India, Pakistan hold water-sharing talks amid thaw in frozen ties

In a further sign of rapprochement, the two rivals to hold their first meeting in three years on rights to Indus River water.

A highway being built by India passes the confluence of the Indus and Zanskhar rivers in Ladakh region [File: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

India and Pakistan are holding their first meeting in three years of a commission on water rights from the Indus River in a further sign of rapprochement in relations frozen since 2019 during disputes over Kashmir.

The Permanent Indus Commission, set up in 1960, will meet for two days in New Delhi starting Tuesday, according to two Indian officials involved with water issues and Pakistan’s foreign ministry.

Pakistan will raise objections to the technical designs of India’s planned Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydroelectric plants, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said.

The talks are the latest in both nations’ tentative efforts to re-engage after a 2019 suicide bomb in Indian-administered Kashmir that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based attackers and India’s move later that year to strip the disputed region of its constitutional autonomy.

Both nations are now focused on coping with unprecedented economic downturns due to COVID-19.

Bloomberg news agency and Foreign Policy magazine have reported that the United Arab Emirates, with whom both India and Pakistan have close ties, may have played a role in secret efforts to achieve detente.

Last month, India and Pakistan announced a rare agreement to stop firing along the bitterly-contested Kashmir border, which Bloomberg said was also the result of UAE-brokered talks.

There was no immediate comment from India, Pakistan or the UAE to the Bloomberg report.

The Indus River, one of the world’s largest, and its tributaries feed 80 percent of Pakistan’s irrigated agriculture.

At the water-sharing talks, both sides are expected to try and narrow differences over the hydro-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 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 said.

Source: Reuters