Pakistan has removed its Indus Commissioner as right-wing Pakistani newspapers had been baying for his blood since the World Bank gave a go ahead for the Baglihar power project with minor modifications. Iftikhar Gilani reports.
Few years back, Pakistan’s water delegation led by its Secretary Water and Power sought a courtesy appointment with the then Minister for Water Resources after the day-long talks on Wullar Barrage, as part of the (now paused) composite dialogue process. The Minister Prof. Saifuddin Soz enquired, if Pakistan’s Indus Commissioner Syed Jammat Ali Shah was also part of the team. When his officials replied in affirmative, the minister asked for postponement of the call, till he was properly briefed and armed to face the Pakistani delegation.
Darling of media for his blunt and forthright comments and a declared ‘hardliner’ in Indian power corridors, blamed usually for rocking India-Pakistan talks, on water issues, Syed Jammat Ali Shah, Commissioner Indus for more than a decade was removed unceremoniously in Islamabad last week. He was replaced by Sheraz Memon, an official of Sindh Irrigation Department. Indian minister’s fears to face Shah were not unfounded. Shah had acquired a profuse knowledge and intricacies of water related issues. He knew names of different streams in Kashmir and their seasonal flow like back of his hand.
The development came at a juncture when Pakistan had moved the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the 330 MW Kishanganga project coming up in Bandipora district in scenic Gurez Valley. Pakistan’s objections are that diversion of waters from Kishanganga rivulet (also called Neelam) would leave almost a 100 km stretch of Neelam Valley across the LoC barren. Pakistani sources say, he was replaced because of “his persistent differences with Assistant Advisor to Prime Minister on Water, Kamal Majidullah on some sensitive issues.
But right-wing Pakistani newspapers had been baying for his blood since the World Bank appointed Swiss neutral expert Raymond Lafitte had given a go ahead for the 460-MW Baglihar power project on river Chinab in Jammu and Kashmir with minor modifications. The last straw came when he reportedly blamed Pakistan’s own water management system rather India, for scarcity of water.
For the first time in decades, last June, against his ‘hardline’ image, his delegation withdrew objections to the construction of Uri-II and the Chutak hydel power projects in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan had earlier raised objections over the 240 MW Uri-II project being constructed on Jhelum River in Jammu and Kashmir and the 44 MW Chutak plant being built on Suru, a tributary of Indus River in Kargil district. This was, perhaps for the first time that Pakistan has accepted the designs of power projects at the level of Permanent Indus Commission. Earlier, it took a ministerial meeting to make Pakistan agree to Salal Power Project. When contacted, Jammat Ali Shah confirmed his removal and said that he received a verbal direction from Ministry of Water and Power.
With or without Shah, climate change and water is fast emerging a new irritant in the already plummeting India and Pakistan relations. Ahead of April SAARC summit in Bhutan, India had to withdraw its representative Yogeshwar Verma, joint secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, after he almost came to blows with his Pakistani counterpart, who was pressing to include issue of water in the agenda. During last foreign secretary-level talks in New Delhi Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Basheer had presented a paper on climate change issues to India prepared by Pakistan’s Indus Water Commission. Although water is not a core issue for the resumption of talks between the two nuclear neighbours, differences over the use of rivers assigned according to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty have undercut peace-making efforts.