This paper develops the framework of the "developmentalist passive revolution" to analyze the politics of water development during the Cold War. This framework is developed by drawing on Marxist geopolitics and critical water geography, and is offered as a way to facilitate comparative analysis of engineering and nationalism in the context of Cold War hydropolitics. The concrete historical engagements of the paper relate to the signing of The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) of 1960 between Pakistan and India and the associated Indus Basin Plan to transform the Pakistani waterscape. What historical and geopolitical-economic conditions enabled the signing of the IWT? What legacies did the IWT have for state formation in Pakistan? Drawing on the negotiation records of the IWT, archival materials relating to Pakistani river development during the 1960s, and fieldwork conducted in Pakistan in 2012, this paper argues that Cold War hydropolitics are best analyzed through the cultural and economic interactions of asymmetrically empowered developmentalist state elites at multiple scales. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.