India, Pakistan Hold Crucial Talks over River Row
NEW DELHI India and Pakistan began talks on Tuesday to resolve a long-running dispute over a dam in Kashmir which threatens to cause another setback to an already fragile peace process.
Islamabad says the talks are a last-ditch bilateral effort to reach an agreement before it seeks international mediation, a move certain to be unwelcome in New Delhi.
The talks come a week after bureaucrats heading the foreign ministries in the two countries said they had narrowed some of the many differences that plague relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours, but reported no breakthrough.
"This is the last-ditch effort to find a solution through bilateral channels," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said in Islamabad ahead of the talks. "We have reservations and objections and these have been specified."
"If we do not see any indication of movement towards a resolution of this issue ... we go to the World Bank," he said.
Although water resources officials of the two countries said they had reached a tentative agreement after their last round of talks in June, there has been no word on a pact since.
The dispute centres on India's construction of the $1 billion Baglihar hydropower dam on the Chenab river, which flows from Indian Kashmir into Pakistan.
Islamabad has objected to the design of the dam, saying it would affect the flow of the Chenab into its territory, and contravene a 1960 river water-sharing treaty brokered by the World Bank.
India counters that the 450-megawatt power project does not propose to store water and will not disrupt flows into Pakistan.
Islamabad is also worried the project could present a strategic threat, giving India control over waters vital to agriculture in Punjab, Pakistan's granary state, analysts and diplomats said.
"They (India) can stop water when there is an overall shortage of water in Pakistan -- or release a lot of water creating havoc and flooding," said Shaukat Qadir, a retired Pakistani army officer.
India says the project is meant to boost power supply in its part of Kashmir and has provided technical details to Pakistan to back up its case, analysts said.
"India needs to take into consideration the interest of Kashmiris who badly need power. And a deal between the two countries is possible only if there is some understanding of this," said Indian strategic affairs analyst C. Raja Mohan.
Under the Indus Water Treaty, India has rights over the waters of the Ravi, the Sutlej and the Beas rivers while Pakistan has rights over the waters of the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum. All the rivers flow from India to Pakistan.
Kashmir lies at the heart of tension between the rivals, sparking two of the three wars they have fought since independence in 1947.
The two sides nevertheless have come a long way in patching up their ties since going to the brink of another war in 2002.