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Analysis: Indus commissioners talks: first step to composite dialogue?

Updated Mar 20, 2017 08:17am


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After months of tensions, India and Pakistan have finally agreed to resume talks of Indus Water Commission, which were threatened by the hawkish Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aggressive policies towards Pakistan. 

Though Indian authorities have publically downplayed the talks taking place on March 20-21 in Islamabad, saying these are just a regular meeting of the Indus Water Commission, the Pakistani officials concerned have termed it of ‘much importance’.

The significance emanates from a letter by Indian Indus Water Commissioner P.K. Saxena in which he proposed to discuss highly important disputes such as the construction of Kishanganga and Ratle hydro projects on Jhelum and Chenab rivers by India.

Pakistan, however, has rejected this proposal as the matter has already been taken to the World Bank for dispute resolution.

The Indus Water Commission was set up following the Indus Waters Treaty signed by the two countries in 1960 after the World Bank succeeded in getting them reach an agreement on a water-sharing formula.

The commission has to meet at least once every year, alternately in India and Pakistan, and is responsible for the implementation of the treaty.  

“These talks are important because India has come back to the table to discuss the issues after refusing for more than a year,” said Mirza Asif Baig, Pakistan’s Indus Water Commissioner. 

“They were talking about suspension of the waters treaty but now they have come out of that paradigm,” he said, adding that the Indian commissioner wrote to him to include the Ratle and Kishanganga projects in these talks but Pakistan declined the proposal.

The last meeting of the commission took place in New Delhi in May 2015. The officials of the two countries could not meet for the annual meeting in 2016 because of heightened tensions between the two governments as Premier Modi threatened to suspend the treaty, saying ‘blood and water cannot flow together’, following an attack on an Indian military base in held Kashmir.

“The agenda of talks includes projects such as Miyar, Lower Kalnai and Pakal Dul, exchange of data (about flow of water, floods, etc), inspection tours and meetings,” Mr Baig said.  

Syed Jamaat Ali Shah, Pakistan’s former commissioner, termed this meeting a ‘step forward’ from the former position but said it also showed Pakistan’s helplessness on the issue.

“Though it’s a routine meeting and India is trying to use it to drag back the issues already taken to the World Bank for arbitration, it has highlighted the reactionary policy of Pakis­tan government,” Mr Shah said.

“It’s like we say yes when India says yes, and when they say no, we have no option but to say no. We should have a proactive policy and not the reactive.”

“In my view, Modi is successful in his strategy. They have stalled Pakistan’s arbitration efforts at the international level and have started six mega hydro projects on a war footing,” he said.

“On the other hand, we are doing nothing. Our government is struggling for stability and is stuck in Panama issue; they have not devised any strategy to win these water disputes.”   

Pakistan’s former High Com­missioner to India Aziz Ahmed Khan differs.

“It’s not verified that Modi has ever said to suspend the Indus Waters Treaty. Some Indian officials categorically denied this statement to me. So I think these Indus water talks are a regular feature and continuation of an ongoing process,” he said.

Mr Khan said that linking this meeting to the resumption of higher level talks between the two countries was inappropriate. He, however, viewed that some other move can be expected by the Indian prime minister to take the process forward.

“Electioneering is over in India and Modi may take any other dramatic step to normalise the relations, but we should not link this water commissioners’ meeting to the resumption of high-level talks,” he said.   

Pakistan’s foreign ministry takes this development as a bilateral initiative like other departments.

“It’s like our DGMOs (Director General Military Operations) talk to each other as and when required,” says Nafees Zakaria, spokesman for the Foreign Office.

“Recently Indian parliamentarians were here to participate in an Asian parliamentary conference. Earlier the parliamentarians of both countries were together in Dubai for a conference organised by Pildat, so it’s not an indication that this meeting will pave the way for foreign secretary-level talks,” he said, adding that the foreign secretary-level talks are a totally different ball game.

“For that India has to agree to discuss Kashmir and they are not showing willingness to talk about this issue so far,” Mr Zakaria said.

As the state elections are over in India, the subcontinent may finally see a chance for peace talks but some analysts believe that the landslide victory by the Indian ruling party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) may worsen situation as the Indian leadership will become over-confident.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2017


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Comments (70) Closed

Sensible neighbor Mar 20, 2017 07:50am

I think they are there to shock Pakistani WAPDA after hearing the news of new hydro projects. Keep tuning for more.

