India must play pro-active role on Indus Waters Treaty (IANS Interview)


By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, Feb 27 : The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) brokered between India and Pakistan by the World Bank in 1960 has weathered three wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999 — as also the September 2016 attack by four heavily armed terrorists that resulted in the death of 19 soldiers and the four attackers and was “the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in two decades”.

The IWT will continue to “chug along” and the “best option for India, which the current government is following after mulling the option of abrogation, is to optimise/maximise the provisions of the Treaty,” Uttam Kumar Sinha, one of India’s leading commentators on trans-boundary water issues, told IANS in an interview on his new book,” Indus Basin Uninterrupted — A History of Territory & Politics from Alexander to Nehru” (Penguin Vintage).

“There is no advantage for India to abrogate the Treaty. Water will continue to flow irrespective unless structures are constructed on the rivers that store the water and that will take several decades,” he adds.

“Technically, the IWT has no exit clause, so there is no question of ‘renegotiations’. However, Article XII (3) and (4) of the Treaty provide for modification of treaty provisions BUT through a “duly ratified treaty” which will replace the present one with the condition that cannot be abrogated unilaterally.

“Politically this is difficult to achieve. Pakistan knows very well that the Treaty of 1960 is as good as it can get and any ‘modified’ treaty will only harm its interest. It will continue to make noises (both domestically and internationally) about India’s hegemonic motives to keep the anti-India feeling alive,” Sinha maintains, adding that the Treaty and its provisions “not only gives Pakistan the water it requires but on account of being a lower riparian vis-a-vis India, it builds a global sympathy as a victim of India’s hydro-aggression”.

At the same time, India needs to take corrective measures, he said.

“On the eastern rivers much of the waters in non-monsoon period (about 0.58 MAF) flow freely into Pakistan. This has to be arrested and for that the three projects Ujh (storage of 0.82 MAF) and Shahpurkandi Dam (0.012 MAF) and second Ravi Vyas Link Project have been put into fast track.

“On the western rivers the ‘permissible storage capacity’ as per the Treaty provisions has not been paid serious attention in India. This again has to be seriously corrected,” Sinha writes.

Noting that the current government “has put many projects on the Chenab river like the Bursar and Gypsa on fast track,” he contends that “many more projects would be required to fulfil the provision of 2.7 MAF of storage water on the western rivers”.

“But most importantly, India has to build widespread awareness about Pakistan’s strategy to stall or delay multi-purpose projects among the people of Jammu and Kashmir and harness the displeasure of the local political leadership about the provisions of IWT. At the end of the day water is equally about perception,” Sinha explains.

The framers of the Treaty had foreseen that differences and disputes will emerge, he says, adding that “the beauty of the Treaty lies in the ‘Settlement mechanism’ within the Treaty (vide Article IX and attendant Annexures F and G) in three different ways.”

“Resolution of any differences through (i) mutual consultations in the Permanent Indus Water Commission established under the Treaty; (ii) through a Neutral Expert acceptable to both or appointed by the World Bank in case of disagreement, and (iii) resolution of any ‘dispute’ by a Court of Arbitration,” Sinha writes, accusing Pakistan of using “these provisions on numerous occasions to obstruct many projects being planned by India, well within the treaty provisions”.

Beginning with “Ageing of India’s History, the 353-page book, in five parts, with an easy narration and rich archival material, brings alive a meandering 5,000-year journey of peace, conflict and commerce on the Indus basin, exploring “Diplomacy and Commerce on the Indus”, “Colonisation, Canals and Contestation”, “Partition of Land and Rivers” and finally, “The Making of the Indus Waters Treaty”.

Along the way, from Alexander’s campaign to Mohammad-bin-Qasim crossing the Indus and laying the foundation of Muslim rule in India; from the foreign invades and their ‘loot and scoot’ to the Mughal rulers’ perspective on hydrology and water use; from the British ‘great game’ on the Indus basin to the bitter and bloody Partition; and finally, as a historical pause, the signing of the IWT, this book is a spectrum of spectacular events, turning points, and of personalities and characters and their actions that were full of marvel.

As the author notes in the Preface, “it is a frightening acknowledgement that the Indus basin, with its richness and impetuosity, can be so all-pervasive, defining history, ordering territories, attracting invaders and in many senses, determining the way of life and the politics around it. Much, of course is known of this vast basin, yet much is unknown . It is time, perhaps, as we mark sixty years of the Indus Water Treaty, ‘to talk of many things’ as the Walrus said to the Carptner in Lewis Carrol’s ‘Through a Looking Glass’” and this the book does in abundant measure.

After a brief stint in the print media and doctoral degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University, he joined the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (now renamed the Manohar Parrikar-IDSA) where he heads the non-territorial security centre and is the Managing Editor of “Strategic Analysis” the institute’s flagship journal.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at


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