A warm breeze is blowing, perhaps through the Kartarpur Corridor, as India has shown its willingness to let a Pakistani team visit hydropower projects at the Chenab basin – Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai – in the last week of this month. This can be called a significant development for earlier India once backed out of a scheduled inspection of such projects by the Pakistani team in October last. Though at the time the Indian side cited local bodies’ elections reason for postponing the visit, the subsequent statements by the Indian government authorities showed they signed off bilateral talks as an option with the Pakistani side. The bone of contention, what the Pakistani water commissioner says, is the flawed designs of Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai hydropower projects. Either side should pin great hopes on bilateral talks to resolve differences even though such exercise did not help Pakistan in the cases of 330 megawatts (MW) Kishanganag reservoir on the River Jhelum and 850MW Rattle Hydroelectric project on the River Chenab. Now, Pakistan has approached the World Bank for arbitration to stop the function of the water reservoirs, which are against the Indus Waters Treaty. The World Bank has yet to respond to Pakistan’s request which it put up back in 2016.
The government is in a buoyant mood over the invitation extended by Indian Commissioner for Indus Waters Pradeep Kumar Saxena. Water Resources Minister Faisal Vawda announced the breakthrough in a tweet and told the media that “I welcome the gesture from India. This is a major breakthrough that India has finally agreed to our request for inspection of Indian projects at Chenab basin”. The Indian side is, however, silent on engaging the Pakistani experts on Pakal Dul and Lower Kalnai. The mainstream Indian newspapers did not give importance to the development. No politician spoke on the record to offer their version on Pakistan’s concerns on the water issue. Since general elections on the other side of the border are around the corner, and the beleaguered ruling Bharatiya Janta Party suffered heavy election defeats in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, so they are playing to the gallery by not speaking on Pakistan related issued in their statements. If everything goes by the book, a three-member Pakistani team will leave for India on January 27 and return on February 1. Commissioner for Indus Waters Syed Mehr Ali Shah will lead the team which will inspect the sites from January 28 to 31. A positive gesture should beget an equally positive gesture; Pakistan is ready to greet Indian counterparts to inspect Kotri Barrage on the Indus. In fact, the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty provides the Pakistani water commissioner to examine water and hydroelectric projects on the Chenab and Jhelum rives. The process, however, stalled in September 2014.
Now, on an optimistic note, we see signs of a thaw in relations between the two countries in the wake of the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor and the release of Indian prisoner Hamid Nihal Ansari from Pakistan. The other side has invited the Pakistani expert to get water reservoirs and hydropower projects inspected for the first time in four years. Peace-loving circles on either side demand more such developments and interactions between people for a prosperous and developed South Asia. Bilateral talks will diminish hostile voices in both countries. More interactions should result in a peaceful Line of Control, and more trade across the border. It is high time to move forward forgetting the bitter past. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s tweet congratulating Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli on Indian success in Australia was a warm and encouraging gesture. Though Kohli chose not to respond, let us keep our fingers crossed for the friendly conclusion of the Pakistani experts’ visit to the water sites. *
Published in Daily Times, January 13th 2019.