Indus Waters Treaty, signed in 1960, is an agreement between India and Pakistan that regulates the use of water from the Indus River and its tributaries, which flow through both countries. India is seeking to modify the treaty citing concerns over Pakistan’s use of water from the Indus River system for irrigation and power generation. Tensions between the two countries have risen over the issue of water and India has called for a review of the treaty to ensure that the water rights of both countries are protected.
India seeks to modify Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan
India is seeking to modify the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan, citing concerns over the country’s use of water from the Indus River system for irrigation and power generation.
The Indus Waters Treaty, signed in 1960, is an agreement between India and Pakistan that regulates the use of water from the Indus River and its tributaries, which flow through both countries. The treaty gives India control over the eastern rivers of the Indus system, including the Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi, while Pakistan has control over the western rivers of the Indus system, including the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab.
India has long expressed concerns over Pakistan’s construction of dams and other water infrastructure on the western rivers, which it says is in violation of the treaty. These projects, India argues, have the potential to disrupt the flow of water to India and could be used as a tool of political leverage by Pakistan.
Pakistan has regularly objected to India’s Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects in Jammu & Kashmir since 2015. While Islamabad has repeatedly called for the case to be resolved by a Court of Arbitration, New Delhi has stressed that adjudication by a neutral expert is the best way ahead.
India has now accused Pakistan of breaking the “tiered procedure” of dispute settlement envisioned in Article IX of the Indus Waters Treaty, basically rejecting Islamabad’s direct request for a Court of Arbitration to investigate the case first, rather than a neutral expert.
According to official sources, New Delhi sent a notice to Islamabad on January 25 to revise the pact due to “Pakistani stubbornness” in its execution.
The World Bank, an independent party to the pact, stated in April that it will resume the two separate processes sought by India and Pakistan.
India, on the other hand, is hostile to the parallel processes method.
A previous ambassador to Pakistan, who did not wish to be named, said the treaty’s dispute settlement procedure had proven to be “ambiguous”.
Why India wants to modify IWT
In its notification to Islamabad earlier this month, India also accused Pakistan of ignoring to discuss the matter during Permanent Indus Commission sessions conducted between 2017 and 2022.
According to sources, New Delhi has placed Islamabad on notice to begin intergovernmental discussions on the matter, adding, “This process will also modernize IWT to integrate the lessons acquired over the previous 62 years.”
However, it is unclear what changes India is looking for in the pact.
ThePrint attempted to approach A.K. Pal, Commissioner (Indus), through phone and email for clarification but did not receive a response by the time of publishing. This report will be updated whenever a response is received.
“If I had to guess, India is probably aiming to amend Article IX, Annexure F or G, which all have to do with the procedure of dispute settlement,” environmental campaigner and water expert Himanshu Thakkar told ThePrint. Perhaps they could add a language requiring a graded response in which each difference/dispute is resolved by a neutral expert before resorting to a court of arbitration.”
He cautioned, however, that this may be easier said than done because any changes would require Pakistan’s approval, and Islamabad is unlikely to agree to any changes.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if they are also striving to explain the role of the World Bank in dispute settlement. As it stands, the World Bank did nothing from 2017 to 2022 to address the Kishanganga and Ratle project conflicts,” Thakkar added.
The World Bank suspended the process of designating a court of arbitration or a neutral expert to hear issues over the Kishanganga and Ratle projects in December 2016.
Kishanganga & Ratle projects
According to the IWT, the waters of the eastern rivers — Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi — belong to India, while the waters of the western rivers — Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum — belong to Pakistan, excluding some non-consumptive uses.
The Kishanganga hydropower project, which was completed in 2018, contains a dam on a Jhelum stream. Pakistan claims that the dam alters the flow of the river and depletes water levels.
Pakistan filed a complaint with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in May 2010. The court decided in 2013 that India may build the dam as long as it maintained a minimum flow of 9 cubic metres per second (Cumecs), which was less than the Indian government’s plan of 4.25 cumecs.
According to several advocacy groups, the ruling is a “clear setback” for India.
Pakistan, although stating that it still had technical issues about the project’s architecture, sought another court of arbitration to look into the problem rather than finding an impartial expert.
