India-Pak talks to focus on water issue

S M Krishna leaves for Islamabad today

India-Pak talks to focus on water issue

This comes in the backdrop of Pakistan trying to use water -sharing disputes to open yet another front in its rhetorical war against India over the past few months.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna may discuss with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi a proposal to set up a bilateral mechanism to share best practices in water utilisation for agricultural and other purposes, when the duo meet in Islamabad on Thursday.

Krishna will travel to Islamabad on Wednesday for the first structured talks between the two countries after the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai.

Sources said New Delhi had already conveyed to Islamabad its willingness for cooperation in the water sector. Pakistan has not yet made it clear if it is willing to accept India’s proposal.

New Delhi apparently mooted the proposal as a diplomatic response to the shrill rhetoric in Pakistan on disputes in sharing of water of common rivers in the Indus Basin.

“Islamabad should seriously try to address the issues related to water management inside Pakistan instead of indulging in a rhetorical war against India and blaming New Delhi,” a senior official said. He referred to the growing discords among the provinces in the neighbouring country on sharing of water.

Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday chaired a meeting with the chief ministers and irrigation ministers of the four provinces as well as federal water and power ministers to resolve a row between Sindh and Punjab over the opening of the Chasma-Jhelum link canal.

New Delhi has been rubbishing Islamabad’s allegation that India has been depriving Pakistan of its due share of water from the common rivers. It maintains that all issues over the sharing of water should be resolved within the framework of Indus Water Treaty that the two countries signed on September 19, 1960.

Pakistan has already sought the World Bank’s arbitration in the row over India’s 330-MW Kishanganga Hydro-Electric Project in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir.

A team of Indian officials is  now in Islamabad for talks with their Pakistani counterparts for consultations on the appointment of three umpires, including a chairman of the Court of Arbitration, by mutual agreement.

New Delhi maintains that the crux of Pakistan’s water woes is that the country has far less than adequate storage to use the large surplus it receives in summer.

A 2005 report of the World Bank stated that Pakistan needed to raise its storage capacity by 18 million acre feet (MAF) by 2025 to meet the projected water requirement of 134 MAF. The report revealed that crop yield, both per hectare and per cubic metre of water, in Pakistan was much lower than international benchmark.

“Instead of blaming us, the Pakistani government should try to adopt and popularise drip and sprinkler as well as other advanced irrigation techniques,” said another official.
“This is an area where the two countries can cooperate with each other and share best practices,” the official added.

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