Pakistan team sets off to New Delhi for talks on Indus waters

Published March 22, 2021
River Indus flows through Leh, in the Ladakh region. — Reuters/File
River Indus flows through Leh, in the Ladakh region. — Reuters/File

Pakistan and India are set to resume stalled talks over a lingering water dispute from Tuesday amid heightened tensions between the two arch-rivals, mainly on Kashmir.

An eight-member Pakistani delegation headed by Pakistan Commissioner for Indus Waters Meher Ali Shah departed for New Delhi on Monday to hold talks with the Indian side led by P. K. Saxena under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, after a gap of over two years, according to a spokesman for the water ministry.

During the two-day talks, Islamabad is likely to raise objections to four power projects on the Chenab River, one of the six rivers jointly shared by the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

"We stand our stance with regard to four contentious Indian hydroelectric projects including Pakal Dul and Ratle power project," Shah had said last week.

The construction of controversial Pakal Dul Dam is currently under way on a tributary of the River Chenab by the Indian authorities in Kishtwar district of Jammu and Kashmir.

Meanwhile, one of the Indian officials, who asked to remain unidentified, said the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai projects along with a couple of others — which Pakistan is concerned would hurt the flow of water downstream — were in line with the provisions of the treaty.

"We will discuss to allay those objections, we believe in an amicable resolution," the official told Reuters.

The last round of talks was held in Lahore in 2018 and ended with no progress over the long-running dispute.

Under the Indus Water Treaty, the two commissions should meet each year alternately in Pakistan and India.

A ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Anadolu Agency that the hiatus was caused due to New Delhi's unilateral scrapping of the longstanding special status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the coronavirus pandemic.

After the 2018 meeting, a Pakistani delegation was invited by India to inspect the sites of the hydroelectric projects being constructed by India on Pakistani rivers.

Later in February 2019, Pakistani experts headed by the commissioner on Indus waters had inspected four hydropower projects at Chenab basin in India, including Pakal Dul, Lower Kalnai, 850MW Ratlay and 900MW Baglihar dams. The construction work on Pakal Dul dam, which was earlier stopped, had resumed at that time.

The two longtime rivals share the water of six rivers under the Indus Water Treaty, a water-sharing agreement brokered by the World Bank in 1960.

Under the agreement, the waters of the eastern rivers — the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi — have been allocated to India, while Pakistan has been given control over the three western rivers — the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab.

Pakistan accuses India of "continuously" violating the treaty by building dams on the western rivers, whereas New Delhi thinks Islamabad controls more water than it as a result of the treaty.

Tuesday's meeting is seen as an important development in the wake of recent statements by Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in which they reiterated Pakistan’s position on the relationship with India and called for resolution of the disputes through dialogue. Both the Pakistani leaders have nonetheless asked India to take the first step by agreeing to resolve the Kashmir issue according to the wishes of its people.

India is also locked in a water dispute with China on Beijing's construction of dams and proposed diversion of the Brahmaputra River, which originates in Tibet and fulfils a third of India's needs for irrigation.

Additional input from Reuters.


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