In August 2016, Pakistan requested that the World Bank form an arbitration court to assess the designs of Kishanganga and Ratle, two projects on the Chenab that are presently under development in J&K’s Kishtwar region.
Feisal Naqvi, a lawyer who advised the Pakistani government on the Kishanganga issue, criticised Pakistan for failing to seek the position of an impartial expert.
“After winning its legal case in 2013, Pakistan should have sent the technical components of the Kishanganga issue to a Neutral Expert,” he said in a 2018 op-ed for Dawn. That was indeed the plan. However, Pakistan did an unwise U-turn and tried to refer all outstanding issues to a separate court of arbitration.”
“As a result, no progress has been accomplished over the previous five years,” he continued. Pakistan is in the same situation it was in in December 2013. In the meanwhile, India has finished the Kishanganga project.”
Tensions rise over water rights and concerns of treaty violations by Pakistan.
In recent years, tensions between the two countries have risen over the issue of water, with India accusing Pakistan of violating the treaty by building dams and canals that divert water from the western rivers. Pakistan, in turn, has accused India of violating the treaty by building dams and other water infrastructure on the eastern rivers.
In light of these tensions, India has called for a review of the treaty to ensure that the water rights of both countries are protected and that the treaty is being implemented in a fair and equitable manner. The Indian government has also said that it will take all necessary steps to safeguard its water rights under the treaty, including taking the matter to international arbitration if necessary.
It is worth noting that the Indus Waters Treaty is considered one of the most successful water-sharing agreements in the world, which has been adhered to by both countries for more than 60 years and has been instrumental in preventing water-related conflicts between the two nations.
However, as the population and economic growth in both countries continue to increase, the pressure on water resources is also rising, making water sharing increasingly difficult and a cause for concern for both nations.
The outcome of this review of the treaty remains to be seen, but it is clear that water is becoming an increasingly contentious issue between India and Pakistan and that resolving the current disputes over the treaty will be crucial for maintaining peace and stability in the region.
Neutral expert vs courts of arbitration
The IWT distinguishes between “differences” and “disputes” in Article IX.
It indicates that if the Permanent Indus Panel, a bilateral commission consisting of officials from India and Pakistan, cannot reach to an agreement on an issue, then it is declared a “difference”.
If this discrepancy comes under the provisions of Annexure F1 Part 1, a neutral expert may intervene.
Part 1 of Annexure F1 has 23 clauses that address a wide range of difficulties, from drainage basin border questions to any new hydroelectric facilities on irrigation canals in western rivers.
In this case, the two nations may engage in official discussions and even seek the services of mediators. If neither strategy is effective, the disagreement can be resolved through a court of arbitration. However, no such court should be sought while the subject is being handled by an impartial expert.
It should be recalled that India and Pakistan last engaged a neutral expert in 2007, when tensions developed over India’s Baglihar dam project. Professor Raymond Lafitte, a World Bank-appointed specialist and Swiss civil engineer, approved India’s overall dam design, which was viewed as a victory for New Delhi.
(Edited by Akash Thakur)
FAQs – Indus Waters Treaty
Q1. Why did India agree for Indus Water Treaty?
Ans. India agreed to the Indus Water Treaty as a way to resolve disputes and ensure a stable supply of water for both countries’ needs, and to promote economic development and regional stability.
Q2. What is one of the causes of water conflict between India and Pakistan?
Ans. One of the causes of water conflict between India and Pakistan is the sharing of the Indus River and its tributaries, which flow through both countries.
Q3. Why Pakistan and India signed the water treaty in 1960 with the World Bank?
Ans. Pakistan and India signed the Indus Water Treaty in 1960 with the World Bank as an intermediary to resolve disputes over the sharing of the Indus River and its tributaries and to provide financial assistance.
Q4. What is water treaty between India and Pakistan?
Ans. The Indus Water Treaty is a water-sharing agreement between India and Pakistan, signed in 1960, that determines how the waters of the Indus River and its tributaries, which flow through both countries, are to be used and managed.
Q5. Who is mediator resolved the Indus River water dispute between India and Pakistan?
Ans. The World Bank mediated and resolved the Indus River water dispute between India and Pakistan in 1960.