Deepak Kumar Mar 20, 2017 08:04am

Thinking too much too early

prabha Mar 20, 2017 08:11am

A big NO to what you are interpreting. Its not first step to composite dialogue.

SUDHAKAR, USA Mar 20, 2017 08:11am

India as a upper riparian state has no obligation for any talks without resolving terrorism issues first. Yet, India has initiated a continuation in the IWT talks, despite Uri and Pathankot attacks. Kudos to India for willing to give yet another chance to peace in the Indian sub-continent.

Sneha Mar 20, 2017 08:27am

Nope it's not. These meeting are general meeting with no importance to Indian government or affect policy decisions it takes. The water projects are on..on full swing. Indicating PM Modi meant what he said during elections. PM will extract every single drop of water and utilise it under the parameters of Indus water treaty without violations, which india wasn't utilising till date.

Sagar Mar 20, 2017 08:30am

India said they will not give 1 bund of their share as per IWT and which is their right.

Audi Mar 20, 2017 08:38am

The first line which says "threatened by the hawkish Indian PM Narendra Modi" reveals the overall attitude towards a popular Indian leader. Modi is doing the right thing by protecting his nations interest above everyone else's including his. If only Pakistan had leaders totally committed to their nation.

cahcha Mar 20, 2017 08:59am

Political article not a kind of press item

Zak Mar 20, 2017 08:55am

Resolve kashmir and even this issue will get resolved automatically. Kashmir is the key to permanent peace in the region. Indians have to realise that and change their misprogrammed mindset.

Zak Mar 20, 2017 09:22am

@Sagar no one listens to what India says, india has been told to abide by UN resolutions and IWT bindings. Now india is being watched.

Zak Mar 20, 2017 09:18am

They are discussing waters of kashmir. After UN plebiscite, kashmiris will decide on agreement.

Zak Mar 20, 2017 09:24am

@prabha you do not represent any institution or govt, reality for india is different. They have to abide by rules otherwise....WB gets involved and India is petrified of third party involvement as than they get caught out.

Zak Mar 20, 2017 09:26am

@SUDHAKAR, USA india has no right of any thing because it has not implemented the UN plebiscite in kashmir. The world is waiting for india to behave.

Jagknaut Mar 20, 2017 10:05am

@Zak By who ? India have just allocated 15 Billion Dollars to build dams on war footing . In next decades and half they will spend over 225 Billion $ on linking all rivers and making water highways . Once completed Indians will be able to hold water for years and divert the flow direction at will.

last word Mar 20, 2017 10:05am

Pakistan should not speculate too much on ending of elections in India. India is clearly waiting for change of mindset on use of proxies from Pakistan to start the dialogue process and softening of its stand on water issue.

Bismillah Khan Mar 20, 2017 11:05am

The author is completely correct, with election over India will soon start the composite dialogue and handover Kashmir to Pakistan!

Ashraf Mar 20, 2017 11:26am

@Zak cpec will change all that bro

Christena ellie Mar 20, 2017 11:29am

Weldone we are with u.

TechScribe Mar 20, 2017 12:02pm

Modi will ensure India will take its rightful share of the water.

TechScribe Mar 20, 2017 12:08pm

@Zak India doesn't give a heck to what UN thinks, particularly when it comes to her national interests. If restricting the flow of water to Pakistan suits her interests our leaders will do it.

vin Mar 20, 2017 12:22pm

@Zak Who told that to India?

kevin Mar 20, 2017 01:04pm

@Zak What issue ? We don't have any issue. You are always telling issues and problems. We have nothing to solve. I am asking the Modi Govt why they are going for discussion, for Kashmir or Water or boarder with Pakistan.

kevin Mar 20, 2017 01:06pm

@Zak Who watched. You.. who care... wo don't have any issue.

imtiaz ali khan Mar 20, 2017 02:43pm

Oh my beautiful India and Pakistan please come together my people, it hurts so much seeing us siblings like this. We have so much potential, we are so, so strong when we come together, the world's force to be rekon. No, no no to hate always yes to love the greatest healing energy.

A shah Mar 20, 2017 02:58pm

@Zak I agree brother.

