Crossing a bridge

India has done the right thing by deciding to attend the Indus Waters Treaty meet

March 04, 2017 01:15 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:50 pm IST

Even in the fraught and volatile framework of India-Pakistan ties, the Permanent Indus Commission mandated to implement the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) has met like clockwork, 112 times in 56 years, annually in each country. The commission has experts who look into issues and disputes on the ground over the utilisation of the waters of six rivers of the Indus system. Under the treaty, India has full use of the three “eastern” rivers (Beas, Ravi, Sutlej), while Pakistan has control over the three “western” rivers (Indus, Chenab, Jhelum), although India is given rights to use these partially as well for certain purposes. As a result, there should be little to comment in the normal course when India accepts Pakistan’s invitation to the next round of talks , as it has for the Permanent Indus Commission in Lahore later this month. The move is welcome, as it denotes India’s commitment to the treaty that has stood the test of time and war, and also displays New Delhi’s sincerity on the issue of water-sharing, given that the IWT is seen to be a model in dispute management. In September last year, doubts had been raised over India’s commitment after the terrorist attack on an army camp in Uri , killing 19 soldiers. In the days that followed, senior officials announced the suspension of talks until there was an “atmosphere free of terror” after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a review meeting on the treaty to consider retaliatory measures against Pakistan for the attack, saying, “blood and water cannot go together”. Mr. Modi repeated some of those angry sentiments at public rallies where he said India would not allow even a “drop of water” to go waste into Pakistan. The atmosphere was also charged after the government announced “surgical strikes” had been carried out along the Line of Control and subsequently pulled out from the SAARC summit in Pakistan, leading to fears of a freeze in bilateral ties.

In the event, the government has chosen wisely, with some encouragement from the World Bank and persistence by Pakistan, to step back from much of that rhetoric, and allow IWT commissioners from both countries to meet. The decision follows several other moves between India and Pakistan in the past few weeks indicating a softening of positions on some other issues as well: from a marked reduction in LoC firing, the regular annual exchange of nuclear lists, the release of prisoners by both countries, and India being part of the consensus to elect the Pakistani nominee as the SAARC Secretary-General this week . It would be premature to expect that any of these events, some of which are routine, consolidate a thaw in relations between the two countries. However, they reaffirm the high stakes that are woven into India-Pakistan relations, and the need to keep certain issues such as water-sharing above the politics of the moment.

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