Write in detail the history and main features of the Indus Water Treaty with a special focus on its significance in the current scenario of water stress in Pakistan

Write in detail the history and main features of the Indus Water Treaty with a special focus on its significance in the current scenario of water stress in Pakistan

CSS Solved Environmental Science Past Papers | Write in detail the history and main features of the Indus Water Treaty with a special focus on its significance in the current scenario of water stress in Pakistan

The following question of Environmental Science is attempted on the same pattern, taught by Sir to his students, scoring the highest marks in compulsory subjects for years. This solved past paper question is uploaded to help aspirants understand how to crack a topic or question, how to write relevantly, what coherence is, and how to include and connect ideas, opinions, and suggestions to score the maximum.

Question Breakdown

The question requires an in-depth explanation of the Indus Water Treaty, with a focus on its historical background, key features, and its significance for Pakistan’s current water scarcity situation. Use article numbers of the treaty to support your answers authentically. It will work as a marks grabber for you. Your answer should cover the implementation of the treaty, its impact on Pakistan’s water resources, and the challenges posed by climate change and growing demand. Additionally, the answer should underscore the treaty’s importance in promoting regional collaboration and conflict resolution, especially given the tense relations between India and Pakistan over water resources. At the end of your answer, you can also critically evaluate the treaty to add its drawbacks


1- Introduction

2- Historical perspective of the Indus Water Treaty

3- Salient features of the Indus Water Treaty

  • ✓Provisions regarding eastern rivers (Article-2)
  • ✓Provisions regarding western rivers (Article-3)
  • ✓Exchange of data (Article-6)
  • ✓Future Cooperation (Article-7)
  • ✓Permanent Indus Commission (Article-8)
  • ✓Settlement of differences and disputes (Article-9)

4-“No water at all”- A case study to show the current water scarcity level in Pakistan

5- Significance of IWT with reference to the current water status of Pakistan

  • ✓“No water at all”- A case study to show the current water scarcity level in Pakistan
  • ✓Bread basket of Punjab province-Role of IWT in the economy of Pakistan
  • ✓The Indus Waters Treaty: Prospects for India-Pakistan Peace
  • ✓Violation of IWT: India to build another dam

6- Emerging challenges to Indus Water Treaty: A perceived threat to Pakistan

7- Cooperation on Indus Basin: Way forward


Answer to the Question


“The Indus Waters Treaty is a shining example of how countries can cooperate to manage shared water resources.”

– David Molden, Director General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)

The Indus Waters Treaty, which was brokered by the World Bank and signed on September 19, 1960, established the rights and responsibilities of India and Pakistan concerning the utilization of the waters of the Indus River system. The Indus River flows through the disputed Kashmir region, originating in the southwestern Tibet Autonomous Region of China, and emptying into the Arabian Sea in Pakistan. After the partition of British India in 1947, the water system was bifurcated, with the head works in India and the canals running through Pakistan, and negotiations on the distribution of water between the two countries became contentious. David Lilienthal, a former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, visited the region in 1951 and suggested that India and Pakistan should jointly develop and administer the Indus River system with the advice and financing of the World Bank, but political considerations prevented technical discussions from leading to a resolution. Finally, after six years of talks, the Indus Waters Treaty was signed, granting Pakistan the use of the western rivers (the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) and India the use of the eastern rivers (the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej). The treaty also provided for the funding and construction of dams, canals, barrages, and tube wells, with much of the financing coming from member countries of the World Bank. The Permanent Indus Commission, comprising a commissioner from each country, was established to facilitate communication and resolve implementation issues, and a mechanism for dispute resolution was also established. This treaty is still significant for both countries, especially for Pakistan being an agrarian country. It is considered as a most successful agreement between the countries even after sharing of hostile terms with each other.

