INDIA’S decision to attend the Indus Waters Commission meeting, scheduled to be held in this country later this month, is a wise step. The nearly six-decade-old Indus Waters Treaty has proved to be a remarkably durable document, having survived fully fledged wars, bilateral exchanges of verbal vitriol and periods of uneasy peace between Pakistan and India. While both sides — more recently the Indians — have played politics with water, with hawks in Delhi threatening to block the waters flowing into Pakistan, on the ground it has thankfully been the measured approach of the IWT that has governed the way the rivers of this region are to be shared. Though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has threatened to unilaterally scrap the treaty, especially in light of recent tensions over India-held Kashmir, the fact that the Indians have decided to attend parleys in Pakistan related to the water accord prove that beyond the public sabre-rattling, a more sensible approach is being applied.
It would be premature to hail this move as a return to ‘business as usual’ in the subcontinent; it should be seen within its limited context. The atmosphere in South Asia is still very much one of suspicion and distrust, and many of the outstanding bilateral issues between Pakistan and India remain frozen. Having said that, the upcoming meeting does at least prove that even in these difficult times, Pakistan and India do recognise the need to discuss their issues in a civil, frank and practical manner. The water issue is an incredibly sensitive one, both within nations and in the bilateral context. Hence, it cannot be left to the demagogues to use as a plank to forward their antagonistic agendas. The upcoming talks must focus on protecting this country’s legitimate water rights, while India’s concerns must also be addressed within the framework of the IWT. The treaty is one of the few bright spots in the mostly morbid Pakistan-India relationship; it must, therefore, be built on and taken forward.