Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Indus Waters Treaty (IWT): An enduring agreement bridging India-Pakistan ties


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Lessons from Indus Water Treaty


The 118th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) comprising the Indus Commissioners of India and Pakistan held on May 30-31, 2022 in New Delhi.

Indus Waters Treaty, 1960: A background

  • After years of arduous negotiations, the Indus Waters Treaty was signed in Karachi on September 19, 1960, by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then Pakistani President Ayub Khan, negotiated by the World Bank.
  • 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
  • The treaty allowed India to use western rivers water for limited irrigation use and unrestricted use for power generation, domestic, industrial and non-consumptive uses such as navigation, floating of property, fish culture, etc. while laying down precise regulations for India to build projects
  • India has also been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through the run of the river (RoR) projects on the Western Rivers which, subject to specific criteria for design and operation is unrestricted.
  • The Permanent Indus Commission, which has a commissioner from each country, oversees the cooperative mechanism and ensures that the two countries meet annually (alternately in India and Pakistan).
  • This year, the commission met twice, in March in Islamabad, Pakistan, and then in New Delhi, in May.
  • It is a rare feat that despite the many lows in India-Pakistan relations, talks under the treaty have been held on a regular basis.

Some disagreements

  • Throughout its existence, there have been many occasions during which differences between the two countries were discernible.
  • Both countries held different positions when Pakistan raised objections regarding the technical design features of the Kishanganga and Ratle hydroelectric power plants.
  • Differences were also discernible when Pakistan approached the World Bank to facilitate the setting up of a court of arbitration to address the concerns related to these two projects referred to in Article IX Clause 5 of the treaty, and when India requested the appointment of a Neutral Expert referent to Clause 2.1 of Article IX .
  • Eventually, on March 31, 2022, the World Bank, decided to resume two separate processes by appointing a neutral expert and a chairman for the court of arbitration.
  • The appointment of a neutral expert will find precedence to address the differences since under Article IX Clause 6 of the treaty provisions, Arbitration ‘shall not apply to any difference while it is being dealt with by a Neutral Expert’.
  • Pakistan, invoking Article VII Clause 2 on future cooperation, raised objections on the construction and technical designs of the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydropower plants.
  • Similarly, India has raised concerns on issues such as Pakistan’s blockade of the Fazilka drain.

Lessons from the treaty

  • Engagement between conflicting nations: The treaty is an illustration of a long-standing engagement between the conflicting nations that has stood the vagaries of time.
  • Water management cooperation: The treaty is considered one of the oldest and the most effective examples of water management cooperation in the region and the world.
  • Avoiding conflict: With the exception of differences on a few pending issues, both countries have avoided any actions resulting in the aggravation of the conflict or acted in a manner causing conflict to resurface.

Potential for cooperation

  • Joint research: Recognising common interests and mutual benefits, India and Pakistan can undertake joint research on the rivers to study the impact of climate change for ‘future cooperation’ (underlined in Article VII).
  • Potential for cooperation and development: The Indus Waters Treaty also offers great potential for cooperation and development in the subcontinent which can go a long way in ensuring peace and stability.


Given that both India and Pakistan have been committed to manage the rivers in a responsible manner, the Treaty can be a reference point to resolve other water-related issues in the region through regular dialogue and interaction.

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