Historical Perspective of Indus Water Treaty

The partition of British India in 1947 created a significant issue regarding water resources between Pakistan and India, as it divided the Indus basin system. India became the upper riparian state with control over the canal headworks that supplied water to the vast lands that eventually became part of Pakistan, now a lower riparian. After long negotiations, the World Bank mediated between India and Pakistan, and they signed the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) in 1960, which allocated the rivers of the Indus basin system between the two countries. The World Bank facilitated the negotiation of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan, which aims to distribute the water resources of the Indus River and its tributaries. The treaty was signed on 19 September 1960 in Karachi by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India at the time, and Ayub Khan, who was then the President of Pakistan. Under the treaty, India was given full control over the three Eastern Rivers – the Ravi, the Beas, and the Sutlej – with a mean annual flow of 41 billion m3; while Pakistan received exclusive rights to the western rivers, i.e. the Indus, the Jhelum, and the Chenab- with a mean annual flow of 99 billion m3. The treaty is often cited as a successful model for settling water-sharing conflicts in an international river basin, as it has survived major wars and many fluctuations in the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.

Source Google

The treaty between India and Pakistan provides guidelines for the utilization of water from the Indus River system.  India has about 20% of the total water carried by the Indus system, while Pakistan has 80%. It permits India to use the waters from the western rivers for limited irrigation purposes and unlimited non-consumptive uses like power generation, navigation, fish culture, and floating of property. However, India is required to follow strict regulations while constructing projects on the western rivers. The treaty emphasizes the rights and duties of both countries in using the water from the Indus system while promoting goodwill, friendship, and cooperation. Despite the treaty, Pakistan remains concerned about the possibility of India causing floods or droughts in Pakistan, especially during times of war.

Source Google

Salient features of the Indus Water Treaty

“The Indus Waters Treaty is one of the most successful water-sharing agreements in the world, and has withstood the test of time.”

– Ban Ki-moon, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations

The Indus water treaty is a document that contains all the essential provisions related to the utilization of waters of the Indus River. Some of its features are discussed here:

  • ✓ Provisions regarding eastern rivers (Article-2)

The Indus Waters Treaty is an agreement between India and Pakistan regarding the use of the water of the Indus River system. The treaty stipulates that India can use all the waters of the Eastern Rivers except for certain specified purposes, while Pakistan must allow the flow of the Sutlej and Ravi Rivers within its territory and not interfere with their natural course. Pakistan can use the waters of any tributary that joins the Sutlej or Ravi rivers in Pakistan, while India has unrestricted use of the waters of any tributary that joins these rivers after they cross into Pakistan. The treaty also provided for a transition period during which India was supposed to limit its water withdrawals and make deliveries to Pakistan from the Eastern Rivers. This period began on April 1, 1960, and ended on March 31, 1970, but it could be extended. After the transition period, Pakistan would not have any claim or right to release Eastern River waters by India.

  • ✓ Provisions regarding western rivers (Article-3)

All the waters of the Western Rivers that India is obligated to let flow will be available to Pakistan without any restriction. India, on the other hand, has the responsibility to ensure that the Western Rivers flow freely and must not interfere with them, except for the purposes mentioned in Annexure C, which include Domestic Use, Non-Consumptive Use, Agricultural Use, and the generation of hydro-electric power as per the guidelines in Annexure D. Pakistan has unrestricted access to all waters that do not originate from the Eastern Rivers and are delivered by Pakistan into The Ravi or The Sutlej, and India must not utilize them. India is prohibited from storing any water or constructing storage works on the Western Rivers, except as allowed in Annexures D and E.

  • ✓Exchange of data (Article-6)

Article 6 of the treaty deals with the regular exchange of data related to the flow and use of water from the Rivers such as daily extractions or releases from reservoirs, daily withdrawals at the heads of government-operated canals, including link canals, daily regulation from all canals, including link canals, and daily deliveries from link canals. Each Party will send this data to the other monthly as soon as it’s collected and tabulated, but no later than three months after the end of the relevant month. However, if either Party considers any of the specified data necessary for operational purposes, it will be provided daily or at a less frequent interval upon request. If one Party requests the data through telegram, telephone, or wireless, the other Party will be reimbursed for the cost of transmission.

  • ✓Future Cooperation (Article-7)

Article 7 is all about mutual and future cooperation between the parties. The two parties involved recognize their mutual interest in the optimal development of rivers and agree to cooperate to the fullest extent possible. They will install hydrological and meteorological observation stations at the request of the other party, and carry out necessary new drainage works. They may also cooperate in engineering works on the rivers by mutual agreement. If either party plans to construct an engineering work that would interfere with the waters of any of the rivers and affect the other party, they must notify the other party and provide data related to the work’s nature, magnitude, and effect. If the work would not affect the other party materially, they must still provide available data upon request.

  • Permanent Indus Commission (Article-8)

The Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan outlines the establishment of a Permanent Indus Commission, consisting of two Commissioners appointed by each country. The Commissioners should be high-ranking engineers with expertise in hydrology and water use. They will act as representatives for their respective governments on all matters related to the implementation of the Treaty and will serve as the primary channel of communication between the two countries. The Commission’s purpose is to establish cooperative arrangements for the implementation of the Treaty and to promote cooperation in the development of the waters of the Rivers. The Commission will meet regularly, and each government will bear the expenses of its own Commissioner and staff. The Commission will determine its procedures, and the Commissioners will be accorded the same privileges and immunities as representatives of member States to the principal and subsidiary organs of the United Nations.

  • Settlement of differences and disputes (Article-9)

The Treaty establishes a Commission to resolve any disputes that arise between the parties regarding the interpretation or application of the Treaty. If the Commission is unable to resolve the dispute, a Neutral Expert may be appointed to settle the matter. If the dispute cannot be resolved by a Neutral Expert, it is considered a dispute that will be settled through negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. The Commission must report the dispute to both governments and state the issues in dispute and each commissioner’s views. Either government can request negotiations to resolve the dispute and may enlist the services of a mediator. If the dispute remains unresolved, a court of arbitration will be established. These provisions do not apply while a Neutral Expert is dealing with the matter.

“No water at all”- A case study to show current water scarcity level in Pakistan

Pakistan is facing a dire and alarming situation with regards to water scarcity. The country is ranked 14th among the 17 countries in the world with “extremely high water risk”, including arid countries like Saudi Arabia. According to a recent report by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), more than 80% of Pakistanis face severe water scarcity for at least one month each year. What makes this situation even more complex is that Pakistan is a downstream country to India, with 78% of its water inflows coming from there. This crisis has affected everyone in the country, from low-income groups to the affluent. For instance, even posh neighborhoods in Karachi are struggling to access water.

“All the taps in my school are dry. Even when I go to the school toilet, I use the water that I bring from my home,” Sughra said while waiting for her turn at the school’s only toilet, holding a water bottle.

The lack of access to safe drinking water compounds this issue, with 22 million people lacking access to clean drinking water and 79 million people without access to improved sanitation facilities, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention, as water is an essential resource for all living beings and its scarcity can have devastating consequences.

Significance of IWT with reference to the current water status of Pakistan

Even after passing six decades, IWT is still significant for Pakistan because of its over-reliance on the Indus River water.  Some of the significant dimensions are illustrated below:

  • ✓ Bread basket of Punjab province  & role of IWT in the economy of Pakistan

The Punjab province of Pakistan is a vital region for the country’s agricultural production and food security. The province is famous for its cultivation of wheat, a staple food for the people of Pakistan. Punjab has over 51 million acres of cultivated land and an additional 9.05 million acres of cultivable waste. The availability of water is crucial for agriculture, hydroelectric power generation, and other economic activities in Punjab. Under the treaty, Pakistan has been granted exclusive use of the waters of the three western rivers, namely the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab. These rivers are the lifeline of agriculture in Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, which receives the majority of its water from the Indus River system. The treaty has helped Pakistan to develop its agriculture sector and has contributed significantly to the country’s food security. The construction of major dams and irrigation canals, such as the Tarbela and Mangla dams, has been made possible under the treaty. These dams provide hydroelectric power and irrigation water to the Punjab province. The bread basket of Punjab is an important contributor to the country’s food security and economy, and the Indus Water Treaty plays a vital role in ensuring that water resources are managed effectively for the benefit of the people.

  • ✓ The Indus Waters Treaty: Prospects for India-Pakistan Peace

The Indus Waters Treaty has been a crucial instrument for maintaining peace between India and Pakistan and managing their shared water resources. While challenges and disputes have arisen, the treaty has shown resilience and has the potential to continue to be a source of cooperation and stability in the region. The treaty itself has several mechanisms for the settlement of disputes among the countries, the such establishment of the Permanent Indus Commission, which is made up of representatives from both countries and meets regularly to discuss issues related to the treaty. The treaty faced a number of challenges on behalf of both countries, yet it managed to withstand all those tensions. It is wisely said:

“The Indus Waters Treaty has survived three wars between India and Pakistan, including the Bangladesh Liberation War, and has provided a framework for the two countries to negotiate water-sharing despite frequent tensions.

– Ban Ki-moon, Former UN Secretary-General
  • ✓ Violation of IWT: India to build another dam

“The wars of the twenty-first century will be fought over water.”

-Ismail Serageldin

The construction of dams has sparked concerns about future water shortages and led to diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan, with both countries engaging in divisive political narratives that could increase the likelihood of conflict. Pakistanis are particularly concerned that India’s upstream dams could allow it to control the amount of water that flows down into Pakistan through the Indus. Pakistan has made multiple attempts over the past two decades to prevent India from building dams on the Chenab and Neelum Rivers, with the latter being a tributary of the Jhelum River. Pakistan opposes both projects on the grounds that they violate the Indus Waters Treaty signed by the two countries in 1960. The treaty mandates that India must provide Pakistan with six months’ notice before initiating any new projects on the western rivers, which include the Chenab, Jhelum, and Indus.

Emerging challenges to Indus Water Treaty: A perceived threat to Pakistan

The issue of water between India and Pakistan has become increasingly important in recent years, as India has violated the Indus Water Treaty by constructing dams on rivers given to Pakistan under the treaty. Pakistani leaders accuse India of being their eternal enemy and attempting to suffocate their economy, as well as acting under an international conspiracy led by America, Israel, and India against Pakistan. India has planned to construct around 100 hydroelectric projects and reservoirs on the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum rivers, causing concern in Pakistan about India’s plans to strangle their economy through a “water bomb” strategy. This has led to fears of a potential nuclear war between the two countries. Pakistan also fears the adverse impact of the Indian projects, as they may cause floods and run the Chenab and Jhelum rivers dry, impacting Pakistan’s water supply. The number of dams/schemes that India is building on the Western rivers is massive, generating fears in Pakistan about their implications for the flow of water to Pakistan. The situation is critical, and the issue needs to be resolved to avoid a potential nuclear clash and ensure peace in the region.

Cooperation on Indus Basin: Way forward

“But the water problems of our world need not be only a cause of tension; they can also be a catalyst for cooperation____ If we work together, a secure and sustainable water future can be ours”

 — Kofi Annan, February 2002

The Indus Water Treaty, which has been successful in the past, is facing strain due to growing water scarcity and ecological stress in the Indus basin. These issues can be resolved by a number of available options such as there is a need to expand the scope and mandate of the Commission. This can be done by forming an Indus Water Consultative Group comprising India, Pakistan, and international water experts that would provide input on supply capacity, climate change, environmental degradation, and joint watershed management. India has also suggested that the Commission could function as a ‘consultative dispute avoidance body’ and solicit opinions from national and international experts. Additionally, both India and Pakistan need to ensure internal water resources management by following the principles of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and sharing best practices in water conservation techniques for agricultural, industrial, and domestic uses. This will help in reducing stress on the Indus River system. There is a need for a paradigm shift in water management from a technocratic approach towards a socio-centric approach that lays emphasis on indigenous physical and human resource management and is more resource-efficient and ecology-friendly.


In conclusion, the Indus Water Treaty is a landmark agreement that has been critical in mitigating water-related conflicts between India and Pakistan. Despite several challenges and disputes, the treaty has managed to survive and function effectively for over half a century. With water stress becoming a major concern in Pakistan, the treaty’s importance has only increased. It has not only provided a framework for managing the shared water resources of the Indus Basin but has also enabled the development of a comprehensive water management system that has benefited both countries. Therefore, the Indus Water Treaty remains a shining example of successful water diplomacy and a model for resolving trans boundary water disputes globally.

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