On 19th September 1960 the Indus River (also known as Sindhu River) water sharing settlement was signed in Karachi between India and Pakistan, by then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani President, Mohammad Ayub Khan.
The treaty came about because Pakistan feared that since the source of River Indus lay in India, it could possibly result in drought and famine in Pakistan, especially during times of war. Though, India never cancelled the treaty even during the Indo-Pakistani wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999.
Ever since the acceptance of the treaty in 1960, India and Pakistan have never had any water wars. Disagreements which later cropped up were settled using a legal framework and hence this treaty is considered to be one of the most successful water sharing treaties in the world.
The water of the Indus basin originates in the Himalayan Mountains in Jammu and Kashmir and Chinese Tibet. The waters flow down the mountains, across the state of Punjab, they then enter Pakistan and flow through Sindh, finally draining into the Arabian Sea, south of Karachi. The bountiful River Indus ensures that there are many canals and water storage facilities along its banks, which provide water for more than 26 million acres of land-making it the largest irrigated area of single river system in the world.
Independence in 1947, followed by the Partition of the country into India and Pakistan led to a disagreement over the waters in the Indus basin. Both countries had to decide how they were going to manage this single network of irrigation. After Partition it was noticed that the source of River Indus was in India and Pakistan was wary about this, since India had control over the tributaries which fed into the Indus basin on the Pakistani side. Since most of Pakistan’s livelihood depended on this river, Pakistan felt threatened by India having control over the river.
Initially, following the first year after partition the water of the Indus were administered by the Inter-Dominion Accord of May 4th 1948. The accord states that India was to release enough water to Pakistan in exchange for an annual payment from Pakistan's government. However, this accord only met the early requirements of the nations and hence there was a need for a long term solution. At that point neither India, nor Pakistan wanted to compromise and soon the negotiations between both countries came to a standstill. From where India looked at it, Pakistan had no power over what India chose to do in terms of diverting the flow of water in the rivers. Pakistan’s stand was bleak as it could not do anything to stop India from diverting the waters in the river. Keeping in mind the seriousness of the situation, Pakistan suggested that the matter be taken to the International Court of Justice, but India said that the solution of this conflict lay in a bilateral resolution.
Help was sought from the World Bank which suggested a plan for both countries which involved financial help from the UK and the US. Eventually on 19th September 1960 in a treaty arranged and negotiated by the World Bank, India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in Karachi, Pakistan. The treaty gave rise to the Permanent Indus Commission, which is required to meet regularly and make plans for the development of the river basin. Both countries need to inform each other of how they plan to engage in engineering work and also provide data about such constructions. In case there is a disagreement between both countries an impartial person is called for settlement of the dispute. Though there has not been any conflict of the kind the Commission was set up to deal with, an annual inspection and sharing of data continues, unruffled by the political tension in South Asia.
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