Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) and the disputes


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Indus river system, Indus Water Treaty

Mains level: Indus Water Treaty, India Pakistan relations



  • India’s January 25 notice to Islamabad seeking modification of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty is the fallout of a longstanding dispute over two hydroelectric power projects on the western rivers the fully operational Kishenganga on the Jhelum, and Ratle on the Chenab.

Crack Prelims 2023! Talk to our Rankers


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.
  • Water does not recognize borders: Underlying the treaty is the principle that water does not recognise international boundaries and upper riparians have a responsibility to lower riparians.


What is the issue?

  • Pakistan’s objection: The Kishenganga was constructed after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in India’s favour. But Pakistan continues to object to this and the Ratle dam.
  • Delhi sought to modify: Delhi, reportedly, has sought to modify the treaty after Pakistan refused intergovernmental negotiations on the matter.
  • Stages for resolving disputes: While that is the first stage provided under the treaty for resolving disputes, the next is the request to the World Bank by the aggrieved party for the appointment of a neutral expert. A court of arbitration is constituted as the last resort.

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. The IWT is the only agreement between India and Pakistan that has stood the test of time, through wars and terrorism.
  • 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.


India and Pakistan’s POV

  • While the treaty does provide for modification from time to time, it has to do so by means of a duly ratified treaty concluded for that purpose between the two Governments.
  • More likely, the issue will fester and grow into another active pressure point in India-Pakistan relations.
  • On the Pakistani side, accusations are made with increasing frequency that India has turned off the water, and on this side, the view is growing that India was been too generous in the IWT.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark in the aftermath of the 2016 Uri attack that “blood and water cannot flow together”, even though how this threat might be implemented is not clear as it would be plain dangerous to build big dams to stop the western rivers from flowing across the LoC in a seismologically active region.


  • Using water as a weapon is never a good idea. It would be so much better for both countries to treat the IWT as an instrument for collaboration on climate action in the fragile Himalayan region.

Mains question

Q. What is Indus water treaty? Discuss the significance of IWT and highlight some of the issues.

(Click) FREE 1-to-1 on-call Mentorship by IAS-IPS officers | Discuss doubts, strategy, sources, and more

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch