Fact Sheet: The Indus Waters Treaty 1960 and the Role of the World Bank

June 11, 2018

Origins of the Treaty:

The Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 after nine years of negotiations between India and Pakistan with the help of the World Bank, which is also a signatory. The negotiations were the initiative of former World Bank President Eugene Black. Seen as one of the most successful international treaties, it has survived frequent tensions, including conflict, and has provided a framework for irrigation and hydropower development for more than half a century. Former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower described it as "one bright spot ... in a very depressing world picture that we see so often."

How the Treaty works:

The Treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of the rivers, known as the Permanent Indus Commission, which has a commissioner from each country. The Treaty also sets forth distinct procedures to handle issues which may arise: “questions” are handled by the Commission; “differences” are to be resolved by a Neutral Expert; and “disputes” are to be referred to a seven-member arbitral tribunal called the “Court of Arbitration.” As a signatory to the Treaty, the World Bank’s role is limited and procedural. In particular, its role in relation to “differences” and “disputes” is limited to the designation of people to fulfill certain roles when requested by either or both of the parties.  

What the disagreement is about:

India and Pakistan disagree about the construction of the Kishenganga (330 megawatts) and Ratle (850 megawatts) hydroelectric power plants being built by India (the World Bank is not financing either project).  The two countries disagree over whether the technical design features of the two hydroelectric plants contravene the Treaty. The plants are on respectively a tributary of the Jhelum and the Chenab Rivers. The Treaty designates these two rivers as well as the Indus as the “Western Rivers” to which Pakistan has unrestricted use. Among other uses, under the Treaty, India is permitted to construct hydroelectric power facilities on these rivers subject to constraints specified in Annexures to the Treaty. Talks related to the Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric power plants are ongoing. 

Different Treaty mechanisms have been sought by India and Pakistan:

Pakistan asked the World Bank to facilitate the setting up of a Court of Arbitration to look into its concerns about the designs of the two hydroelectric power projects. India asked for the appointment of a Neutral Expert for the same purpose. These requests came after the Permanent Indus Commission had been engaged in discussions on the matter for a while. During several months prior to December 12, 2016, the World Bank sought to fulfil its procedural obligations with respect to both the Court of Arbitration and the Neutral Expert. The Treaty does not empower the World Bank to choose whether one procedure should take precedence over the other; rather it vests the determination of jurisdictional competence on each of the two mechanisms. At the same time, the World Bank actively encouraged both countries to agree amicably on a mechanism to address the issues.

Pausing Treaty processes and working with India and Pakistan:

On December 12, 2016, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim announced that the World Bank would pause before taking further steps in each of the two processes requested by the parties. Both India and Pakistan stated that processing the requests regarding the Neutral Expert and Court of Arbitration simultaneously presented a substantial threat to the Treaty, since it risked contradictory outcomes and worked against the spirit of goodwill and friendship that underpins the Treaty. The announcement by the Bank to pause the processes was taken to protect the Treaty in the interests of both countries.

For more than a year since late 2016, the World Bank has worked tirelessly to seek an amicable resolution to the most recent disagreement and to protect the Treaty. Dozens of high-level meetings have been convened and a variety of proposals have been discussed. The World Bank remains committed to act in good faith and with complete impartiality and transparency in fulfilling its responsibilities under the Treaty, while continuing to assist the countries.


Last Updated: Jun 11, 2018