Climate Change and Security

The New Face of the India-Pakistan Conflict: The Indus Water Treaty

The Indus Water Treaty signed in 1960 has thus far dictated the allocation of water resources between India and Pakistan. However, the fate of the treaty and the peaceful use of the water is under threat. Analyst Jude Buenaseda explains the different facets of the Indus Water Treaty and the conflict over it, which has the potential to impact the livelihood of millions of people. 


Since the India-Pakistan partition at the end of the British Raj in 1947, there have been waves of tension between the two nations. Their border disputes, religious divides, and conflict over the use of specific geographically located resources have gained notoriety throughout the globe. The states’ troubled past and persistent demands provide no clear pathways for peaceful agreements as the world watches the Indo-Pakistan relationship fluctuate, especially when it comes to the Indus Water Treaty. Both Pakistan and India rely heavily on the Indus River as a water source. From agricultural needs for crops and textiles to power demands for electricity from hydropower dams, the Indus river provides both countries with the water resource necessary to build an economy that helped develop their nations. But the water resource in the Indus River is not so simply dictated; it is managed under the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan created in 1960 with the help of the World Bank. Despite the fact that there have been many issues and politicization of this treaty, it has seemingly withstood the test of time and still claims to be the most successful treaty of its kind by experts in the modern era.

The Treaty, signed in 1960, allocated Pakistan the rights to the western rivers: Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab, while India was given the rights to the eastern bodies: Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej. The Indus river flows northwest originating in Tibet hitting India first, making it the upriver nation, and then eventually reaching Pakistan in the southwest direction. Although it is a comprehensive treaty, recent disputes have put the treaty under immense stress, thereby potentially affecting the livelihood of the population on the ground. While Pakistan has the right to use approximately 80% of the river and India has 20%, Prime Minister Modi has stated that India has not been using this 20% to its fullest extent. According to its claims, India is allowed to use the rivers for water storage and energy generation. As a result, India has commenced work on multiple hydroelectric dam projects, including the Kishenganga dam and the Ratle dam, in preparation for the rising energy demand of its population due to the fast rate of its economic growth. Pakistan, on the other hand, has expressed concerns that India is attempting to control the flow of the river leaving Pakistan vulnerable to water scarcity, which could have ruinous effects economically and socially. Pakistan has raised its concerns with the World Bank and the Permanent Indus Commission, the body that specifically caters to issues regarding the treaty, questioning whether India does in fact have the legal right to commence their projects under the treaty. However, there have been no agreements or headway made in the ongoing negotiations. Indian Prime Minister Modi recently said, “blood and water do not flow together,” implying that there must be a peaceful cooperation in order to use the river efficiently.

The Indus River supplies water to Pakistan’s agriculture industry, which makes up about a quarter of the economy and employs half of its population. With India being the upstream nation, there are understandable concerns that India may be trying to gain the upper hand in controlling water flows to have a decisive political and potential economic advantage over Pakistan. At the same time, India’s goal to reduce the inequality gap relies heavily on the population’s access to electricity, which is reliant on the hydroelectric dam projects; for India, this is a crucial part of the solution to providing the 300 million without power in India access to electricity. The demand for water is rising on both sides and only cooperation can alleviate the tensions in the Indus River Valley to allow both nations to move forward and prevent any future water crisis.

Jude Buenaseda is a Fellow at Advanced Energy Group and also works at the Austrian Mission to the United Nations. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Energy. 

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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