What’s behind the rivals’ latest spat over water rights along their shared rivers?
Thursday, February 23, 2023 / By: Daniel Haines
Publication Type: Analysis and Commentary
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On January 25, India sent a notice to Pakistan demanding the modification of the Indus Waters Treaty. Pakistan has so far refused to engage. The treaty, which India, Pakistan and the World Bank originally signed in 1960, allocates rights over the waters of several rivers in the Indus Basin to India and Pakistan.
Analysts have often thought of the treaty as a high point in the two countries’ otherwise fraught bilateral relationship. But discontent in both countries has been growing — and this is not the first time that India and Pakistan have publicly clashed over the treaty.
The engineering questions at stake are highly technical, and so are the processes that the treaty lays out for addressing them. But the core of the problem is that India wants to build hydropower projects on the Rivers Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. Under the treaty, Pakistan can make free use of their waters. But the treaty imposes limits on what India, located upstream, can do with them. Pakistan wants to ensure that India’s dam designs fit within its own interpretation of the treaty’s provisions.
Rising Tensions in the Indus Basin
The two sides have been making conflicting arguments about water use since the mid-2000s. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has taken a tougher public line on water-sharing with Pakistan since assuming power in 2014. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi even said in 2019 that India would stop “every drop” of water in the Rivers Ravi, Sutlej and Beas — which the Indus Waters Treaty assigns to Indian uses — from flowing into Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has invoked the treaty’s disagreement resolution provisions three times. The first time, Pakistan asked the World Bank to appoint a neutral expert to address concerns that a planned hydropower project on the Chenab River in India-administered Kashmir would give Indian engineers a greater degree of control over the river’s flow than the treaty allowed. The neutral expert approved India’s plans in 2007, presenting his ruling as being in line with current best practice in sediment management.
Pakistan then asked the World Bank to convene a court of arbitration to opine on India’s plans for a hydroelectric project on the Kishenganga-Neelum, a tributary of the Jhelum River. The court’s verdict in 2013 did not fully side with either country — a result that has left Indian officials frustrated as they await a definitive resolution.
Finally, the main trigger for India’s current disgruntlement is Pakistan’s objections to another Indian dam on the Chenab, the Ratle project. Construction is slated to begin soon. Pakistan first asked the World Bank to appoint another court of arbitration on these matters in 2016, while India wanted to refer to a neutral expert instead. Much to the annoyance of Indian officials, the World Bank initiated both processes simultaneously in 2017 and appointed key personnel in October 2022. Indian officials have now threatened to disregard any interim findings of the arbitration court amid their demand to modify the treaty.
India’s Demand Moves Treaty into Uncharted Territory
While India and Pakistan have clashed over the treaty before, India’s latest missive is different. India has made its demand to modify the treaty through the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC), the bilateral body which implements the treaty and discusses problems. This suggests that the Indian government has intentions beyond rhetorical grandstanding, as neither side has previously used the formal mechanism of the PIC to call for changes to the treaty text itself.
It is not clear exactly what India wants, or expects, to achieve. Reportedly, India has specifically asked Pakistan to renegotiate the terms of dispute resolution. Indian government spokespeople have claimed that Pakistan’s “intransigence” has forced their move. But if India wants Pakistan to agree to new terms that favor India, when Pakistan is already fighting hard to prevent India from gaining advantages under the current terms, what realistic incentive is there for Pakistan to come to the negotiating table?
Of course, Indian leaders might be betting that their upstream advantage over Pakistan, coupled with a good dose of bellicosity, will scare Islamabad into submission. They might even be looking for an excuse to repudiate the treaty and press on with upstream project development, willing to accept whatever reputational cost might follow.
Either of these intentions could prove to be serious misjudgments. Pakistan’s leaders are under no illusions about India’s riparian advantage, and their hardline stance on the treaty has always been a product of fear. The international dispute over Indus waters began in 1948, when engineers in East Punjab shut off water supplies to an important Pakistani canal. Ever since, political narratives in Pakistan have cast the struggle for Indus waters as a matter of national survival. If India abrogates the treaty unilaterally, Pakistani leaders could view it as a deliberate attempt to destroy the country.
Meanwhile, the domestic costs of being seen to make concessions to India through renegotiation would be too high to bear for any Pakistani leadership. Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s administration is already dealing with a huge economic crisis and has precious little political capital to expend on mollifying India.
So, the chances that Pakistan will agree to make substantive modifications to the treaty right now are slim. It is also unlikely that India will seek to unilaterally axe the treaty. Particularly now, as India hosts international leaders and journalists for a year of G20 meetings, the BJP will not want to risk sparking a potentially embarrassing conflict with its neighbor. It seems more likely that India is using the Permanent Indus Commission to express displeasure to Pakistan, and perhaps to the World Bank — trying to show that is losing patience both with Pakistan’s objections and what India sees as the Bank’s refusal to back India’s position.
