Pakistan and India on Wednesday concluded the two-day talks of the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) with an agreement to interact more frequently in order to resolve the issues through bilateral discussions.
The talks, according to a statement issued by India’s External Affairs Ministry, were held in a “cordial manner” in New Delhi. The two sides were led by their respective Indus water commissioners.
The meeting was the first since August 2018, although it was supposed to take place in 2019. The official explanation said the annual meeting could not take place because of the Covid-19 pandemic but sources told The Express Tribune that it also had to do with the deepening tensions between the two countries after India unilaterally revoked the special status of the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) in August 2019.
The meeting of the PIC is being linked to the renewed push by the two sides to seek rapprochement. The joint statement issued after the talks indicated that the two sides tried to send a positive message.
The statement said the annual meeting of the PIC comprising Indus Commissioners of India and Pakistan was held on March 23-24, 2021 in New Delhi.
“Under the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty, signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, the two Commissioners are required to meet at least once every year, alternately in India and Pakistan. The meeting could not be held last year due to restrictions induced by the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic situation,” the statement pointed out.
It said that the discussions continued on designs of two Indian projects, namely, Pakal Dul (1,000 MW) and Lower Kalnai (48 MW). Indian side held that these projects were fully compliant with the provisions of the treaty and provided technical data in support of its position.
The Pakistan side requested India for sharing information on the design of other Indian hydropower projects being planned to be developed. The Indian side assured that the information will be supplied as and when required to be supplied under the provisions of the treaty.
“The meeting was held in a cordial manner. Both the Commissioners reaffirmed their commitment to interact more frequently in an attempt to resolve the issues by bilateral discussions under the Treaty. It was agreed to hold the next meeting of the PIC in Pakistan on mutually convenient dates,” the statement concluded.
The Indus water commissioners’ talks came against the backdrop of a number of other developments signalling a possible thaw between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan on the Pakistan Day and expressed his desire to have “cordial relationship” with the people of Pakistan.
He, however, added that for this to happen “an environment of trust, devoid of terrorism and hostility, is imperative.”
Tensions between the two countries have been on the mend since Pakistan and India agreed to restore 2003 ceasefire understanding on February 25. Following the agreement between the director general military operations, the two countries also decided to lower rhetoric in order to create a better environment for further steps.
Both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa recently sounded conciliatory towards India. While Prime Minister Imran said India would have to take the first step, the army chief maintained that it was time to “bury the past and move forward.”
It is expected that the two countries will take gradual steps to normalise ties. The next possible move may include the restoration of diplomatic ties to the level of ambassadors. Pakistan had expelled the Indian high commissioner while recalled its envoy from New Delhi after India abrogated Article 370 on August 5, 2019. Restoration of trade could also be another step.
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