It’s business as usual for Pakistan and India this week as Lahore prepares to host a bilateral session on the Indus Water Treaty. This is to be welcomed. Especially as it comes hot off the heels of the recent meeting of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly, in which India also participated.
Yet Pakistan must not let smugness over Prime Minister Modi’s U-turn on threats to the treaty scrap once and for all overshadow the proceedings. Similarly, it must not lord it over New Delhi regarding its failure at last year’s BRICS summit to have Islamabad named and shamed on charges of supporting terrorism.
Tensions this week are likely to be strained over the subject of the six hydropower plants India intends to build in — held Kashmir, at an estimated price-tag of $15 million. The Pakistani fears centre on the possibility of having water supplies to its side disrupted. India has reportedly fast-tracked the construction of these power plants following the clash in Uri last year. Pakistan must avoid a knee-jerk response at all costs. Both parties, after all, are well versed in how the dice rolls. One accuses the other of cross-border terrorism while the other levels allegations of funding a separatist movement within its borders. Shows of tit-for-tat are mainly choreographed for public consumption on respective sides of the border. This is not a call for either side to be soft on terrorism but a gentle reminder that this question cannot be allowed to exclusively define the bilateral relationship that directly impacts 1.5 billion people. The Indus Water Treaty has withstood the test of time and remains a formidable framework for bilateral engagement. While politicians and extremists may want to make water into another reason for conflict, the media must avoid this trap. Media to media contacts are vital in today’s subcontinent where TV culture of jingoism for profit is taking root. Media owners and editors on both sides of the border need to interact more frequently and ensure that journalism remains independent of state decrees. *