Indus Waters Treaty: An Impediment to the Indian Hydro-Hegemony.

Author:Qureshi, Waseem Ahmad
Position:Treaty Concering the Use of Waters from the Indus River System, 1960, India-Pakistan

Water is the most exquisite commodity, and its utility in the sectors of economy, food, and power production is exceptional. To capture this resource more effectively, powerful nations are racing to raise water management infrastructure in order to seize the reins of regional political supremacy by establishing hydrohegemony. Within this context, India is eager to take control of all Pakistani water supplies by developing projects over the western rivers of the Indus Basin. Frequently, Pakistan objects to these projects, fearing that its water supplies are gradually diminishing. As a result, water conflicts between India and Pakistan are escalating, and the global community fears that these conflicts will escalate into full-scale water wars, in a situation where both nations are nuclear powers. Here Pakistan claims that India is robbing Pakistani waters and trying to get hold of all water resources in the region of occupied Kashmir. However, India maintains that climate change, not its projects, is to blame for the decreased water flows in the western rivers. Interestingly, the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), a bilaterally agreed treaty between India and Pakistan, prohibits India from diverting any waters from rivers allocated to Pakistan. So, arguably, the existing legal framework of the IWT poses an impediment to the Indian desire for hydro-hegemony over Pakistan's legal water rights. Consequently, Indian authorities are rethinking the IWT, and are going so far as to imagine the unilateral abandonment of the IWT. This Article seeks to explore the real Indian rationale for modifying or nullifying the IWT.


Sharing water resources is a complex and difficult mechanism. (1) The transboundary sharing of international river waters involves aspects of sovereignty, principles of law, and politics, supplemented with the aspects of geographical characteristics and entrenched political hegemony. It also includes important facets of water (2) as a fluid resource, involving its management and controls in respect of storage and navigation, with additional regard to innumerable dynamics of domestic, agrarian, and other similar basic uses of water. (3) Different reports have noted that there are more than one hundred international river water basins that are shared by more than two sovereign countries, (4) including, notably, the Nile, Mekong, Niger, Congo-Chambeshi, Amazon, Brahmaputra, and Indus Rivers. (5)

Water is undoubtedly a building block of life and an elementary human resource, because of its numerous fundamental uses. (6) These include water as a key element in food production, power production, economic development, and several other similar basic processes of human life. (7) Despite vast water resources, sporadic water apportionments among nations have supplemented water scarcity in various regions. (8) A race by states to capture water resources has already begun, and influential nations like China and India are trying to control and manage the water flows of their regions in the hope of establishing hydro-hegemony. (9) Consequently, international conflicts over water apportionment are surfacing and many experts and scholars contend they are already evolving into water wars this century. (10)

Water conflicts are notably escalating in the regions of Latin America, Central Asia, and the Middle East, (11) and these areas are liable to encounter increased water conflicts or even water wars in the near future. (12) This is anticipated mainly because of growing water scarcity and emerging international tensions over water apportionments. (13)

Water conflicts date as far back as thousands of years ago. (14) In the twentieth century, the world saw numerous water conflicts, but never full-scale wars waged solely over water management or water control. (15) However, experts now believe that full-scale wars will be waged over water apportionment during this century. The surges in population growth, global warming, urbanization, inefficient water management, inequitable employment of water apportionment, and hydropolitics are noted as likely to escalate minor water conflicts into water wars. (16) Furthermore, scholars argue that the absence of water wars so far has been mainly a result of cooperation among states which share water of the same river basin, i.e. co-riparian states. (17) Conversely, an imbalance of powers among co-riparian states is the main reason that co-riparians do not go to war over water access. (18) It is largely hydropolitics, where powerful nations muscle their way to advantageous positions. Notwithstanding discussions over the possibility of water wars, frequent major water conflicts over water apportionment are inevitable in the near future. (19)

In hydropolitics, controlling water supplies translates into controlling the regions dependent on those water supplies. (20) In international river basins, co-riparian states race to control the management of water supplies to gain the upper hand in regional politics. (21) Managing water supplies delivers political power to aggressive states because water is essential for healthy economic growth. (22) Hydropolitics scholar Edward Barbier has noted that water and economics go hand in hand, suggesting that neither water nor the economy is independent of one another, but are rather interdependent elements of a greater system. (23)

Within the same context, it is apparent in the semiarid and arid regions of Asia and Africa that lower riparian states are concerned with the actions of the upper riparian states regarding water management, water control, and water pollution, as water flows from upper riparian to lower riparian. (24) Upper riparian states tend to reduce water supplies, construct water management infrastructure, and pollute waters against the interests of lower riparian states. (25) Notwithstanding water politics and its hydroeconomic and political aspects, the developed world has rarely seen any major international water political conflicts, as compared to developing countries. This is because many developing countries rely more on water sources flowing from upper riparians, and their water supplies are estimated to be withdrawn by fifty percent by 2025, thus the probability of conflict escalation is more acute in developing world. (26)

In recent times, water conflicts between India and Pakistan have escalated, both quantitatively and qualitatively, as India is gearing up to build water management infrastructures over its western rivers. The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), a bilateral agreement between the two nations, specifically allocated these western rivers for Pakistan's unrestricted use. It is thus feared that a water war between these nations is an imminent possibility, (27) particularly given the number of prior conflicts between these two states. (28) In this context, this Article explores the different aspects of water conflicts between India and Pakistan and considers various routes of dispute resolution. This Article also investigates the notion that India, as an upper riparian state, is trying to take control of Pakistan's water supplies in order to establish hydro-hegemony and enjoy political supremacy. Thus, an assessment of the IWT within this context is the central focus in this Article, including an analysis of India and Pakistan's perspectives on the agreement. In addition, this Article explores the relationship between India's efforts to modify or discontinue the existing legal framework under the IWT, the rationale behind India's efforts in doing so, and India's endeavor to establish hydro-hegemony.

Section I of this Article defines hydro-hegemony in order to contextualize the political maneuvering that nations might exercise in water apportionment and water utilization. This section will analyze key aspects of hydro-hegemony and consider important questions, including whether practices of water apportionment tend to develop cooperation or conflict between co-riparian states.

Section II will evaluate regional tensions as subversions to support hydrohegemony by detailing India and Pakistan's prior water conflicts. This section has two parts. Section II(A) will briefly touch upon India's infrastructure construction plans in light of the IWT, and will raise important questions, such as whether India's construction works violate IWT. Section II(B) will then explore the nexus between construction works and hydro-hegemony.

Section III of this Article will explore India's growing interest in modifying or nullifying the IWT, or establishing a new and wholly independent IWT. Section III(A) will explore whether India's sentiment is tilting toward reviewing the existing IWT legal framework. Section III(B) will explain India's rationale or reasoning for modifying or nullifying the existing framework of the IWT. Section III(C) will assess the proposed IWT II. This subsection introduces the growing concept of IWT II among Indian scholars and provides an overview of five different schools of thought within India that demand IWT II or the modification or nullification of the existing IWT.

Finally, Section IV of this Article will examine Pakistan's sentiments against modification or nullification of the IWT. Here, the possibility of resolving water conflicts between India and Pakistan through the existing legal framework of the IWT will be set out. Additionally, this section will briefly touch upon the aspect of trust deficit between the nations due to the noncompliance of the Indian state. Finally, the scope of Article 7 of the IWT will be examined in order to determine whether it accommodates modern emerging concerns of both states.


    Hydro-hegemony is essentially the politicization and domination of waterways by powerful states seeking to control regional politics. (29) Hegemony exists where one powerful state imposes its leadership forcefully upon weaker states. (30) When hegemony is applied to waterways...

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