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Pakistan-India water-sharing talks signal thawing of relations

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ISLAMABAD:

Pakistan and India are set to hold a two-day meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission on Tuesday in New Delhi as part of a first such interaction in two and a half years, suggesting a thaw in relations between the two neighbors with nuclear weapons.

An eight-member delegation led by Pakistani water commissioner Syed Mehr Ali Shah arrived in India via the Wagah border on Monday. The meeting of the Standing Indus Commission was the first since August 2018. The last meeting was held in Lahore.

Under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which survived wars and other phases of tension between the two countries, the Permanent Indus Commission is required to meet at least once a year. an, alternately in India and Pakistan, under the terms of the treaty.

Officials attributed the delay in convening the meeting to the Covid pandemic, but sources acknowledged that this also had to do with India’s decision to unilaterally change the status of the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir in August. 2019.

After India’s decision, Pakistan took a series of steps – including a decision to review all bilateral agreements. Islamabad has since linked the resumption of talks with New Delhi to the restoration of Jammu and Kashmir’s status by August 5, 2019.

However, the convening of the Permanent Indus Commission meeting suggests that Pakistan is gradually working to reestablish ties with India.

Read also: Pakistan will oppose 2 Indian hydropower projects in water negotiations

On February 25, Pakistan and India, in an unexpected move, agreed to re-engage the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Since then, no incidents of ceasefire violations have been reported. from either side. The dramatic deal is tied to return diplomacy between the two countries.

The two countries not only agreed to restore the ceasefire, but also decided to reduce the rhetoric against each other. This was visible in some of the statements made by leaders and officials on both sides.

During a recent security dialogue in Islamabad, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa were conciliatory to India. Likewise, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wished Prime Minister Imran Khan a speedy recovery after testing positive for covid-19.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zahid Hafiz Chaudhri said that the meeting of the Standing Indus Commission was held specifically under the provisions of the IWT 1960, where only matters related to the water, which fall under the IWT, will be discussed.

“A host of Treaty issues, including our objections to the design of the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydropower plants, the provision of information on new Indian projects on the western rivers and the provision of flood data by India, will be discussed, ”said the spokesperson mentioned.

Pakistan will raise objections to the technical designs of the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydropower projects in India, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said.

The Indus River, one of the largest in the world, and its tributaries supply 80% of Pakistan’s irrigated agriculture.

Bloomberg News Agency and Foreign Policy magazine reported that the United Arab Emirates, with which India and Pakistan have close ties, may have played a role in covert efforts to achieve detente.

Last month, India and Pakistan announced a rare deal to stop shooting along the Line of Control, which Bloomberg said was also the result of UAE-led negotiations. There was no immediate comment from India, Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates on the Bloomberg report released on Monday.

In the water-sharing talks, the two sides should try to narrow their differences over hydropower projects, Indian officials said.

One of the Indian officials, who asked to remain unidentified, said the Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai projects along with a few others – which Pakistan said would impede the flow of water downstream – complied with the provisions of the treaty.

“We will discuss to dispel these objections, we believe in an amicable resolution,” the official said.

(With additional contribution from Reuters)

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