June 09 - 15, 2003



Prior to the inception of Pakistan, Punjab was the most productive agricultural land in the Subcontinent. Punjab is the land of five rivers, with a natural flow of water originating from Kashmir/Himalayan Peninsula in the north and towards Sindh in the south. After the traumatic partition, India started creating problems for Pakistan. Leaving aside the other issues, the Indus Basin Treaty was concluded after exhaustive negotiations under the auspices of the World Bank and is being honoured by both the countries.

After the Indus Basin Agreement, the rivers were distributed between Pakistan and India. Resultantly, River Chenab became the major source of water supply to defence and irrigation canals. Water to most of the canals in Central Punjab is being supplied from the Chenab River. After construction of the Salal Dam, the natural flow of River Chenab is being interrupted/threatened, which in turn will affect the irrigation and defence based canal system in Central Punjab. Whenever there is some internal crisis, India uses this treaty to antagonize Pakistan, which is highly regrettable.


The Indian, Water Resources Minister has threatened to curtail water supplies to Pakistan ("Indian Minister's Threat" in Dawn, May 25, 2002 by Ahmed Fraz Khan). This may be a superfluous threat prompted by Indian war hysteria and should not be taken to mean that India had decided to use water as a weapon achieve its ends. However, the strategists in Pakistan have been busy in studying various scenarios, to meet any eventuality. The Irrigation and Water Management professed their faith that India would not take any such route, "This will guarantee a regional and, perhaps a global, disaster."


Distribution of the water of rivers of Indus Basin, directly affects the livelihood of millions of people. This has rankled ever since partition as one of the major issue dividing Pakistan and India. Since 1947, the Indus Basin raised bitter feelings between the two countries. The Indus and its five tributaries (Rivers Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas) supply water to the largest irrigation system in the world. This system was built by the British rulers of India and supports millions of people. Its annual flow is twice that the Nile and three times that of Tigris and Euphrates combined. It amounts to 170 million-acre feet.



It was however, the partition of 1947, which constituted the most serious threat, the total disruption of the water system. The partition line cut across the Indus Basin; the upper waters of the rivers are in India and in the disputed territory of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but they all flow into Pakistan. Two-thirds of irrigated areas and millions of people dependent on these are in Pakistan, but partition left the Head Works (Hussaniwala and Jasar HW) of the major irrigation systems of Pakistan in Indian Territory before they enter Pakistan. The boundary as drawn under the "Radcliff Award" placed India in a position to deprive Pakistan of the waters of the rivers on which economics prosperity depended. As Eugerner Black, then President World Bank for Reconstruction and Development has said, "The relations between India and Pakistan have thus been thrown into a crisis which was to continue along the border intermittently throughout the decades that followed. Five long years after partition, India and Pakistan troops are still facing each other behind sandbags and barbed wire at irrigation head works along the frontier, this will most likely lead to all out war."

The Indus water problem also adds special significance to the dispute over Kashmir, because the River Jhelum and Chenab, whose water flow into Pakistan from Kashmir can be seriously be interfered by India through her hold in the state. The arbitration tribunal was dissolved on April 1, 1948. The Government of East Punjab (India), suddenly and without prior intimation stopped the supply of water flowing into Pakistan's Upper Bari Doab Canal (UBDC), Lower Bari Doab Canal (LBDC) and Dipalpur canals. For five weeks, 1-1/2 million acres of land in Pakistan received no water, thus thousands of farmers faced starvation. No less serious were the psychological effects on Indo-Pakistan relations at a time when bitter feelings had sprung from other causes.

Indians seemed to be aware of this devastating power against Pakistan; under the title "How Strong is Pakistan? An article was published in Vigil (New Delhi) on August 8, 1951, in this it was pointed out; though Pakistan has one of the largest irrigation systems in the world but she is entirely dependent for water on the rivers of East Punjab and Kashmir. If India were to cut off the waters, it is bound to impair Pakistan's strength considerably. Even her very existence would be in danger. Whether India would adopt such a perfectly legitimate but ruthless attitude without grave provocation is another matter. Pakistan produces plenty of food but that production depends on canal water, which in a sense, is the gift of India and is in her power to stop.


