Can Indus Waters Treaty be abrogated?

Although Swarup refused to elaborate on whether the government was planning to scrap the treaty, water experts are appalled at how such a move can even be thought of

Can Indus Waters Treaty be abrogated?

Should the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan signed in 1960 be abrogated? At an MEA briefing on Thursday, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup hinted as much by stating that for any treaty to work successfully, there must be trust on both sides. "It cannot be a one-sided affair," Swarup said. He added there are differences between India and Pakistan on the implementation of the Indus Waters Treaty.

However, the sharing of Indus Basin waters under the accord has been hailed as a great achievement as it has survived the four wars that the two neighbours have engaged in since its implementation.

Although Swarup refused to elaborate on whether the government was planning to scrap the treaty, water experts are appalled at how such a move can even be thought of.

Prof Vikram Soni, a water expert at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, who has spent time studying the Indus Basin in both countries, points out, "This is the only treaty which is working between the two nations. If India tries stopping Pakistan’s water by building dams along these rivers, our neighbour will resort to bombing this dam. This could escalate into an all-out war and we cannot overlook that Pakistan is a nuclear state and will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if driven to the wall."

Manoj Misra who heads the NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan believes there should be no politics over water.

"Water is an essential life-sustaining entity and water issues should not be politicked. There is no doubt that Pakistan has not behaved as a responsible state but water should not be brought into aggravating issues," says Misra.

The IWT is an n example of how two neighbours have succeeded in sitting down and amicably resolving a trans-boundary issue . "It is one of the few treaties across the globe which has survived and prevented a bilateral dispute from escalating. I definitely believe no attempt should be made to politicise such a treaty," says Misra.

Himanshu Thakkar, who heads South Asia Network of Dams Rivers and People warned against the Indian government going in for a knee-jerk reaction. "If India decides to stop their water, where will we store it. The existing infrastructure does not have the capacity, so it means creating new infrastructure and that will take time," says Thakkar.

"India can cause some pin pricks to Pakistan. For example, from the Salal hydro project which is the last water project on the Chenab, they can suddenly release a lot of water and then stop it. Maybe they are already doing this but beyond that, they cannot do much," says Thakkar.

"If India were to resort to stopping the water supply to Pakistan, this would immediately adversely impact their relations with their friendly neighbours including Nepal, Bhutan and Bangla Desh who would feel threatened by such a step. We must not forget that both Nepal and Bhutan are upstream states," Thakkar adds.

Under IWT agreement, exclusive usage rights to the three eastern tributaries – the Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi – were granted to India and usage of the three western rivers – the Chenab, Jhelum and the Indus proper – were given to Pakistan. All of these six rivers flow through Kashmir but the treaty emphasises that water cannot be tied to the resolution of tensions caused by Kashmir. This is one of the main reasons why the Indus Water Commission continued to meet even during the wars of 1965 and 1971.

Unfortunately, hardliners, whether they be right-wing Hindu groups or hardline Islamic groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, are insisting that water be used as a weapon against each other.