Namo Mar 20, 2017 03:08pm

@kevin no point answering to Zak's illogical comments since he has a blinkered view of the world.

saudagar Mar 20, 2017 03:11pm

@imtiaz ali khan respect your enthusiasm .

sam Mar 20, 2017 03:14pm

@Bismillah Khan Maybe a billion elections later. Stay tuned till then :)

Sneha Mar 20, 2017 03:13pm

@Zak India won all cases in water Dispute..with dams being constructed which you wanted to stop. So you know which side international court is. UN resolution is non binding and post simla agreement its redundant. Also read the UN resolution you keep harping about. Its your side that has not done your side of bargain to do plebicite.

D.K. PAMNANI Mar 20, 2017 03:17pm

India has never stopped the water. Only agenda should be distribution of water by India to Pakistan. World Bank arbitration is not needed. We have to restructure the Indus Water Treaty and India should have free hand to distribute the water to Pakistan or not.

Rajiv Mar 20, 2017 03:14pm

Just curious, how is Pakistans current share of water being utilized? Any agricultural management and storage development, hydro electric generation by building dams?..or does most water run thru to the sea?

Vijay Halgeri Mar 20, 2017 03:31pm

@Zak . Please read the UN resolution on Kashmir before commenting on it. No link between Kashmir and IWT.

Fakem All Mar 20, 2017 03:37pm

@Rajiv : The water is first polluted, then misused and final let into the sea.

Raunak Mar 20, 2017 03:52pm

@Zak .. The world is waiting for India to behave.. Can you describe what countries have your included in your imagination of the word "WORLD"

Shahryar shirazi Mar 20, 2017 03:58pm

Elections are over, back to the table now

SHIVA Mar 20, 2017 04:10pm

Back to table is one way of delaying the proceedings. India acting smart here while work on the dams is firing on all cylinders. Before Pakistan can blink most of the work will be done and fait accompli prevails.

my Comments Mar 20, 2017 04:12pm

Options are limited. Either two nuclear-countries resolve their disputes or keep threatening and fighting for another seventy years.

Albert Xavier Mar 20, 2017 04:14pm

Has the cross border firing stopped ? No. Has the Dam building stopped ? No; Has their policies changed ? No.

mywahala Mar 20, 2017 04:33pm

@Albert Xavier did someone say it did?

Nahrad Muni Mar 20, 2017 04:34pm

India very smart diplomacy. It is buying time to complete dams which are done at break neck speed. Pre condition to talks is that Pakistan cannot talk about Indian dams being constructed. Pakistan no choice but to agree.

Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Mar 20, 2017 04:41pm

This is just a 57-years old drama series by the "movers and shakers" in New Delhi to manipulate, mislead and misguide rest of the world and to falsely prove that they are still "talking" with their counterparts for an amicable solution to the problem. What a silly joke?

M.Saeed Mar 20, 2017 05:03pm

@SUDHAKAR, USA: Better get your orientation correct. India, together with the US is the planner, architect and builder of terror in the Afpak region.

Black Indian Mar 20, 2017 05:07pm

Water sharing agreement is important to both India as well as for Pakistan. That's how Indian commission is on the visit to Pakistan as part of regular process. India wishes to act as per agreement in word and spirit. There is no confusion about it.

But it will be day dreaming on the part of Pakistani brothers that India would leave Kashmir in the hands of Pakistan. No Government of any party could afford to do that. Just not possible. Off course via media can be worked out where India will not loose any land resources.

Honestly speaking Pakistan has lost the chance of negotiations in 1965, once she waged a war on India for no reasons. Once you wage a war on the issue , you can not ask for negotiations. For Indians unnecessary war in 1965 war was a big mistake.

India or Indian's does not have any desire, thinking to get even a square Inch of Pakistan.

Pakistan should focus on her development and India also should help being good neighborhood policy.

Black Indian Mar 20, 2017 05:09pm

@Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Sir, you are under mis impression. Please check with your leaders ( both Civil as well Military Leaders - both have played vital role in agreeing the accord. )

Black Indian Mar 20, 2017 05:08pm

@SUDHAKAR, USA - No this is wrong. You can not have everything. You must share the resources. Natural resources are for everyone. Kindly note that I am also from India.

Our leaders have signed the accord which we must fulfill it in its words and spirit. No going back is allowed.

Black Indian Mar 20, 2017 05:12pm

@Zak Sir, It is your perception.

Black Indian Mar 20, 2017 05:16pm

@imtiaz ali khan - Unfortunately you are alone sane voice , atleast it appears. Good luck and inshallah if your thinking comes in to reality.

Hidden truth Mar 20, 2017 05:25pm

@SUDHAKAR, USA don't get so complacent. We know it's a futile exercise to have any meaningful talk with India.

