External Affairs

Indus Water Talks Doesn’t Mean Thaw With Pakistan, Says India

After months of recriminations over clashes in Kashmir, India is set to participate in the meeting of Permanent Indus Commission on Pakistan’s invitation in Lahore this month.

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New Delhi: India on Thursday asserted that there was no imminent rapprochement in relations with Pakistan with the external affairs ministry insisting that the planned meeting of the much-postponed Permanent Indus Commission was not a negation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement.

Last September, amidst rising tensions with Pakistan, Modi held a meeting to review the Indus Water Treaty where he told senior officials present that “blood and water cannot flow at the same time”.

Modi had also ordered the deferral of the meeting of the Permanent Indus commission, since the “view was that the meeting can only take place in an atmosphere free of terror”.

After months of mutual recriminations over clashes in Kashmir and terror attacks, India will be going back to the Indus table with the bilateral Permanent Indus Commission meeting in Lahore this month.

At the Ministry of External Affairs’s weekly briefing on Thursday, spokesperson Gopal Baglay said that the latest development was not in contradiction to the prime minister’s earlier statement.

“We must understand that there were two messages in it,” he told reporters, referring to the ‘blood and water’ statement.

“One was a very important message, for those who understood it, that they cannot continue terrorism against India. Second message was internal, within India, that within [the] Indus Waters Treaty we have to exercise all our rights to the extent that they are permitted within the limits of the treaty,” added Baglay.

One of the decisions of the September meeting chaired by the prime minister was the establishment of an “inter-ministerial task force for expeditious implementation of rights by India pertaining to the western rivers”.

Splitting hairs, Baglay disputed the suggestion by reporters that a meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) could be characterised as “water talks”.

He asserted that the PIC was “a bipartisan body” which implements the treaty with the help of technical experts.

“They decide on the meetings… This was Pakistan’s turn to hold the talks,” he noted.

On a specific query about whether the scheduling of the PIC meeting was a sign of improvement in relations, Baglay rejected such a characterisation. “I do not see the connection that you are making between the various dots,” said Baglay.

He made this point again in reply to another query about the recent release of fishermen and prisoners by the two countries being an augury for better ties. Pakistan has recently released around 400 Indian fishermen, while India has released over 30 Pakistani prisoners and fishermen.

“This is a humanitarian issue on which both two countries are regularly in touch,” he said, adding, “But, I would request you to not connect this with the matter of terrorism, as that is an issue that impacts not only us, but others around the neighbourhood”.

He reiterated the Indian leadership’s stated position that Pakistan has to “uproot the dark shadow of terrorism”.

India’s assertion that relations will not be taken out of deep freeze is contrary to expectations in Islamabad, where the perception is that Modi will initiate talks with Pakistan after the results of the five assembly elections are out.

Earlier on Thursday, the Indian army’s director general of military operations, Lieutenant General A.K. Bhatia, spoke to his Pakistani counterpart about the release of two Pakistani teenagers arrested in Kashmir last September after no evidence was found against them of involvement in the Uri terror attack.

He also apparently told the Pakistani general that there were concerns in New Delhi about the movement of terrorists near the border.

This allegation was rejected by the Pakistan army spokesperson, who asked India to “look inwards” and “share evidence”.

At the UN, another front for India

Meanwhile, in Geneva, India had to defend itself against accusations of human rights violations in Kashmir from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein.

In his annual report presented on March 8, Zeid clubbed India with countries like Syria, Turkey, Venezuela and Ethiopia who he said were not giving access to their territory where there were “indications of severe violations”.

“As you are aware, my office has faced difficulty obtaining access to a number of regions. In September, I raised this issue with the council, highlighting among others Ethiopia, Syria, Turkey’s south-east region, Venezuela and both sides of the Line of Control, in India-administered Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In several areas where we have received indications of severe violations, and where access continues to be refused, my office has begun remote monitoring, and fact-finding missions to neighbouring countries – reports which we intend to make public, and I will report on this further in June.”

India had formally rejected the request from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in August 2016, after an all-party meeting on Kashmir did not accept the proposal to send ‘independent observers’.

India’s permanent representative to UN in Geneva, Ajit Kumar expressed surprise that the UN official had not mentioned Pakistan’s use of cross-border terrorism.

“The central problem in Jammu and Kashmir is cross-border terrorism, and hence, we are a little surprised that the high commissioner was silent regarding Pakistan that uses terrorism as an instrument of state policy,” he said on Thursday.

He also objected to equating Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan’s “illegal occupation of a part of our territory”.

“The neutrality of the phrase “Indian administered Kashmir” is, therefore, artificial. Furthermore, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has an elected democratic government that represents all sections of the people unlike the situation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,” he said.

He asserted that the Kashmir Valley is now quiet, which is a reflection of the maturity of Indian political institutions. “The robust and mature Indian democracy proved once again that it has sufficiently strong and adequate mechanisms to redress any internal difficulties even if they are incited from outside. Normalcy has returned as 99% of the students of Jammu and Kashmir have taken their high school examinations and schools have reopened”.

Kumar also took a swipe at the UNHRC stating that “more would be gained if primacy were accorded to cooperation over confrontation with the states concerned”.

“States are the primary bearers of responsibility when it comes to promotion of human rights; countries often have unique national circumstances, and it is important to invest trust in their efforts,” he said.