India’s willingness to allow Pakistan to inspect the projects in the Jehlum basin, including the controversial Kishanganga hydroelectric project, is a pleasant surprise. Pakistan will reciprocate the move by allowing India’s Commissioner for Indus Waters (ICIW) to the Kotri barrage in the Lower Indus. The minutes of the 115th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission reveals this progress.
The agreement to arrange visits for the respective commissioners can be seen as a trust and confidence-building measure. A hope has resurfaced that the South Asian neighbours –both nuclear powers as well– will settle their water issues jointly. The focus of both sides should be on finding a win-win solution.
The two sides have rightly recognised the need of an active and strengthened Permanent Indus Commission. Furthermore, Pakistan’s position that India need to share information about potential projects at the planning stage for examination will help in finding a way out for any possible objections by Pakistan. Should Pakistan raise any objection to the designs of the Indian projects in the Jehlum basin, the real test will be if India shows compliance with the reservations of Pakistan.
Till recently, New Delhi was reluctant to accept any request made by Islamabad over Kishanganga. New Delhi found the courage to ignore the option of bilateral talks as World Bank was favouring India. However, the government in New Delhi chose to rely on bilateral discussions only after Islamabad’s inauguration of its project on Neelum River in April this year.
Settlement of water disputes is of utmost importance for Pakistan. After the second interim order of The Court of Arbitration that allowed India to construct the dam, Pakistan’s scope of the objections has been narrowed. When we examine history, we see that cooperation over water can prevail over the conflict over water. Through water diplomacy, nuclear neighbours can be reminded of the benefits of cooperating around water resources.