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Indus water treaty: Talks stuck amidst row over India and Pakistan

The already tensed Bilateral relations between India and Pakistan reached an impasse after a disagreement over Indus water treaty talks. India suggested Pakistan resolve the disputes over a virtual video conference, while the latter has insisted the parley to be conducted at the Wagah-Attari border.

After the postponement of a meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission slated to be held in the last week of March, it was rescheduled due to pandemic. However, in light of the current health crisis, the Indian commissioner, in a letter, proposed to hold the meeting through a virtual conference or any alternative source to which Pakistan refused.

Although touted as one of the most successful water-sharing endeavors between any two sovereign states, the Indus Water treaty has, for long, remained a subject of a tussle between the two countries.

Since the treaty’s conception, both countries have been involved in disputes over several projects like the Salal Hydroelectric project and the Tulbul project, the current issues pending being the Kishenganga and Ratle Hydroelectric plants.

The World Bank mediated treaty lists a three-stage process to deal with the disputes- Permanent Indus Commission, a neutral expert and finally, the Court of Arbitration in Hague.

Pakistan alleges that the projects on the ‘western rivers’ of Indus water treaty are strategically built by India to deprive its neighbor of water resources. In 2010, Pakistan took the $864million Kishenganga project to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, raising objections over its construction. In 2013, the court ordered that the power plant could be built while ensuring a minimum stipulated flow of water downstream to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. It was later inaugurated in the year 2018 by the Prime minister. The Ratle Hydroelectric plant, projected to be built on Chenab, has also met serious criticism from Pakistan, with the state accusing India of violating the treaty for the construction of the plant.

In 2016, in wake of the Uri attack, the Indian administration decided to not hold the meeting of Permanent Indus Commission, with the Prime Minister clearly stating that ‘Blood and water could not flow together’.

After prolonged discussions, India in 2016, sought to appoint a neutral expert while Pakistan pitched for the appointment of Court of Arbitration(CoA).

The World Bank initiated to appoint the neutral expert, as well as, constitute the CoA but later, in December 2016, it declared a ‘pause’, ordering the parties to choose one option through bilateral discussions. The ‘pause’ continues, with both the parties unable to find an amicable solution.

The Indian commissioner invited his Pakistani counterpart in February 2020 to hold the meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission in March but, it has not fructified yet.

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