After exhaustive negotiations between the two parties, it became apparent that no progress could be made towards a settlement until there was an agreement on the basic issue, i.e, how the use of the waters could be divided between the two countries. The World Bank therefore directed its efforts into finding a solution, which would ensure the independence of two countries in the matter of the provision of water falling to their share. In February 1954, the Bank made the following proposals:



a. The water of the Eastern Rivers (Ravi, Beas and Sutlaj) should be for the use of India.

b. The waters of the Western Rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) should be for the use of Pakistan.

c. There should be a transition period during which Pakistan is able to construct a system of link canals to transfer water from the Western Rivers to replace the irrigation uses in Pakistan hitherto met from the Eastern Rivers.

d. India should pay the cost of constructing these replacement link canals to the extent of the benefit derived by her there from.


The division of waters provided for in the treaty necessitated the construction of works to transfer waters from the three Western Rivers to meet the irrigation uses in Pakistan hitherto met by water from the three Eastern Rivers. The effect of the transfer will eventually be to release the whole flow of the three Eastern Rivers for irrigation development in India. The following works were built in Pakistan:

a. A system of eight link canals nearly 400 miles in total length, transferring water from the Western Rivers to areas formerly irrigated by the Eastern Rivers.

b. Two earth-fill storages dams to provide the water storage potential to meet the irrigation supplies of the Pakistan canals.

c. Power stations at the Mangla Dam with a capacity of more than 300,000 kilowatts.

d. Works to integrate the present canal and river system into the new inter-river link canals.

e. Some 2,500 tube wells and drainage to overcome water logging and salinity in irrigated areas.


India can disturb the flow of River Jhelum and divert river Chenab's water to River Ravi if it decides to use river flows as a weapon and unilaterally abrogates the Indus Basin Water Treaty. Engineering solutions can be found for even the loosest sight at any cost. Any project involving changes in the river flows takes a long time; decades in most cases. Being the upper riparian country, India can certainly create problems for Pakistan. In fact, that is what it has been doing in the recent past. It snapped all links with Pakistan in December and has refused to transfer data. There has also been a decrease in Chenab's flow since January.




Jhelum River is confluence of River Kishan Ganga (Neelam), River Kunhar and River Jhelum. The main portion of River Kishan Ganga (Neelam), and River Kunhar fall within Pakistan, therefore it is difficult for India to disturb the flow of these rivers. Moreover due to the hilly terrain, India cannot divert Jhelum's water to another river or stop it from flowing into Pakistan. However, India has a plan to construct a Dam on River Kishan Ganga (Neelam) and make a diversion tunnel to enhance water storage capacity of proposed Wullar Barrage at River Jhelum. By doing this, India could regulate the river flow in a way so as to disturb the farming pattern in Pakistan, flooding it when water is not required, stopping it when it is needed. Central Punjab as well as parts of Southern Punjab depends on Jhelum's water for irrigation. By disturbing the water flow, India could make a large part of the Punjab barren. The possibility, however, is at least 10-15 years away.


River Chenab originates from Kashmir (IHK) and is confluence of River Tawi passing through Jammu, River Chenab (mainstream) passing through Akhnor and River Manwarwali Tawi passing beside Iftikharabad. River Chenab is the most vulnerable river to Indian waywardness. The river flows with additional water from Chenab thus India can expand its irrigation network to Rajhisthan desert. India has ten hydroelectric power generation projects on River Chenab. Construction of Salal Dam have far reaching defence and irrigational implications for Pakistan. Salient features of Salal Dam are as under:

* Location

40 km up stream of Marala HW

* Capacity

0.23 million acre feet

* Spillways gates

12 gates

* Spillways capacity

8.4 lac cusecs

* 6 Under sluices

Each having capacity of 9600 cusecs

* Total discharge

9 lac cusecs (spillways + sluices)

* Dam filling time

* Winters

25-28 days

* Summers

6 to 8 days




River Indus is by and large safe from Indian designs. Originating from Tibet region, it flows through the Ladakh valley into Pakistan controlled area. Along its route in Indian controlled area, there is no site suitable for a dam. Even if a site should be found and the dam built, most of the water in Indus comes from its tributaries in the areas under Pakistan's control. However, India can disturb Indus River flows but it would be at a phenomenal engineering cost.


It is unprecedented in the history of the treaty that has held good for almost 42 years and survived two wars between the two countries. In a broadcast to his people on the treaty, President Ayub Said; "the solution that we have now got is not the ideal one. The ideal solution when negotiated can seldom be obtained but this is the best that we could get under the circumstances, many of which irrespective of merits and legality of the case are against us".

Pakistan could invoke guarantees and mount diplomatic pressure, which may be unbearable for India. It is not easy to revoke an international treaty like the Indus Basin Treaty because it affects the lives of billions of people. The present Indian leadership could create hype around the treaty and derive some political mileage out of it, but practically speaking her options are limited.