A Volatile Geopolitical Bargaining Chip
More broadly, the demand could be useful to India as a bargaining chip as it seeks to maintain pressure on Pakistan over other matters.
In 2018, the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey-listed Pakistan after finding its action against terrorism financing was too weak. India’s external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, claimed credit for keeping Pakistan on the list in 2021, but the FATF de-listed Pakistan last October. New Delhi might view its call for modification of the Indus Waters Treaty as a useful way to keep up pressure on Pakistan, which India views, in Jaishankar’s words, as an “epicentre of terrorism.”
Almost certainly, India’s political leadership stands to gain domestically from taking a tough line on Pakistan. The BJP is already in campaigning mode for the 2024 general election. In 2019, the party used Modi’s decision to authorize an airstrike in Pakistani territory after a terrorist attack in India-administered Kashmir to showcase his strong-man credentials before national elections that swept the BJP back to power.
If the 90-day deadline which India has set passes without a Pakistani response, India will have to take some kind of action or risk looking weak. The 2019 airstrike and Pakistan’s kinetic response seems to have lowered the bar for violent conflict. Rivers are not armies, and water security experts have shown that “water wars” are virtually unprecedented in the past and unlikely in the foreseeable future, including in South Asia. But a breakdown in hydro-diplomacy could feed into a wider deterioration in bilateral relations, perhaps putting the hard-won cease-fire in Kashmir at risk.
Even India’s international leadership ambitions, which mean it wants to be seen as a responsible power, might not constrain aggressive action on the rivers. Discarding the treaty could harm India’s international reputation, but the BJP has consistently prioritized domestic politics over international opinion. Leaders have pushed back hard against criticism of changes to the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir and new laws that are widely seen as targeting Muslims.
Perhaps New Delhi would declare itself free to press ahead with upstream construction, undermining the treaty even if the text does not change. The World Bank has helped address differences in the past, but an Indian government source has reportedly said that New Delhi wants to prevent “third parties” from intervening in Indus Basin water management.
One hopes that New Delhi has not boxed itself into a dangerous corner.
Daniel Haines is an associate professor of environmental history at the University of Bristol and the author of “Rivers Divided: Indus Basin Waters in the Making of India and Pakistan.”
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Wednesday, February 8, 2023
By: Sameer P. Lalwani, Ph.D.; Daniel Markey, Ph.D.; Tamanna Salikuddin; Vikram J. Singh
One month into 2023, and India is well underway with preparations for a pivotal year. In the coming 11 months, India is expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation (and by some estimates already has), and to continue on a trajectory of rapid economic growth. In assuming the presidencies of both the G-20 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), India is set to host leaders from across the globe as the country prepares for its own general elections in 2024. With all eyes on India, New Delhi may be increasingly sensitive to global perceptions of how it handles possible shocks — external or internal — ranging from escalation on its borders to incidents of communal violence.
Type: Analysis and Commentary
Economics; Global Policy
The Persistent Threat of Nuclear Crises Among China, India and Pakistan
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
By: Daniel Markey, Ph.D.
Southern Asia — India, Pakistan and China — is the only place on earth where three nuclear-armed states have recently engaged in violent confrontations along their contested borders. As a USIP senior study group report concluded last year, the problem of nuclear stability in Southern Asia is getting harder to manage because of geopolitical changes, such as rising India-China border tensions, as well as evolving military technologies, including growing nuclear arsenals and more capable delivery systems. Unfortunately, in the time since that senior study group completed its work, little has happened to revise its worrisome conclusion or to prevent the most likely triggering causes of a nuclearized crisis in Southern Asia. To the contrary, there are some good reasons to fear that the situation in Southern Asia has even deteriorated over the past year.
Type: Analysis and Commentary
; Global Policy
Sameer Lalwani on the Future of U.S.-India Relations
Monday, January 30, 2023
By: Sameer P. Lalwani, Ph.D.
The United States and India have a common cause in their tensions with China, as well as a “natural partnership” on technology investments, says USIP’s Sameer Lalwani. But India remains noncommittal when it comes to Russia’s war on Ukraine: “They’ve concluded that they need Russia to stick around.”
