Talks between an Indian delegation of the Indus Water Commission and Pakistani officials remained inconclusive as both sides refused to shift their stated positions. The Indian delegation arrived in Lahore on August 23, 2014 for a five-day visit. The resumption of dialogue between the Indian and Pakistani Indus Water Commissions is an opportune development indeed. The news of resumption in dialogue between the two commissions remained largely unnoticed in Pakistan given the ongoing political situation in the country. Ironically it didn’t receive much notice in India either.
India’s announcement to send the delegation came four days after its decision to call off Foreign Secretary level talks between the two countries. Pakistan had termed India’s decision a major setback to its efforts towards normalizing relations with India. Responding to Indian objections to Pakistani Ambassador Abdul Basit’s meeting with Kashmiri leaders, Pakistan’s Foreign Office reiterated that meetings with Kashmiri leadership were “a longstanding practice” conducted to facilitate beneficial discussions on Kashmir. The talks between the two Foreign Secretaries are of immense importance as they set the tone for the future direction of India-Pakistan engagement. Many in Pakistan had criticized India’s announcement and termed it as being “damaging” to “the vision of peace” envisaged by Premier Nawaz Sharif when he attended Modi’s inauguration.
Upon the cancellation of the proposed Foreign Secretary level talks, it is being speculated that the two Prime Ministers would probably meet at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in September 2014. However, given the charged atmosphere due to tensions along the LoC the meeting seems doubtful. At best it would occur in a tense environment and without any fruitful outcome. The talks would not be part of the Composite Dialogue process either.
Given the importance of the Indus Water Treaty as one of the most important confidence building measures in South Asia, India’s decision to send a delegation to Pakistan to resume talks comes at a very opportune time. Irrespective of the outcome of the talks, the mere resumption of talks is a positive sign for India-Pakistan relations. The Indus Water Treaty was signed in 1960 and requires the Indus Water Commissioners of both India and Pakistan to meet annually, alternatively in both India and Pakistan. The last meeting between the two commissions was held in India in September 2013.
Despite various novel propositions regarding dispute settlement between the two sides there still remain main issues that the two countries need to sort out. In April 2012, for example, both India and Pakistan proposed to set up an independent body with neutral experts in order to facilitate the process and also help avert any future problems arising as a result of water sharing between the two countries. The independent commission had envisioned the collection of real time data at “minor and major tributaries.” The system also proposed “the installation of satellite based real-time telemetry system in Indian-held Kashmir at a minimum 100 locations for monitoring water quality and quantity. This would also help remove mistrust on data exchange between the two countries.”
The agenda for the current meeting includes various controversial issues including the design of the Kishanganga dam on the Jhelum River, as well as four electricity projects initiated by India on the Chenab River and five dams under construction in Indian Held Kashmir. India asserts that it is not in violation of the treaty whereas Pakistan argues that the proposed projects are in violation of the Indus Water Treaty.
As in the past the results of this meeting may yet be inconclusive. However the very nature of the treaty ensures that both sides continue to talk to each other despite the numerous differences that exist between them. An underlying assumption of the treaty is the fact that both India and Pakistan have an interest in the optimum development of rivers, thereby ensuring collaboration and cooperation between the two neighbours. Emulating the principles of the Indus Water Treaty, decision makers in both India and Pakistan need to realize the importance of continued dialogue with each other in order to ensure lasting peace in South Asia.