In practical terms, a river diversion would amount to a declaration of war. Pakistan would be bound to retaliate strongly. "How could India expect Pakistan to let it be squeezed drop by drop?" This would also expose Indian dams to attacks by Pakistan. Although dams were not attacked during previous wars, such niceties are observed only on reciprocal basis. Pakistan being a liberal country has faith in international guarantees and rational behaviour. Most of the worst-case scenarios never happen because their cumulative cost out weigh any other factor by far. With the passage of time, the Indians would realize that most of their hostility is misdirected and blaming Pakistan for their own failures will not bring any dividends. Likely implications are:

a. Such an action against Pakistan would amount to a blatant violation of an international treaty and would be tantamount to a declaration of war. But Pakistan has to weigh the cost of war vis-a-vis construction of new water storage facilities.



b. The treaty was made foolproof with in-built safeguards and contains no renunciation clause. Therefore it would be difficult for India to backtrack from the Indus Basin Water Treaty, which is an international instrument. Moreover it is not easy for a country to unilaterally withdraw from an international treaty for which the World Bank stands as the sponsor.

c. The 'Final Provisions' stated in Article XII of the treaty stipulate that neither of the two parties could at any time modify or terminate the water-sharing arrangement unilaterally. The only option available is to modify or terminate the agreement by way of a subsequent treaty and its ratification by the two countries.

d. International law forbids using water as a weapon as such an act is considered a crime against humanity. This point was also made by the former Indian Water Resources Secretary (May 2002) who was quoted in the Indian Express Daily, "India would be blamed for going against protocols of the 1949 Geneva Convention, which clearly say that "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited and includes drinking water installations, supplies and irrigation works." (Article "India cannot Scrap Indus Treaty: By Qudssia Akhlaque, Dawn Daily, May 25, 2002).

e. By abrogating Indus Basin Treaty, India would create suspicions in the minds of friendly neighbors that "treaties are not sacred." Besides Pakistan, India has signed water-sharing agreements with Nepal and Bangladesh, which came into force in 1996. (Article "India cannot Scrap Indus Treaty: By Qudssia Akhlaque, Dawn Daily, May 25, 2002).

f. A well-known Indian lawyer, A.G Noorani, in his article 'JA treaty to keep' in the Frontline magazine, wrote: "Forbidden even during armed conflict, use of water as a weapon in diplomacy is a far graver offence." He argues that Article 8(b) (xxv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court lists as a war crime "intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival." Warning of international repercussions of a unilateral revoking of the Treaty by India, Noorani notes: "it would activate the UN Security Council "and evoke a reaction from the World Bank and the six countries Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Britain and the USA, which provided money for the Indus basin Development Fund.



g. According to Pakistan's former Finance Minister Dr Mubashir Hasan's calculation, reduction of waters from the Indus system to Pakistan by one per cent would threaten 1.4 million people in Pakistan with starvation. (Dawn, May 25, 2002).

h. The only way for India to make Pakistan beg for every drop of water is to inundate a large part of India. Even for that India would need a structure for diversion of waters. India cannot build dams overnight to attain the capacity of withholding Pakistan waters.

i. At present there is no manmade obstruction on any of the three rivers allotted to India. India's own former water resources secretary conceded in his interview with the Indian Express that India has no worthwhile water storage facility which can obstruct flow of rivers into Pakistan.


This is the first time that Indus Water Basin Treaty has become a subject of so much speculation. However it is hoped that the Indian Government will not undertake such an adventure. Fol is recommended:

a. As a pre-emptive measure Government of Pakistan should take international community into confidence and exert maximum diplomatic pressure thus unveiling Indian hegemonic designs.

b. Construction of Kalabagh Dam and other small dams should be undertaken on priority. Thereby bringing millions of acres of barren land under cultivation.

c. Gradual intrusion of Arabian Sea in the Thatta and Badin Area is decreasing arable land, therefore to bring more land under cultivation; construction of dams is of paramount importance.

d. Construction of carrier canal MMLC (Mangla Marala Link Canal) may be reconsidered. In case of any emergency it will help Pakistan to carry water from Mangala Dam to Marala HW to meet the needs of irrigation/defence.

e. The Indian warning needs to be taken seriously. Construction work at Kalabagh Dam, MMLC and other small dams should be undertaken immediately. Such preparations would snatch initiative from India and their threat would be an effort in futility. It will further enhance the capacity of water storage and bring more area under cultivation, which resultantly will increase agricultural production.