Another Clash on the India-China Border Underscores Risks of Militarization
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
By: Sameer P. Lalwani, Ph.D.; Daniel Markey, Ph.D.; Vikram J. Singh
On December 9, hundreds of Indian and Chinese forces clashed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the roughly 2,100 miles contested boundary that separates northern India from China. Neither side used firearms, and no deaths were reported, but both Indian and Chinese forces sustained injuries. The skirmish was the worst since the summer of 2020, when deadly fighting in the Galwan Valley led to the most significant border escalation in over four decades. In the wake of those 2020 clashes, India and China held 17 rounds of military talks — but have been unable to reach terms for disengagement across key areas of the disputed border.
Type: Analysis and Commentary
What is one of the causes of water conflict between India and Pakistan? ›
India and Pakistan had a dispute over the sharing of water rights to the Indus River and its tributaries in April 1948, about eight months after their independence.How do India and Pakistan share Indus water? ›
India has about 20% of the total water carried by the Indus system while Pakistan has 80%. The treaty allows India to use the western river waters for limited irrigation use and unlimited non-consumptive use for such applications as power generation, navigation, floating of property, fish culture, etc.What land are India and Pakistan fighting for? ›
The Kashmir conflict is a territorial conflict over the Kashmir region, primarily between India and Pakistan and also between China and India in northeastern portion of the region.How does the Indus River affect Pakistan? ›
The Indus provides the key water resources for the economy of Pakistan - especially the breadbasket of Punjab province, which accounts for most of the nation's agricultural production, and Sindh. It also supports many heavy industries and provides the main supply of potable water in Pakistan.What is the biggest problem between India and Pakistan? ›
Major conflicts between India and Pakistan, War of1947 and War of 1965, and a small-scale Kargil War in 1999, were triggered by conflict over the border of Kashmir. While both nations have held a shaky cease-fire agreement since 2003, they continue to trade fire across the disputed area.What are three major causes of conflict between India and Pakistan? ›
Reasons for conflicts are border dispute, Kashmir problem, Water dispute and terror controversy.What was concluded between India and Pakistan in the Indus Water Treaty? ›
The treaty gives India 20% of the water from the Indus River System and the rest 80% to Pakistan. In executing any scheme of flood protection or flood control each country(India/Pakistan) will avoid, as far as practicable, any material damage to the other country.Why Indus Basin treaty was signed between India and Pakistan? ›
A dispute thus arose between two countries regarding the utilization of irrigation water from existing facilities. Negotiations held under the good offices of International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), culminated in the signing of Indus Waters Treaty in 1960.Why is Indus important to Pakistan? ›
The Indus is the most important supplier of water resources to the Punjab and Sindh plains – it forms the backbone of agriculture and food production in Pakistan. The river is especially critical since rainfall is meagre in the lower Indus valley.What if India and Pakistan went to war? ›
If India and Pakistan were to each target urban centres in the opposing country with 250 100-kiloton nuclear weapons, which they are believed to possess, about 127 million people in South Asia would be killed by explosions, fires and radiation, the study found.
What did Pakistan and India used to be called? ›
India in 1947, before the partition, included the modern Republic of India, along with the land that became Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Republic of Bangladesh.Which war did Pakistan won from India? ›
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 or the Second Kashmir War was a culmination of skirmishes that took place between April 1965 and September 1965 between Pakistan and India.What are the issues of Indus River Basin? ›
The viability of irrigated agriculture in the Indus Basin is threatened by a multitude of factors, including seepage from unlined canals, waterlogging and soil salinization; poor on-farm water management practices; insufficient canal water supplies; and use of poor-quality groundwater for irrigation.What are some problems with the Indus River? ›
The Indus River is considered by scientists as one of the most plastic-polluted rivers in the world. It's also a dumping ground for agriculture flows like pesticides and phosphates. A man pumps brackish water from a well near parched lands at the tail end of the Indus River.What are major issues faced by Indus River Basin? ›
Economy, Agriculture and Food Security. Water Resources (including surface water and groundwater) Water-Related Developments in the Basin (including water use, dams, and agriculture) Environment, Water Quality and Health.What is Pakistan's main problem? ›
Today Pakistan is faced with many problems such as poverty, insecurity, sectarianism and terrorism . The reasons for these problems are lack of tolerance, lack of general awareness and illiteracy promoted by an ineffective education system.What are the two common failures of India and Pakistan? ›
(1)Advantage of globalisation:India and pakistan were unable to take timely advantage of globalisation because of the relatively inward-looking economic policies and high protection of domestic industries. (2)Failure in fiscal management: The record of both the nation is poor in terms of fiscal management.Which was the first war between India and Pakistan? ›
One-third of Jammu and Kashmir controlled by Pakistan. Indian control over remainder. Conflict began when Pashtun tribesmen and Tanoli from Pakistan invaded the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, prompting the armies of India and Pakistan to get involved shortly afterwards.Who divided India and Pakistan? ›
British civil servant Sir Cyril Radcliffe drew up the borders between India and Pakistan, in 1947, dividing the sub-continent very roughly into: a central and southern part, where Hindus formed the majority. two parts in the north-west and north-east that were mostly Muslim.What were the two main consequences of Indo Pakistan conflict? ›
Following are the Consequences of Indo- Pakistan 1971 War:
Creation of Bangladesh (Previously known as East Pakistan): Birth of a new nation. Myth of superiority of Islamic armies busted.
