Ever since the September 18 attack on an army brigade in Uri by Pakistan-based terrorists which left 18 of Indian Army soldiers martyred, calls for direct action against Pakistan have reached a crescendo. Though such calls have been the norm after every such attack against India, this time the pitch is sharper and is resonating across spectrums. Amidst this cacophony of the ‘expert’ suggestions thrown left, right and centre at the Indian government and the armed forces about what to and what not to do, one in particular is finding a high number of takers – the Indus Water Treaty.
But what is this Indus Water Treaty and who signed it?
The treaty was signed on September 19, 1960 by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Ayub Khan. The treaty effectively gives Pakistan 80 per cent access to the water of the three “western” rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum. What is interesting is that though India has control over the three “eastern” rivers — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej — it cannot construct anything on the western rivers even though they flow through Jammu and Kashmir because Pakistan objects to it (a right it has according to the treaty) resulting in a situation where Kashmir is being deprived of advantages in areas of irrigation and power.
Nehru with Ayub Khan in Karachi, Pakistan, 1960.
In simple words, just to sign the treaty with the hope (which would, obviously, turn out to be misplaced) Nehru went all the way to Karachi because he thought it would not only help lower the animosity between India and Pakistan but will also permanently etch his name in the annals of great leaders. Unfortunately, within five years from signing of the treaty, India will be attacked by China, Nehru would pass away and Pakistan will attack India a second time.
So will India abrogate the treaty?
That’s a million dollar question. Observing the clamour for the abrogation of the treaty, the United Nations pointed out that the treaty has withstood three wars – 1965, 1971 and 1999. What is important to note here is that the treaty remained intact because of India’s peaceful political outlook and not because of Pakistan, which is a beneficiary of the treaty.
A Pakistani girl carrying drinking water across a shallow section of the Indus River. ARON FAVILA, AP
Yet India has for the first time been throwing hints at the future of the treaty. The government said that “mutual cooperation and trust” is needed for the success of any treaty. “For any such treaty to work, it’s important that there must be mutual cooperation and trust between both the sides. It cannot be a one-sided affair,” Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson said on September 22. MoS External Affairs General V.K. Singh posted on Facebook late on September 23 in which he, too, said that “the time has come for India to rethink on this 56-year-old treaty” which has been benefitting Pakistan alone.
But not everyone is on the same page about it.
Uttam Sinha of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) are of the opinion
that if India starts building infrastructure on the 3.6 million acre feet along the western rivers it has permission for as per the treaty, then Pakistan will be the one feeling the heat. This would also help India punish Pakistan without tarnishing New Delhi’s image internationally.