|Friday, 30 July 2004|
India, Pakistan talk about Kashmir water dispute
ISLAMABAD, Thursday (Reuters) Pakistani and Indian diplomats began talks on Thursday to settle a 20-year-old row over plans to dam the waters of a beautiful, dying lake in Kashmir.
Progress on settling a dispute over what Pakistan calls the Wullar Barrage and India the Tulbul Navigation Project may help set the tone for talks between the two nuclear-armed rivals to resolve the bigger issue of Kashmir's future.
But for all Pakistan's pushing for a timeline for a settlement on Kashmir - over which the old foes have fought two of their wars since independence in 1947 - analysts see a drawn out process ahead, with both sides mum about their minimum requirements in any compromise.
"The progress on Kashmir will remain slow because both countries have expressed desire to resolve this issue, but their establishments have not yet moved away from their entrenched positions," commented Talat Masood, a former general in Pakistan's army.
"It will take some time."
Senior bureaucrats from the water and power and foreign ministries are representing their governments in the two days of talks, scheduled to end Saturday, on the water dispute.
Over the enxt two weeks or so, Islamabad and New Delhi will play host to five more sessions on other points of conflict, such as the high altitude Siachen Glacier battlefield, trade and people-to-people contacts.
But first up is the water row, centred on Pakistan's fears that India's proposed plan to build a dam on the Jhelum river, on the edge of Wullar Lake, will choke off the flow of water by the time it reaches the plains of Pakistan's Punjab province.
The last time they tried to settle the dispute was in 1998.
India began building a barrage in 1984 but stopped work three years later after Pakistan objected it violated the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, mediated by the World Bank.
The head of Indian Kashmir's ruling party complains Islamabad is preventing the development of the state.
"Pakistan, on one hand, is trying to give an impression that Kashmir is its jugular vein, and on the other hand is strangling Kashmiris economic progress by sticking to the Indus Water Treaty," Mehbooba Mufti, head of the Peoples Democratic Party, told Reuters in New Delhi.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir, India's only Muslim majority state, during 15 years of violence that followed an insurgency that erupted in 1989.
Pakistan says the Kashmiris are engaged in a legitimate freedom struggle, while India says the violence has been perpetuated by Pakistani militants.
During the the 1990s the sight of dead bodies floating in the green waters of Wullar Lake, surrounded by forests of pine and willow, were a common sight.
The violence prevented the government from taking measures to conserve Wullar, which acts as a basin for flood waters in the Himalayan region.
Produced by Lake House