What were the two major issues of conflict between India and Pakistan leading to the war of 1971? ›
The issues: (i) India extended moral and material support to freedom struggle in East Pakistan and Pakistan accused India of a conspiracy to break it up. (ii) India had to bear the burden of lacks of refugees who fled East Pakistan and took shelter in the neighbouring areas in India.Who is mediation resolved the Indus River water dispute between India and Pakistan? ›
The Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 after nine years of negotiations between India and Pakistan with the help of the World Bank, which is also a signatory. The negotiations were the initiative of former World Bank President Eugene Black.What is an example of water conflict in India? ›
The Cauvery Conflict between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the Ravi-Beas River Water Dispute and the tussle between the basin states of the Krishna River exemplify the major hostilities that posits a humongous federal challenge to river water governance in India.What was Indus known for? ›
The Indus cities are noted for their urban planning, a technical and political process concerned with the use of land and design of the urban environment. They are also noted for their baked brick houses, elaborate drainage systems, water supply systems, and clusters of large, nonresidential buildings.Is the Indus in India or Pakistan? ›
The Indus is one of Asia's mightiest rivers. From its source in the northwestern foothills of the Himalayas, it flows through the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir and along the length of Pakistan to the Arabian Sea.What is Indus known in Pakistan? ›
The Indus River (locally called Sindhu) is one of the longest rivers in Asia, originating in the Tibetan Plateau in the vicinity of Lake Manasarovar, the river runs a course through Ladakh towards the Gilgit-Baltistan region Hindukush ranges, and then flows in a southerly direction along the entire length of Pakistan ...How many times has India beaten Pakistan in wars? ›
India Partitioned, Princely States & Movement of Refugees
The Indian Military has fought in all four wars of the nation, three against Pakistan and one against the People's Republic of China. They also fought in the border war against Pakistan, better known as the Kargil war in 1999.
Surprisingly, this was endorsed by an Indian analyst who said that “India's ground force posture and strength in the border areas is not comparable with China which has the decisive edge because of better military infrastructure, capabilities, and logistics.”Who is stronger Pakistan or India? ›
The Global Firepower Index 2021 released its ranking of the world army and ranked Pakistan Army the 10th most powerful army out of total 133 countries, as per a report by The Express Tribune. India was placed at 4th spot in the list, just behind the US, Russia, and China.What was Pakistan called before Pakistan? ›
Officially, the nation was founded as the Dominion of Pakistan in 1947, and was renamed as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1957.
What was India's first name? ›
Jambudvīpa (Sanskrit: जम्बुद्वीप, romanized: Jambu-dvīpa, lit. 'berry island') was used in ancient scriptures as a name of India before Bhārata became the official name.What is Pakistan Other name? ›
It is officially called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.Who helped Pakistan in 1971 war? ›
On a day India's top bureaucrats including the foreign secretary and national security advisor reached Colombo for a series of crucial bilateral meetings, Pakistan thanked Sri Lanka for all the help it provided Islamabad during the 1971 war against India.Why does US support Pakistan? ›
The United States continues to work with Pakistan to achieve business climate enhancements. The primary focus of the U.S. civilian assistance program is to partner with Pakistan in its development toward security, stability, and prosperity.Which countries support India? ›
Countries considered India's closest include the United Arab Emirates, Russian Federation, Israel, Afghanistan, France, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and the United States. Russia is the largest supplier of military equipment to India, followed by Israel and France.What are the causes of water crisis in Pakistan? ›
Pakistan's water crisis is explained mainly by rapid population growth followed by climate change (floods and droughts), poor agricultural sector water management, inefficient infrastructure and water pollution. This in a result is also aggravating internal tensions between provinces.What is Pakistan's water crisis? ›
According to a report published by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) this year, more than 80 percent of Pakistanis face “severe water scarcity” for at least one month each year. The report stated that Pakistan ranks 14 out of 17 countries designated as “extremely high water-risk” nations.What causes the Indus to flood? ›
Fed by glaciers in the Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges—and by Asian monsoon rains—the river experiences substantial fluctuations every year. Flow is typically highest from mid-July to mid-August, as snow melt and rains spike around the same time. Water flow is lowest from December to February.What are 5 facts about the Indus River? ›
The Indus River is the only river that is home to Platanista indicus minor, also known as the Indus River Dolphin (or blind dolphin). It is a type of river dolphin, which is one of the most threatened cetaceans on the planet. The Indus River is among the longest rivers in Asia.How can Pakistan solve its water problems? ›
Ashraf further said, “We have to increase water storage at every level and need to develop large, medium and small dams, where possible.” Rainwater storage solutions such as artificial lakes in housing societies or artificial groundwater recharge wells can help recharge the groundwater, he added.
