Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

India sends notice to Pakistan to amend 1960 Indus Water Treaty


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Indus river system, Indus Water Treaty

Mains level: Indus Water Treaty


India announced that it wants to modify the 62-year-old Indus Water Treaty (IWT) with Pakistan.

Why India issued notice to Pakistan?

  • Unsolicited disputes over Indian hydel projects: India cited Pakistan’s intransigence in resolving disputes over the Kishenganga and Ratle hydropower projects, both in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Dragging arbitration: India protested Pakistan’s “unilateral” decision to approach a court of arbitration at The Hague.
  • A foul cry: Pakistan’s move to push the World Bank for a Court of Arbitration ran counter to the pre-existing channel of dispute resolution through a “neutral expert” appointed by the World Bank.
  • Renegotiating IWT: The decision to issue notice to Pakistan is a major step and could lead to the unravelling and renegotiation of the water sharing treaty.

Why is Pakistan objecting?

  • Pakistan had first raised objections to India’s construction of the 330 MW Kishenganga hydroelectric project on the Jhelum river back in 2006.
  • It then objected to plans to construct the 850 MW Ratle Hydroelectric Project on the Chenab river as well.
  • Both India and Pakistan differred on whether the technical details of the hydel projects conformed with the treaty, given that the Jhelum and Chenab were part of the “western tributaries”.

What is Indus Water Treaty (IWT)?

  • The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-distribution treaty between India and Pakistan, brokered by the World Bank signed in Karachi in 1960.
  • According to this agreement, control over the water flowing in three “eastern” rivers of India — the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej was given to India
  • The control over the water flowing in three “western” rivers of India — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum was given to Pakistan.

Basis of the treaty

  • Equitable water-sharing: Back in time, partitioning the Indus rivers system was inevitable after the Partition of India in 1947.
  • Empathizing the Partition: The sharing formula devised after prolonged negotiations sliced the Indus system into two halves.

Why is India rethinking on this treaty?

  • Mostly favours Pakistan: Equitable it may have seemed, but the fact remained that India conceded 80.52 percent of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system to Pakistan.
  • Unnecessarily generous: It also gave Rs 83 crore in pounds sterling to Pakistan to help build replacement canals from the western rivers. Such generosity is unusual of an upper riparian.
  • Reclaiming riparian rights: India conceded its upper riparian position on the western rivers for the complete rights on the eastern rivers. Water was critical for India’s development plans.

What were the rights accorded to India?

  • Limited irrigation: The treaty allowed India to use western rivers water for limited irrigation use.
  • Unrestricted commercial use: It gave powers for unrestricted use for power generation, domestic industrial and non-consumptive uses such as navigation, floating of property, fish culture, etc.
  • Hydel projects: It lays down precise regulations to build any water or hydel projects.
  • Addressing Pak’s concerns: The pact also gives the right to Pakistan to raise objections to designs of Indian hydroelectric projects on the western rivers.

Significance of the treaty

  • Testimonial to peaceful coexistence: It is a treaty that is often cited as an example of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence that exist despite the troubled relationship.
  • Survived many hostilities: It has survived 3 crucial wars.
  • Most successful bilateral treaty: It is internationally regarded as an example of successful conflict resolution between two countries otherwise locked in a hostile relationship.

Why has the treaty survived?

  • India’s generosity: It is for India’s generosity on Pakistan for sharing waters of its own rivers.
  • Free flow of waters: India has refrained from weaponizing waters. Pakistan cannot survive without this treaty.
  • Huge dependence Pak economy: About 80% of Pakistan’s agriculture depends on Indus and the riparian rivers waters.
  • Humanitarian grounds: Floods and droughts will starve ordinary Pakistanis while their politicians would still live in luxury.
  • India’s credibility: Backtracking on the treaty could affect India’s stand as global reliable partner who disrespects bilateral agreements.

Why should India rethink?

  • Blow of terroristan: PM Modi’s words hold relevance that “Blood and waters cannot flow together”.
  • A tit for tat: If India wants, it can either flood or drought-starve Pakistan by not obligating to this treaty.

Way forward

  • The role of India, as a responsible upper riparian abiding by the provisions of the treaty, has been remarkable.
  • However, India needs to rethink or re-negotiate this treaty.
  • Just like water affects ordinary Pakistanis, so does terrorism affects Indians.


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