Drought storm

2010 drought Pakistan

In Pakistan IFTIKHAR GILANI finds why water issue is upping the ante against India along with the longstanding Kashmir issue.

On my way back to hotel from Punjab University Lahore, taxi driver Deen Mohammad turned his head and asked if I was from India? “Yes,” I replied. “Why don’t you ask your government to release some water?” My first brush with the emotional outburst of a common Pakistani at the acute water shortage attributed to India left me perplexed.

“I live in Kasur.” Mohammad continued. “My fields are drying and seeds rotting. We used to get water every year for six months starting April. It is a fortnight now, there is no trace of water.”

At the other corner of the city, more than a dozen girls chanting devoted songs take pride of the ‘martyrdom’ of their fathers in Kashmir. The sprawling headquarters of Jammat-e-Islami at Mansora bears the testimony of Pakistani boys who became part of ‘Kashmir jihad’. A plaque at Naeem Chowk commemorates death of engineering student Mohammad Naeem in a fierce gun battle in Sopore in 1993. His aged father rues he could not send his second son to fight in Kashmir. In Islamabad, noted anchor Talat Hussain agrees that a mix of Kashmir and water have upped an ante afresh against India. “Water is emerging as a big issue. It has added a new dimension to Kashmir problem and an excuse to keep it on boil,” he says.

Along with seven Indian journalists few days back, when we were guided along Pakistan’s engineering marvel ‘motor way’, River Chenab running beside had it own story to tell. The once roaring river had turned into a marsh, a scant water level surrounding islands. Our guides pointed to the river, and waited for replies from Indian visitors on whether they still believed water shortage was mere propaganda?

South Punjab believed to be a nursery of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) has been mostly affected, providing room to these groups to add banter to anti-India grist. As the talk of reviewing Indus Water Treaty also gets louder, noted journalist Nusrat Javed cautions against any such step. “This is the only treaty, where India has accepted role for a third-party. In absence of this treaty, water will also be reduced to a bilateral issue as happened with Kashmir after 1973 Shimla agreement,” he maintains.

Though many analysts agree that India and Pakistan were somewhere near a solution during President Pervez Musharraf’s tenure, present government negates any role for the former dictator. “There is nothing in the files of foreign office to suggest India had agreed to some acceptable solution,” says Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The minister said the term ‘composite dialogue’ was coined by India before the process began in 2004 while Pakistan had originally sought a ‘comprehensive dialogue’.

“On Kashmir, the viewpoint of this government is the same, … which has been historical and principled, that Pakistan is committed to find a just and peaceful resolution in accordance with UN resolutions and aspirations of the Kashmiri people,” Qureshi said.

“The present government has returned to that (old) position,” he added, describing position under the previous Musharraf government as ‘wavering’ for seven to eight years when he said reliance was put mainly on what he called ‘blah blah (stealthy) back-channel diplomacy’ without taking parliament into confidence.

“We are trying to recover from the damage done to Pakistan’s case then,” he said, assuring the house that “we will like to engage with India in a constructive and purposeful dialogue” and would also consult the Kashmiri leadership for which he said he had written to leaders to come here.

Former Foreign Secertary Riyaz Khokhar, who served under Musharraf maintains that former dictator was befooling both India as well as Kashmiri leadership. He had an interesting take on Kashmiri leaders. “They speak in forked tongue. I ask my Indian friends let us give a seat to Kashmiri leaders at a common table and listen to them together. Otherwise, they tell us something and when they meet us, they tell us something else,” he recalled. Agreeing that exploring a mutually acceptable solution was need of hour, he was completely dismissive of Mussharraf.

Sitting at the cross-roads, Pakistan Foreign Office is reportedly revisiting foreign policy doctrine after a gap of 40 years. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto during President Ayub Khan’s tenure had set directions for Pakistan’s foreign policy in early 60s, joining American club to the annoyance of its neighbours Soviet Union and India. Pakistani leaders and officials are, therefore, awaiting Kashmiri leaders with bated breath to consult them on new Kashmir policy. Many in Islamabad believe that though government was dismissive of Musharraf’s four-point formula, they are keen to revive the understanding with India on similar lines riding on the shoulders of moderate Kashmiri leadership.

Our visit coincided with the empowering of Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Pakistan parliament as well as President Asif Ali Zardari had given consent to 18th Constitutional amendment. But there was hardly any procession of rejoicing in the streets. Talat Hussain likened the mood as someone getting news of birth of son, but at the same time losing his job as well. “People may be happy, but it has been dampened with the daily dose of bomb blasts and heavy power load shedding,” he said.

Back in New Delhi, senior officials in the External Affairs Ministry said the 18th amendment has answered their longstanding question as whom to talk to in Pakistan. India is prepared to move ahead on the basis of Gilani’s latest assurances because the 18th amendment had legally empowered him, the sources said. In Bhutan, Pakistan Prime Minister minced no words. He straightaway told his Indian counterpart Dr. Manmohan Singh, “I’ve come with the authority. I have the support of everyone.”

Both sides had arrived in Thimphu with constraints. What they agreed on was to lower the pitch to allow a mechanism of trust building. Sources said Prime Minister Singh has particularly asked his officials to see if Pakistan’s water woes can be addressed to provide a room to Gilani back home.

Singh during his meeting made it clear that terrorism was preventing dialogue. “One of the most important things to restore trust is credible action by Pakistan”. India wants Bajaur and Swat type operations in South Punjab against LeT and JeM. Pakistani officials say they have already launched intelligence based operations in these areas. Further, since the nomenclature of “composite” dialogue had become a political stumbling block, both sides decided to ignore the nomenclature.

As the two sides review the relationship, both sides are watching political developments in Kashmir. They agree the state was sitting on a political tinderbox due to political and administrative failures. Pakistanis believe they can hardly ignore any political explosion in Kashmir akin to 2008 Amarnath land row. Therefore, a section in New Delhi is keen to pursue some internal confidence building measures (CBMs) to stem the tide. Just last month Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) announced a host of measures to strengthen cross-LoC trade, by allowing Jammu and Kashmir Bank to open a vostro account in a Pakistani bank to bid good bye to barter trade. But these measures depend on the reciprocity of Pakistan.

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