What causes pollution in the Indus River? ›
Water pollution in the Indus comes from a number of sources, including return flow from agriculture, which adds sodium nitrates, phosphates, and pesticides to the river. Additionally, untreated or incompletely treated sewage from cities along the Indus is discharged into the river.What are 3 things about the Indus Valley civilization? ›
- The Indus Valley civilisation was larger than the ancient Egyptian civilisation.
- Some of the world's first dentists came from the Indus Valley! ...
- At its peak, 10% of the world's total population lived in the ancient civilisation of the Indus Valley. ...
- Toilet seats were made of brick - not very comfy!
The river provided fertile soil for growing crops of rice, wheat, various fruits and vegetables, and cotton. In addition, the Indus provided grazing lands for herd animals and a steady supply of fresh water. The Indus Valley contained many natural resources that became an important part of Harappan civilization.What is water issue between Pakistan and India? ›
The India-Pakistan water conflict is an example of conflict arising from struggle from scarce resources. Growing scarcity of water resources, increasing population and poor management of water resource in India and Pakistan has resulted in an increasing demand for water resources.What are the main causes of India's water crisis? ›
India's water crisis is often attributed to lack of government planning, increased corporate privatization, industrial and human waste and government corruption. In addition, water scarcity in India is expected to worsen as the overall population is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by year 2050.What are the causes of water problem in India? ›
Major Causes of Water Scarcity
Climate change. Natural calamities such as droughts and floods. Increased human consumption. Overuse and wastage of water.
Overall Water Quality Status of Pakistan
The water quality data when compared with the National Standards for Drinking Water Quality show that out of total 435 sources, 168 (39%) sources were safe, whereas 267 (61%) sources were unsafe for drinking.
About 20% of the whole population of Pakistan has access to safe drinking water. The remaining 80% of population is forced to use unsafe drinking water due to the scarcity of safe and healthy drinking water sources.How can we solve the water crisis in Pakistan? ›
Dr. Ashraf further said, “We have to increase water storage at every level and need to develop large, medium and small dams, where possible.” Rainwater storage solutions such as artificial lakes in housing societies or artificial groundwater recharge wells can help recharge the groundwater, he added.What is the solution of water crisis? ›
Solutions to addressing water shortages include dams and reservoirs, rainwater harvesting, aqueducts, desalination, water reuse, and water conservation.
Is Pakistan losing water? ›
As per IMF, Pakistan's per capita annual water availability has reduced from 1500 cubic meters in 2009 to 1017 cubic meters in 2021 .When did Pakistan water crisis start? ›
Impact of the Water Crisis in Pakistan
Currently, Pakistan is categorized as a water-scarce country because the yearly water availability is less than 1,000 cubic meters per person. The country crossed this level in 2005. If it reaches 500 cubic meters, it will become a country that is absolute scarce of water by 2025.
163 Million Indians lack access to safe drinking water. 210 Million Indians lack access to improved sanitation. 21% of communicable diseases are linked to unsafe water. 500 children under the age of five die from diarrhea each day in India.What is the solution to the water crisis in India? ›
Rainwater harvesting and recycled wastewater also allow to reduce scarcity and ease pressures on groundwater and other natural water bodies. Groundwater recharge, that allows water moving from surface water to groundwater, is a well-known process to prevent water scarcity.When did India's water crisis start? ›
From 2007 to 2017, the continued exploitation of groundwater caused the groundwater level in India to decrease by 61 percent, according to the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB).Does India have clean water? ›
India's water and sanitation crisis
Out of its population of 1.3 billion people, 91 million people (6% of the population) lack access to safe water, and 746 million people (54%) lack access to safely managed household sanitation facilities.
(3) Jal Jeevan Mission. Since August 2019, the Indian government has been working with the states to carry out the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), which aims to provide drinkable tap water to every rural home in India by 2024, including those in habitations where the water quality is poor.What are the major causes of water pollution in India any three? ›
Further, agricultural waste, unthreatened sewage, solid untreated waste, and small scale industries are major causes of water pollution.