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CWA # 3, 18 May 2018

Water Conflicts
Why India should not pull out of the Indus water treaty?

  Ann Maria Shibu

India has water sharing agreements with its other neighbours as well. If India tries to pull out of the IWT as a mechanism to pressurise Pakistan, India is going to lose its credibility as a partner to these other countries. Given that India could become a water stressed country by 2025, it needs to maintain healthy relationships with its neighbours and not create the image of an unreliable partner

Despite the hostility between India and Pakistan, New Delhi had never tried to use its water sharing agreement with Islamabad as a military tool. However, in the aftermath of the Uri Attacks, the Indian Prime Minister tried to bring in the Indus Water Treaty as a bargaining chip in 2016. But this attempt of the Prime Minister to link security issues with the sharing of waters can never be in the interest of India. It should continue with its policy of handling both the matters separately.

Why is withdrawal from the treaty not an option for India?

The Indus Water Treaty was set up to reduce the hostilities between India and Pakistan. India pulling out of the treaty and blocking the water to Pakistan can only lead to further straining of the bilateral relationship. Also as Pakistan is a water stressed country, any blockade on water by India can greatly affect the civilian population in Pakistan. So India withdrawing from the treaty will be against the very essence of the treaty, which was to foster cooperation and reduce conflict.

Revoking the treaty can also endanger regional peace and security. The Indus water system, which originates from China and subsequently flows to India and Pakistan, could generate a three party crisis. It can also send negative messages to countries like Afghanistan as they may also adopt a similar strategy of blocking river water to pressurise Pakistan. Another threat that India may have to deal with could be the retaliation from the Chinese. Pakistan is the natural ally of China in South Asia and besides, India’s withdrawal from IWT can jeopardize china’s hydropower projects under CPEC.

India has water sharing agreements with its other neighbours as well. If India tries to pull out of the IWT as a mechanism to pressurise Pakistan, India is going to lose its credibility as a partner to these other countries. Given that India could become a water stressed country by 2025, it needs to maintain healthy relationships with its neighbours and not create the image of an unreliable partner.

In case India tries to use its position as an upper riparian to block waters to Pakistan, it needs to be remembered that India does not have the necessary infrastructure or finance to carry out this plan at the moment. To block river water India will have to construct a number of dams which will lead to the displacement of huge populations and will also have drastic environmental consequences.

In conclusion it can be stated that India does not have to withdraw from the Indus Water Treaty to pressurise Pakistan. Under the treaty India is obliged to 20% of the Indus water, but does not use more than 4%. So just by utilising its entire share of 20% India can make a point to Pakistan without breaking any rules or treaties. Also India should make use of the rivers allotted to Pakistan as per the guidelines of the treaty. This move by India will be well within the limits of law and also won’t turn Pakistan into a desert. This would be a strong signal to Pakistan from India, rather than going for anything drastic and receiving international condemnation.


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