that the Centre didn’t think through its next steps when it declared with a grand flourish, amplified by frenzied television headlines, that the Prime Minister would “review” the Treaty. But it did limit the potential damage by bringing down the heated rhetoric with a rational analysis on the Treaty. It would be wise if India proceeds with a sense of pragmatic caution in making further statements on Pakistan — for instance, revoking the MFN status will hardly punish Pakistan’s economy given the low levels of bilateral trade. Terrorist attacks such as the one at Uri require a combination of measured but firm responses, rather than weighing every option in full public view. India cannot also ignore the fact that the Uri attack has exposed the need to shore up its defences. As India has realised time and again, its response to provocation must carry the message that the country is dependable and not given to irrational, irresponsible actions that its neighbour is often prone to.