Is the Indus Water Treaty a Sign of ‘Successful Diplomacy’?

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.


The Indus Water Treaty (IWT), signed in 1960, was an agreement between India and Pakistan to ensure that despite partition, both countries would continue to have equitable access to water from the Indus river and its tributaries. While campaigning for the recently concluded state elections in Haryana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would block the flow of the Indus river into Pakistan, and instead divert the water to farmers in Haryana and Rajasthan. While the Pakistani establishment reacted strongly to this threat to its water security, this is not the first time that the IWT has been used as a political tool. The Indian government in 2002 considered scrapping the IWT after the attack on Parliament, and after the Uri attack in 2016, Modi had famously said that “blood and water cannot flow together.” 

Construction along the Indus river and its tributaries has been contested, given the provisions of the IWT. Ramaswamy R Iyer’s 2008 article argues that Pakistan’s decision to submit a “nonpaper” to protest the construction of the Baglihar dam across the Chenab river was mere theatrics, and an attempt to raise the “water issue” merely to rouse nationalist sentiments in the country. Iyer argues that India has not flouted the IWT, and even if that was the case, the treaty has enough provisions to ensure that disputes regarding the sharing of water can be amicably resolved. Pavan Nair responds to Iyer, arguing that India is indeed exploiting its position as an upper riparian state, and threatening Pakistan’s water security. Majed Akhter also responds to Iyer, concurring with his argument. Akhter contends that the IWT was designed with adequate dispute resolution mechanisms, and posturing over the “water issue” is more a reflection of the prevailing political climate. 

Iyer responds to both Nair and Akhter, and reiterates his argument that accusing India of flouting the IWT for political gains will only serve to further deteriorate India-Pakistan relations. 

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—"Diplomacy and Water Security."
Curated by Kieran Lobo []


Image Courtesy: Modified. Max Pixel/Unknown/CC0

Back to Top