M.Saeed Mar 20, 2017 05:21pm

@Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad: Indus Water Treaty is quoted by the whole world as the most successful important water dispute resolution example in cases where river water cross international boundaries.

Iftikhar Husain Mar 20, 2017 05:35pm

Big talks and no substance that is the line India is taking all statements are to please the supporter of BJP.

Mana Mar 20, 2017 06:03pm

We have to be carefull specially with this negotiation. Modi would never send a team for any sort of benefit to Pakistan. Please politicians, keep you open eyes and use Head as this is a matter of life or death for pakistanis

Ram Mar 20, 2017 06:14pm

@Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad : Why are not asking, Pakistan is so slow in making decisions and doing things in a right way to its own people. When whole water in Pakistan is to be drained out to Arabian Sea then allow India to do whatever they want. Really required to push pak Govt. to do things in favor of people

kevin Mar 20, 2017 06:39pm

@Zak name those countries in your dream world? Do you think whole world have no other work and just watch India........... World already watched 15 Billion going for fast completion of so many big dams and generate electricity and water storage.

A Mar 20, 2017 06:52pm


By this time atleast it should be clear that for India , UN Resolution , Simla Agreement and Water Treaty are non existent.

CPEC has already changed the direction of bilateral talks and now let Pakistan show statesmanship and declare GB as a separate province ! India is waiting for the same Sirs ! Will you or will you not ?

savvy Mar 20, 2017 06:52pm

Rather than real efforts for peace , these days it is more about trying to win the narrative. The opening few lines of the article suggest as if the "Pakistani case" has prevailed and India has reluctantly returned back to the Negotiation table. One can go through all previous chances of Indo-Pak engagement and it has always been about winning and owning the narrative before and after the engagement. There are so many upsides to winning the narrative - you can showcase it to your domestic audience, play it up to the world bodies and media , establish parity in mutual cases or strengthen you negotiating power. BUT such a strategy will never yield a solution , nor will it ever develop the required trust to go for a solution . We can keep trying playing this game of diplomacy of one-upmanship. There is no sincerity in talks here, it is still playing to the gallery.

savvy Mar 20, 2017 06:58pm

@Zak : No hurry for India. India should stand firm on its 'Terrorism First' stand.

Lokesh Mar 20, 2017 07:02pm

Mr. Modi will do whatever is in favour of India. For that he can go to any extent. Most of the people still not able to recognize this. He is so popular in India for this.

Masood Hussain Mar 20, 2017 07:06pm

Let some cool heads work for better relations between the two countries.

Zak Mar 20, 2017 07:28pm

India has no choice, it will come to table and discuss each issue until kashmir is finally resolved.

Yash Mar 20, 2017 08:13pm

@Zak. Please could you explain what the U.N. Resolutions are regarding the Kashmir dispute. If you don't know, please check on Google.

Kumar Mar 20, 2017 08:19pm

@Namo I agree

Kumar Mar 20, 2017 08:27pm

@Zak World has given up on Pakistani point of view. They all agree with democratic, secular, economically vibrant India.

Yogi adiyanath ki jai Mar 20, 2017 11:33pm

Scrap the treaty, we need to feed our people first.

concerned Mar 21, 2017 04:35am

@Zak and who do you represent?

Alba Mar 21, 2017 05:18am

@Zak ... You are 100% correct. No one in Pakistan listens to Indians.

Alba Mar 21, 2017 05:21am

@Zak .... Get real. The world doesn't give a damn.

baanke khan Mar 21, 2017 06:24am

Did not India said the Indus treaty discussion will be independent of everything else?

M.Saeed Mar 21, 2017 01:41pm

@Sneha: If the Indian PM will extract every single drop of water and utilise it under the parameters of Indus water treaty without violations, then Pakistan would be more than happy. Indus Commission is supposed to meet under the agreement every 6 months, alternately in Pakistan and India, to watch due compliance with the Agreement. Present meeting is taking place after 2 years and has to clear all the backlog.

M.Saeed Mar 21, 2017 01:43pm

@Jagknaut: It is all known and in order. We are only concerned with violations of IWT and would like to strengthen the world's best agreed water treaty which is in place and generally in order, since last 57 years.

M.Saeed Mar 21, 2017 01:45pm

@Audi: Media lines are never a country's bilateral policy. You must have some faith even in your own leaders. Modi Ji had not attending the Pak-PM's birthday for nothing.