Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Water wars | Why does India want to renegotiate the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan?

Why does India want to renegotiate the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss India’s notice to Pakistan to renegotiate the 62-year-old Indus Water Treaty and what this means for the already tense India-Pak ties

Published - February 03, 2023 09:10 pm IST

India issues a notice to renegotiate the 62-year-old Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan- could this mean another flank opened in already tense India-Pakistan ties, as well as trouble in India’s cooperation with the World Bank?


-Negotiated over 9 years, The Indus Water Treaty was signed by PM Nehru and Pakistan President Ayub Khan in 1960 in Karachi

- The need for the treaty arose after partition- when Pakistan began to worry about water channels needed for its irrigation, which was in the Partition agreement. At one point India stopped water going into canals to Pakistan for a brief period, and negotiations began, with the World Bank as the third signatory. Former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower described it as “one bright spot ... in a very depressing world picture that we see so often.”

-The Treaty allocates the Western Rivers (Indus, Jhelum, Chenab) to Pakistan and the Eastern Rivers (Ravi, Beas, Sutlej) to India. At the same time, the Treaty allows each country certain uses on the rivers allocated to the other- basically anything except water consumption activity- Small run of river hydropower projects included-the 330MW Kishenganga HPP that began in 2007 and was completed in 2018 and the 850 MW Ratle HPP that was started in 2013

In Article 9, the IWT lists out a procedure for dispute resolution- classifying these as Questions, Differences and Disputes, where both sides agree to try and resolve issues through bilateral meetings of the Permanent Indus Commission, failing which the World Bank will appoint a Neutral Expert or constitute a Bench at The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitrage. In the past India has won two major disputes through these processes- including the Baglihar Dam project which a Neutral Expert ruled on in 2007, and the previous dispute on the Kishenganga project- which Pakistan said was interfering with its own Neelum project downstream in 2013.


1. On January 25, India sent an official notice through the Indian Commission for Indus Water to their Pakistani counterpart- calling for the Modification of the Indus Water Treaty of September 1960, as per Article XII (3) of the treaty

2. On January 27, The Permanent Court of Arbitrage bench appointed by the World Bank at The Hague began to hear a petition by Pakistan that has objected to two Indian Hydropower projects in Jammu Kashmir which it claims are violative of the Treaty. India boycotted the Hague hearing. The Pakistan government was dismissive of the notice, called it diversionary.

3. Meanwhile the World Bank, which is considering its response to India’s notice, said it believes that

- The IWT is one of the most successful transboundary water management treaties in the world and its preservation has been among the World Bank’s highest priorities.

- That the ongoing disputes- on the Kashmir dams Kishenganga and Ratle are a risk to the treaty given they have not been resolved for 16 years

- That the treaty mandates the World Bank to appoint both a Neutral Expert and a Court of Arbitration to resolve the issues over the two dams.


1. Officials say Pakistan’s “intransigence” forced India to take the extreme step of reopening the whole treaty- and has been refusing all solutions offered since 2006.

2. After the Kishenganga dam was completed and the Ratle dam began construction, Pakistan escalated this to a “difference”- meaning it asked World Bank for a Neutral Expert, and then moved on within months to a “dispute”- asking the World Bank for an Arbitration tribunal. India had already accepted the Neutral Expert, so this meant having two parallel and possibly conflicting processes.

3. India feels the situation exposes a major flaw in the IWT that must be resolved- the main amendment India will seek if the IWT is negotiated is to clarify the dispute resolution Article IX- in addition the World Bank’s decision to allow both processes to go forward since October 2022 runs counter to India’s stand, and New Delhi probably wants to indicate its anger with the World Bank as well

4. Of course, this comes in the backdrop of all the other bilateral impasses between the two countries- no political dialogue, no trade, no exchanges, no High Commissioners etc... and it is clear the bilateral ties are now bleeding into the IWT as well

5. Political reasons: the Modi government has always pitched a hard line on Pakistan- in the wake of the 2016 Uri attacks- many ministers had suggested India abrogate the treaty, and PM had said that “blood and water cannot flow together” at a meeting with Water officials on the IWT held at the time.


What could be the problem if India says it wants to amend the treaty, as is outlined as a procedure in Article XII of the IWT-

1. There is no indication that Pakistan will accept the proposal within 90 days, in which case India would have to escalate to the next step, and even call to scrap the treaty

2. Even if Pakistan does accept India’s demand to rengotiate, it could bring different aspects of the IWT into question, demand more water, or more restrictions on India’s usage, which would make it impossible to negotiated

3. The Indus Water Treaty is an example of a successful treaty for the rest of the world, and India stands to lose face as a responsible international power if it calls for its abrogation

4. Matters may be compounded if the PCA rules against India – India has been an upholder of the rules based international order. It accepted international arbitration on a maritime boundary dispute with Bangladesh, for example, even though it lost.

5. By abrogating or amending the treaty, India is setting an international precedent, not just bilateral which will have repercussions. The Indus actually enters India in Gujarat before going into the Arabian sea, so India is both an upper riparian and lower (last riparian) state, and could face similiar issues as Pakistan. China is an upper riparian state on Himalayan rivers including the Brahmaputra, and India cant object to Chinese projects upstream if it refuses to accept Pakistani objections similiarly.

India’s decision to call for the renegotiation of the Indus Water Treaty could open up a whole new can of worms on talks with Pakistan. Regardless of the problems with Pakistan’s behaviour, once such a renegotiation begins, it will be hard to predict how long it will take, and even whether the two inimcable neighbours can conclude such talks at all.


In Pursuit of Peace: India-Pakistan Relations Under Six Prime Ministers by Satinder Kumar Lambah- due to be out in February this year

India’s Pakistan Conundrum: Managing a Complex Relationship by Sharat Sabharwal

The People Next Door: The Curious Case of India’s Relations with Pakistan by T.C.A. Raghavan has an account of PM Nehru’s visit to Pakistan to sign the IWT with President Ayub Khan

Imagining Industan: Overcoming Water Insecurity in the Indus Basin (Water Security in a New World) Edited by Zafar Adeel and Robert G. Wirsing- a selection of essays on the subject including a brilliant essay by Professor Srikanth Kondapalli on water sharing in the entire Himalayan basin

Contested Waters: India’s Transboundary River Water Disputes in South Asia by Amit Ranjan

Some books are partisan- espousing the Pakistani view or the Indian view largely

Indus Waters Treaty: Political and Legal Dimensions by Ijaz Hussain- published by Oxford Press Pakistan and Hydro-Diplomacy: Preventing Water War Between Nuclear-Armed Pakistan and India by Ashfaq Hussain are both from Pakistan

Academic Study of Indus Water Treaty and its Impact by Prasad Chikshe, and Indus Waters Story Paperback by Ashok Motwani and SK Sharma Published by Bloomsbury India from scholars in India

The Indus Water Treaty & Ongoing Water disputes in Armenia-Azerbajaijan: How to Effectively Get Parties to the Negotiating Table Strategic Thinking- By Nancy Myles

The Routledge Atlas of South Asian Affairs by Robert Bradnock

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.