Pakistan’s Water Crisis: Blaming India Won’t Do – OpEd


By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.

Nitin Gadkari, Minister dealing with River waters, said on May 9, 2019 that India will stop Pakistan’s share of water allocated under the Indus Water Treaty. He also mentioned that “India is not bound to follow the Treaty and had plans to divert the water flow to Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.  This statement was perhaps made during the election campaign more for the domestic audience.

Gadkari raised a bigger question- “What is the point of continuing the Indus Water Treaty if the spirit of mutual love, harmony and cordial relations is not honoured by the neighbouring country? Later he specifically named Pakistan when he said “Why continue the Water Treaty if Pakistan does not honour its spirit?

He is right in a sense that such agreements that deal with the livelihood of the people it should be implemented both in letter and spirit. Yet Pakistan has been indulging in opposing the Indian projects with minor technical objections  and has not understood or cared for the  spirit of the treaty.

Soon after Gadkari’s statement, Pakistan called on the World Bank to set up a court of arbitration under the Indus Water Treaty alleging India’s plans to divert the flow of Indus water that legitimately belongs to it under the treaty.  The Pakistani media was not far behind in accusing India of diverting Indus Waters of Pakistan to India!

This speech of Gadkari was made soon after the attack in Pulwana on February 14, when the whole nation was enraged.

So far, Pakistan has not been able to prove that India has violated any of the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty.

In the latest report of ZharBiz Micron World of 13th May, it is categorically stated that when India built hydroelectric projects in the tributaries it did not technically violate the Indus Water Treaty.

The irony is that India has not built enough infrastructure to utilize fully even the three eastern rivers allotted to it under the Indus Treaty and a large quantity of water meant (see my previous papers) for use has been  allowed to go to Pakistan unutilized!

Diverting the waters of western waters meant for Pakistan under the Indus Treaty even when the eastern river waters are not being fully utilized is therefore not in the realm of possibility in the near future. 

Water scarcity according to Pakistan’s own researchers is a real problem but its seriousness and its magnitude is still to be felt inside Pakistan.

92 percent of Pakistan is classified as semi-arid to arid and a majority of Pakistanis are dependent on surface and ground water from a single source- the Indus River basin.   Water from Indus supports 90 percent of the agricultural sector.  A 2017 report of Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources says that Pakistan would run out of water by 2025.   It is a little bit exaggerated and perhaps meant as a wakeup call to the authorities. A UNDP report of 7th Feb. 2017 has pointed out that Pakistan authorities are “negligent” about the impending water crisis that is posing a serious threat to country’s stability!

The ZharBiz report also mentions  of diversion of Indus water by upstream communities in Pakistan with ties to Government thus inflaming sectarian loyalties and stoking unrest in the lower downstream region of Sindh.  A New York Times report on water scarcity in Pakistan has indicated that the Indus has shriveled up at its entry into Ocean  near the port of Karachi!

Michael Kugelman of Woodrow Wilson Centre has also pointed out that “Simply blaming previous governments or blaming India” for the water crisis will not solve anything.

The Express Tribune of Pakistan quoting sources, has recently said that Pakistan reached the “stress” level by 1991, scarcity level by 2005 and by 2040 will be the “most water stressed” country in the World!

The Wapda in June 2018 informed the Senate that Pakistan’s ability to store water is decreasing while consumption is increasing.

While no storage dam was constructed besides the Mangla in 1967 and Tarbela in 1976, only this end June, aground breaking ceremony after many cost over runs took place for the Mohmand Dam.  While Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the ceremony, other surprising attendees were the Army Chief Bajwa and retired Chief Justice Saqib Nisar.

Those in Pakistan who have continued with India bashing despite its own mismanagement of water resources should first see their own Supreme Court Judgment 57 of 2016 delivered in 2018 that gives a detailed account of the crisis Pakistan is facing and had suggested some remedial measures. Instead using India as a punch bag for its water crisis, Pakistan should look inwards to see what it can do, for an even, equitable and sustainable distribution of water within itself.

In the judgement there is a telling  quotation from W.H. Auden that says:

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water!”.


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *