Disclaimer: This essay has been written by a law student and not by our expert law writers. View examples of our professional work here.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of LawTeacher.net. You should not treat any information in this essay as being authoritative.

The India Pakistan Water Dispute

Info: 4389 words (18 pages) Essay
Published: 18th Jul 2019

Reference this

Jurisdiction / Tag(s): International Law

Scarcity of water is a huge problem to many countries of the world, especially those which are developing. The effects of environmental degradation and poor management of available water resource have made water one of the scarcest resources in many poor economies. As a result, there is a struggle for this resource and this sometimes leads to conflicts. The India-Pakistan water conflict is an example of conflict arising from struggle from scarce resources. Growing scarcity of water resources, increasing population and poor management of water resource in India and Pakistan has resulted in an increasing demand for water resources. The increasing scarcity of water leads to the desire for control of water resources, which in turn becomes a ground for breeding conflicts.

These conflicts are manifested at interstate and intra-state levels.

The need for water is accentuated by the fact that these countries are mainly agrarian economies. These conflicts have not only hampered their economic development at the national level, but the region, as a whole, is not fully benefiting from the process of globalization. However, the scarcity of water resources in some cases has been instrumental in developing cooperation among states. The Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan is one of the few examples, of the settlement of a major, international river basin conflict. However, the grievances of contracting parties, lead to the possibility that the present cooperation may turn into a future conflict.

This paper will focus on the India-Pakistan water dispute. The study will focus on water sharing treaty with Pakistan and India, with a comparative evaluation of past and future trends, followed by suggestions for sustainable future cooperation. Factors which have led to the dispute, status of disputes and the threat of transformation of the disputes to armed conflicts in future will be discussed in the paper. In addition, implications of the disputes amongst these states and how cooperation can resolve the disputes will also be discussed. Recommendations on how this dispute can be resolved, including using mediation, dialog, water conservation and others will also be briefly discussed. Finally, a short summary will highlight the discussed issues.

History of India-Pakistan water dispute

The water dispute between Pakistan and India began during the early 1960s.

However, the Indus Treaty between the two countries created an understanding of how water between the two countries would be shared. Six rivers that is; the Chenab, Indus, Beas, Sutlej, Ravi and Jhelum flow to Pakistan from India. This treaty divided three rivers for use by each country, and India had the Beas, Sutlej and Ravi. Pakistan had access to the Jhelum, Chenab and Indus. [1] During the 1990s, India constructed a hydro-electric plant in Doda district along Chenab River. This river is one of the tributaries of the Indus River and was designated by the Indus Treaty for use by Pakistan.

The Pakistani government, political and religious leaders saw this as a move by India to control these waters. This was seen to be in breach of the Indus Treaty and a threat to the Pakistani economy. There were several ways in which the Pakistani economy could be affected. These include reduction of water capacity for Pakistani peoples, which could affect agricultural and animal rearing activities. India also had political superiority by having the ability to flood Pakistan during war times through releasing excess water. These and other reasons increased tension between both countries in attempts to control this water resource.

Factors which can lead to conflicts over water resource sharing especially during scarcity

There are various factors which may lead to conflicts between states or groups who share scarce resources. Most conflicts arise when there is perception that one group is unduly benefiting at the expense of another. This is made worse when resources being shared are scarce, and are required by a lot of people. The Pakistan-India conflict over the water resource is one example. Various factors which lead to conflicts over water sharing will be briefly analyzed below;

Population growth

Population growth is a major factor which puts pressure on resources. Population growth leads to the over-utilization of resources, and in case these resources are scarce, the population needs are not met. In such circumstances, this may lead to the development of conflict. Water is a scarce resource in many countries. When population growth exhausts the available water resource or the growth rate does not match the increase in water resources, then population needs will not be met, leading to conflict. The population will be unable to acquire safe water for consumption and adequate water for agriculture, especially in agrarian economies. In such cases, political instability may occur as citizens fight for their right to access a water resource. This conflict may begin at a local level and gradually escalate to a matter of international concern as in the case of Pakistan and India.

Weak treaties

Weak treaties are another major source of international conflict. Sometimes, treaties are used when sharing resources to ensure all parties acquire a reasonable stake in the resource. Treaties which are weak are those which may be ambiguous, those which do not anticipate future trends and those with loopholes among others. Weak treaties are bound to generate conflicts over time, as each party to the treaty analyzes their benefits from the treaty and seeks ways of maximizing benefits. When one or more parties realize that the treaty does not favor them, they are likely to rescind their decision to follow the treaty.

However, one mistake which often occurs when making treaties, and is the cause of conflict between Pakistan and India, is the inability to project future trends and needs. When the Indus treaty was made in 1960, adequate projections on the water needs of both countries, in decades to come, were not properly done. [2] It was therefore impossible to factor into account exceptions where either country would be allowed to construct dams in the various rivers, and their repercussions to those relying on such rivers for agriculture. It is necessary for treaties to factor in dynamic nature of the world in order to avoid future conflicts over water resource sharing.

Inadequate water conservation measures

When many countries discover a resource, they exploit it until it gets depleted without understanding the consequences of depletion of the resource. Water resources are no exception, and unless they are conserved, they are likely to be depleted or used ineffectively. Many poor countries do not conserve water although it is a scarce resource. Such countries are unable to meet the population needs when these water resources dry up, or have declining levels. As it will later be discussed, Pakistan loses millions of cubic meters of water daily due to lack of water conservation efforts. When such losses occur, the country is unable to satisfy its citizens’ water demands. The inability to meet this need is blamed on other factors and this may create conflict between two or more nations.

Climate change

Climate change has had severe impacts on available resources. Environmental destruction has led to unpredictable and adverse weather conditions across the world. Such weather conditions include drought, floods, heat waves and others. In economies which heavily rely on agriculture, these conditions may cause heavy losses. When drought or winter occurs, and there is a limited water resource, this may lead to conflict over this resource especially if a nation has not taken enough water conservation measures. The latest dispute involving Pakistan and India relates to construction of a dam, and Pakistan argues that climate change will bring harsh winters, which will reduce the river flow as a consequence of diversion of the river by India.

Poor political leadership

Leadership in any country entails the distribution of resources. All leaders should ensure that available resources are distributed and used for the welfare of the majority population in the nation. When there are good leaders, even scarce resources are effectively used and conserved to ensure that they satisfy the country’s needs. However, in cases where the leadership is weak, the available resources are misappropriated or used for the benefit of a few. This leads to wastage, and the majority population does not have access to such resources. In this case, conflict over the limited water resource is likely to occur. The dispute between India and Pakistan can be partly blamed for weak leadership which is hesitant in solving the issues present.

Status of disputes between Pakistan and India over water sharing

Indus water treaty

The Indus water treaty was developed to solve the water dispute between Pakistan and India during the 1960s. This treaty set out how water from the various rivers is to be shared between India and Pakistan. India was granted access to the Jhelum, Chenab and Indus rivers for purposes of developing hydro-electricity but not construction of dams. However, for development in these rivers to be acceptable, India is expected to provide technical details of projects to Pakistan before commencing operations. India on the other hand has access to the Beas, Sutlej and Ravi rivers. For Pakistan to develop these rivers, it is similarly expected to provide India with details, before commencing operations. Pakistan is also not allowed to develop dams along these three rivers. When India was constructing the Baglihar Dam, Pakistan had several concerns which it raised during this process. These include the dam size, design, water capacity and gated spillways. Although there have been numerous discussions on these contentious issues, the 1960 treaty has been insufficient in ending the conflict.

Present status of the dispute

The dispute between Pakistan and India over water has continued over several decades. Currently, the dispute revolves around the construction of a hydro-electric plant along a tributary of Indus, which is Kishenganga River. Although India is defending its right to construct the dam, Pakistan is raising several issues over the project. Pakistan explains that India is planning to divert the river course and this is bound to have adverse effects on Pakistani who rely on the river. Pakistani officials explain that this would reduce the capacity of the river by more than 30% during winter as a result. [3] When this happens, the Pakistani plans to construct their own dam will be adversely affected. However, the dispute is about to be solved through arbitration, as both parties are hopeful to see this mechanism work.

Factors which worsened the Pakistan-India water conflict

Declining water levels

The water capacity in Pakistan has been declining over the years and it poses a threat to the survival of its population within the next decade. Pakistan had water crisis during 2009 due to the reduction of its water capacity. In 2009 its water capacity was 1200 cubic meters while in 1950 it was 5000 cubic meters. This figure is expected to reduce to 800 cubic meters over the next decade. Scientists warn that Pakistan will face a water disaster within the next three years if interventions to ensure availability of water are not implemented.

Population growth and poor water storage

The Pakistani population is increasing gradually and is set to reach 250 million within the next decade. This is a huge population which requires adequate water to sustain its livelihood. In addition, Pakistan has poor water storage techniques and facilities. This leads to loss of water to the sea at the rate of over 360 cubic meters each second. Lack of facilities such as dams, which can be used for water storage, can be blamed for this wastage. These problems hinder the access of water by the population, and when India constructs a dam along the Chenab River, this is seen as a further threat to Pakistan’s survival.

Reduction of available water from India’s Baglihar Dam

As has been stated, there is a great concern that the construction of the Baglihar Dam will deprive Pakistan of water. Pakistan is of the opinion that further reduction in water capacity can be attributed to India’s construction of the Baglihar Dam. [4] Scientists explain that over 320,000 acre feet of water will be lost from the construction of this dam. This will adversely affect agricultural activities such as the production of wheat in the province of Punjab. In addition, irrigated land around Ravi and Chenab rivers is set to be adversely affected due to the reduced water capacity.

How the conflicts can be transformed into armed conflicts in future


Pakistan is one of the countries which face an increased risk of terrorism activities. There are many terrorist groups which operate in Pakistan and some of these include Tehrek-e-sahaba, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Tehrek-e-taliban terrorist groups. These groups have committed various terrorism acts through suicide bombing, booby-trapping, arming vehicles, armed assaults and others. These acts have been serious and have led to many fatalities. Between 2006 and 2009, over five thousand fatalities were attributed to these groups. [5] This is a very high fatality rate in any country. However, most of these attacks are political in nature and they aim at discrediting the government. As a result, policemen and the public have been the major targets.

Since terrorist activities are clearly established in Pakistan, it is clear that terror attacks can occur anytime. Although the terrorist activities follow political causes, it is very easy to alter the cause and motivate terrorists to carry out attacks due to the India-Pakistan water crisis. Such terrorists may be brainwashed into believing that they are carrying out terrorism for the good of their nation. If a charismatic leader who believes in terrorism emerges, he or she may easily convince them to attack Indian targets. This shows that it is important to resolve the Pakistan-India water crisis as soon as possible.


The conflict between Pakistan and India over water resources has been developing for a long time. Dialog has apparently failed to solve this crisis which relates to the Indus treaty. Since this conflict has lasted several decades, leaders may get frustrated and resolve to use force to achieve their objectives. There are many scholars who are of the opinion that India is intentionally flouting the Indus treaty in order to force Pakistan to take military action against it. In such circumstances, India is of the view that it will win the resultant war and put the water crisis matter to rest. The water crisis should therefore be solved before leaders resort to taking this cause of action which may adversely affect both countries.

It has been discussed that terrorism is a real threat in Pakistan, and the water conflict may degenerate into a terrorism war if terrorists are of the opinion that it is a real cause worth defending. Any terrorist activity by India or Pakistan may easily lead to war between both countries. This is because it will be perceived that the government supported the attack. Other countries which are either enemies of Pakistan or India may also influence the perception that the government supported these terrorist attacks. This may lead to a full-scale war between the concerned countries hence the need to resolve the water crisis.

Implications of these conflicts on regional and national development of these states

There are various implications which the water conflict between India and Pakistan has on these states. Most are adverse implications and they are related to the hostility and suspicion between these countries, which hinders cooperation on essential economic matters. Some of these implications will be discussed below in more detail;

Water conservation

Water is one of the most important resources which India and Pakistan rely on in achieving economic development. This is because both countries rely on agrarian economies which form a large proportion of their GDPs. For these two countries to achieve greater economic prosperity, they should cooperate in implementing moves aimed at conserving the water resource. Since these rivers flow between Pakistan and India, it is necessary for both countries to implement simultaneous actions aimed at conserving water and using it effectively to meet the needs of each country. However, there is suspicion and hostility between these countries, and they have been unable to develop uniform policies aimed at achieving water conservation. As a result, there is a lot of water wastage which increases costs to the government and decreases water available for agricultural activities. This has a negative impact on both the economies of Pakistan and India.

Fight against terrorism

The Indian Prime Minister is of the opinion that the best way to fight terrorism in the region is through collaboration efforts between Indian and Pakistan. [6] Since both countries face similar terrorist threats and they border each other, the fight against terrorism will only be won after a joint approach is used by both countries. In fact, foreign secretaries of both countries have met and strategize on how terrorism would be fought by both countries. However, the water dispute is threatening to erode these efforts due to hostility and suspicion which is brought about by the dispute. If the dispute is not resolved and this dual-approach in fighting terrorism is neglected, then terrorist activities are bound to rise. The high number of terrorist attacks in these two countries will increase when this happens and an unprecedented wave of terror may be seen leaving a trail of destruction.

Way out for cooperation in sharing water resources

In order to resolve this and other conflicts which involve the sharing of resources, countries concerned should cooperate to ensure that they all benefit from the use of such resources.

Effective policies by countries

In order to ensure that India and Pakistan both benefit from the rivers, both countries should implement policies which favor their mutual use of the rivers. Pakistan should allow India to use rivers which complement its goals and vice verse, as long as national interests are not affected. For instance, when both countries are constructing dams, mutual consultation will enable then to draft policies which favor both countries and reduces destructive effects of this construction to the other country. Just as the two countries are collaborating to fight terrorism, they should also collaborate to ensure that they both achieve their objectives regarding the availability and use of the water resource.


Dialog is the most effective way in which the dispute between India and Pakistan over water can be resolved. Other measures such as aggression or violence will only lead to losses among both countries. It is imperative that the issue is sorted soon in order to prevent further conflict or bloodshed which may occur as a result of the conflict, as has been seen. Since the 1960 Indus Treaty has proved to be ineffective in solving the current dispute, both the Pakistan and Indian leaders should hold dialog and develop a new treaty which will solve the present stalemate. The various issues which have been brought under consideration are relatively complex and may have been unforeseeable when developing the initial treaty. It is therefore necessary to alter the treaty to reflect the current concerns while safeguarding the interests of both countries. Since these rivers under consideration flow in both countries, it is clear that India and Pakistan are dependent on one other and none can exist independently.


Mediation is another successful strategy which may be used to end the conflicts between Pakistan and India. For mediation to be a success, it should involve a mediator who is neutral to concerned parties. Both Pakistan and India should choose a leader who comes from a country which is neutral to both countries’ interests. The proceedings should be held at a neutral country or on a rotation between both countries. Both countries should choose representatives who will argue their case to the mediator. The mediator will then make a decision on India’s decision to build a dam, on the basis of evidence provided. [7] Decisions which are made in such cases are binding to both Pakistan and India.

Water conservation

It has been discussed that water conservation is a problem which faces both Pakistan and India. However, Pakistan appears to have greater problems as far as water conservation is concerned. Water conservation is important since it will enable both countries reduce reliance on the rivers, which are scarce resources and instead take advantage of rainfall and sea water to mitigate the citizens’ needs. [8] It has been discussed that Pakistan loses millions of cubic water to the sea due to lack of water conservation initiatives. It has also been discussed that Pakistan faces a looming water disaster. Water conservation will enable Pakistan have more water for use in agriculture, and ensure that citizens have access to water. It will also reduce disputes which arise from the use of rivers by India and Pakistan since poor water conservation is one of the factors which have worsened the crisis.

Development of a new treaty

The establishment of a new treaty is another way in which the India-Pakistan conflict maybe resolved. It is clear that the conflict is solely related to the Indus Treaty which forbade India from constructing a dam within Chenab River without permission from Pakistan. However, when the treaty was initially established, future projections on water needs for both countries were not adequately assessed. For instance, the surge in population to hundreds of millions, decades later was not factored in when establishing the treaty. Since the modern world is dynamic, it is necessary to reconsider the contract and factor in these changing factors. India and Pakistan should re-negotiate the treaty afresh and clearly explain how the water maybe used by both countries to achieve mutual benefit. The new treaty should project future trends as far as water consumption is concerned to avoid other future conflicts relating to water use.

Summary and conclusion

The Pakistan-India water dispute has been discussed in detail in the paper. The dispute has been seen to have lasted for several decades. This dispute is attributed to the Indus treaty made in the 1960s which set out how Pakistan and India would share water resources. One of the clauses was that India would not construct a dam in rivers which belonged to Pakistan without express permission from Pakistan. However, India flouted this rule by constructing a hydro-electric plant in Doda district along Chenab River without due consultation from Pakistan. Pakistan saw this as an economic and political threat since it depended on waters from this river for agricultural purposes.

However, this conflict has adversely affected both countries by limiting development through cooperation. It also poses a danger of encouraging terrorism between the two countries especially if terrorists find it a cause worthy of their intervention. This conflict may also degenerate into war, especially if a terrorist activity occurs as a result of the conflict or if leaders intentionally provoke each other in a bid to resolve the dispute. This may lead to a regional war and may cause very many fatalities.

In order to mitigate the threats caused by the conflict, it is imperative that action is taken to prevent further escalation of the conflict. There are various ways in which the dispute may be resolved and one of the most effective ways is use of dialog and mediation. Dialog and mediation enables concerned parties to discuss issues and present them to a neutral mediator who makes a binding decision on issues raised. Another means is the re-negotiation of the treaty. Since the treaty was made many decades ago, and it overlooked certain societal changes which occur over time, a new treaty which replaces the current one may be developed by Pakistan and India. However, this treaty should predict future trends which may cause further disputes in future.

Finally, water conservation is an important policy which should be embraced by Pakistan and India to reduce expenses on water costs and prevent the depletion of the water resource. These measures should be embraced by all countries with resources, since they will prevent future problems or conflicts which are associated with possession of resources.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

Related Content

Jurisdictions / Tags

Content relating to: "International Law"

International law, also known as public international law and the law of nations, is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally accepted in relations between nations. International law is studied as a distinctive part of the general structure of international relations.

Related Articles

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on LawTeacher.net then please: