The Indus Water Agreement (IWT) is an agreement signed between India and Pakistan on September 19, 1960[1] the agreement was established by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Pakistani President Ayub Khan and the World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development). The treaty established and limited the rights and obligations of the two countries regarding the most complete and satisfactory use of the waters of the Indus River.

In 1951, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the former director of the US Atomic Energy Commission David Lilienthal invited, India and Pakistan to seek advice and resources provided by the World Bank for the joint development and management of the Indus River system[2]. In 1954, the World Bank put forward a proposal to break the deadlock. On September 19, 960, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Mohammed Ayub Khan signed the Indus Water Resources Treaty in Karachi, Pakistan[3].

Treaty provisions:

The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) consists of the Indus River and its five tributaries, divided into two categories[4]:

· Eastern Rivers: Sutlej, Beas and Ravi.

· Western rivers: Jhelum, Chenab and Indus

· According to the terms of the agreement, all water sources in the rivers of eastern India are provided free of charge.

· India should allow unrestricted water flow from western rivers to Pakistan.

· The Permanent Indus Commission (Article VIII) was established by the United Nations to resolve disputes related to the allocation of water resources through arbitration and to settle disputes amicably.

· Under the treaty, India can use water from western rivers for domestic purposes, such as storage, irrigation, and power generation.

· The treaty provides India with 20% of the water volume of the Indus River system. The remaining 80% go to Pakistan.

· When implementing flood control or flood control plans, each country (India/Pakistan) will try to avoid the property loss of the other country.

· Rivers that discharge floods or other excess water are free, not limited to India or Pakistan. The damage caused by use shall be compensated by the other party.

· Although the Indus River originates in Tibet, China is still outside the scope of the treaty.

Issues related to the Indus Waters Treaty

Both parties have continuously accused the other party of violating the terms of the contract, thereby causing many problems regarding the applicability of the provisions of the treaty[5].

· In 2016, Pakistan asked the World Bank to express its concern about the Kishenganga and Rattle hydropower projects in Jammu and Kashmir[6]. India asked a neutral expert to inspect the facility and stated that the issues raised by Pakistan are technical and do not require action. The World Bank has allowed India to continue these projects.

· Due to Pakistan’s resistance, the Tulbul project was discontinued in 1987. The government recently decided to renegotiate the moratorium without considering Pakistan’s protests.

· LBOD (Left Bank of Pakistan Fall Runoff) runs through Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India, and was constructed without Indian approval. India protested because it conflicted with the Indus Waters Treaty.

· Recently, bilateral relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated. After the Uri attack on India, Prime Minister Modi stated that blood and water cannot flow at the same time, and that Pakistan’s support for cross-border terrorism will force India to reconsider its generous stance on weapons and military equipment.[7]

· Another issue mentioned about the IWT is that it was signed by the then Prime Minister Nehru on behalf of India. However, he was not the head of state, and therefore, this agreement should have been signed by the head of state, the president of the country.

What does the "Indus Waters Treaty" mean to Pakistan?

The Indo, Chenab and Jhelum rivers are vital to Pakistan because the country relies heavily on these rivers. Since these rivers flow through India instead of Pakistan, Pakistan is worried about the danger of drought and famine.

Withdrawal from the treaty

The treaty does not stipulate that a country can unilaterally withdraw from the treaty. Article XII of the treaty stipulates: "The provisions of this treaty, or the provisions of this treaty as amended by paragraph 3, shall continue to be valid until the end of the treaty formally approved by the two governments. Even if India wants to terminate the contract, it must abide by the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.[8]

Revision of the Indus Waters Treaty: The Way Forward

The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) was formulated to reduce hostilities between India and Pakistan, and this principle must be respected. India has always dealt with security and water resources separately from Pakistan. 80% of the arable land is irrigated by the Indus River and its tributaries. The reduction of water flow in Pakistan will seriously harm Pakistan (especially Punjab and Sindh). Failure to comply with the Indus Waters Treaty may lead to India being condemned globally which might hamper its chance to have a seat on the UN Security Council. India should consider carefully before adopting other drastic measures, as these measures may have a lasting impact on relations with Pakistan.

Article XII (4) of the IWT, 1960 states that it "may change from time to time", but carefully states that it "adopted an appropriately ratified treaty between the two governments. Pakistan believes that these changes received good advice in 1960.Although it may not make sense to terminate the contract unilaterally, India’s best option is to simplify and re-analyse the terms of the treaty[9].

v Completing the water conservation system and energy projects ahead of schedule. This is very important to ensure that the development of infrastructure takes full advantage of the inland navigation opportunities associated with the IWT. India’s past generosity for the Tulbul navigation project[10] and the lack of participation of the project team in the Rattle hydropower project are unacceptable. Article VIII and IX of the treaty should be emphasized to continue the development of the energy sector and other sectors in the region.

v Considering the development of the energy sector and the needs of J&K in agriculture and related sectors from the perspective of India’s overall interests, it may be recommended to use IWT to plan water organization more efficiently, and focussing on defending the measures taken for the same.[11]

v Shahpur Kandy Dam needs to be completed as soon as possible so that the much-needed Ravi Waters in the Kathua area of ​​J & K can reach the destination and accumulate the needed benefits for the locals.

v India should strengthen its diplomatic efforts and explain to the world, especially Pakistan, that India is a central coastal country on the Indus and Sutlej Rivers. Therefore, China as an upstream coastal country is worth discussing. So as not to usurp the rights of the lower and middle coastal countries like India and Pakistan.

v The construction of LBOD at Great Rann in Kutch should be negotiated with Pakistan. This design violates IWT regulations.


The establishment of task Force to review the "Indus Waters Treaty" is a good step. Over time, it is expected to help India establish the right water management infrastructure so that it can use all waters. Without repealing the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, the debate on ‘Rights of Pakistan vs Needs of India’ can continue.

[1] https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/6439/Indus [2] Gulhati, Niranjan D., The Indus Waters Treaty: An Exercise in International Mediation, Allied Publishers: Bombay, 1973, p-93 [3] Mason, Edward Sagendorph, Asher, Robert E. (1973). The World Bank Since Bretton Woods (First ed.). Washington: The Brookings Institution. P- 612 [4] http://wrmin.nic.in/writereaddata/internationalcooperation/induswatertreaty196054268637.pdf [5] Sarfraz,H., “Revisiting the 1960 Indus water Treaty” pub in water international, 38 (2) during 2013, p-205 [6] Col Harjeet Singh, “Water availability in Pakistan”, Indian Defence Review, issue Vol 25, 04 Oct-Dec 2010/23 Sep 2016 [7] Uri attack: BSF jawan succumbs to injuries, death toll rises to 19". The Indian Express. 25 September 2016 [8] Amitabh Sinha, “Turning off Indus tap easier said than done”, pub in Indian Express 03 Oct 2016. [9] Gautam Sen, “Deactivating the Permanent Indus Waters Commission”, pub as IDSA Comment dated 03 Oct 2016 uploaded on http:// www.idsa.in/taxonomy/term/1509 [10] Sameer Yaasir, “Indus Water Treaty, the Tulbul Project and its Implication on India-Pakistan Relations” [11] Dr. S. Chandrasekharan, “The Indus Water Treaty in Post Uri Situation – Analysis”