India has formed a task force to look into all strategic aspects of the Indus Waters Treaty even as Pakistan has said it will not accept any “modifications or changes” to the 56-year-old pact that is under severe strain following heightened tensions between the two countries.
The inter-ministerial task force, to be headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal secretary Nripendra Mishra, is an “all-powerful body” mandated to make all “important strategic and policy decisions” regarding the pact, an unnamed government functionary was quoted as saying by PTI.
A formal notification on the task force was issued on Friday. Its members include National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, foreign secretary S Jaishankar and secretaries of the finance, environment, power and water resources ministries, the official said.
Earlier, Tariq Fatemi, special assistant to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was quoted by the Dawn newspaper as saying that Pakistan would not agree to any changes to the treaty.
“Pakistan will not accept any modifications or changes to the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty. Our position is based on the principles enshrined in the treaty. And the treaty must be honoured in...letter and spirit,” Fatemi said in Washington.
The developments came close on the heels of the World Bank, which brokered the treaty, announcing a “pause” in two processes to look into disputes over the Kishenganga and Ratle projects in order to protect the treaty.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup told reporters on Thursday that resolving such issues would need time.
“India has always believed the implementation of the Indus Waters Treaty, which includes redressal of the technical questions and differences, should be done bilaterally between India and Pakistan,” he said. “We believe these consultations should be given adequate time.”
His remarks about more time to settle differences “alarmed Pakistan”, the Dawn reported. Pakistan argued India had used a similar strategy on previous occasions and completed a disputed project before insisting it could not be modified as it was already complete, the report added.
The Indian task force was formed nearly three months after Modi reviewed the water-sharing treaty after a series of cross-border terror attacks, including one on an army camp in Uri. The government had then decided India would exploit to the maximum waters of the rivers assigned to Pakistan by the pact, including Jhelum.
The treaty gives India control over three eastern rivers of the Indus basin – Beas, Ravi and Sutlej – and Pakistan has the three western rivers, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum.
The World Bank, which has a role under the treaty in the resolution of disputes, is expected to send an expert to India and Pakistan to discuss the Kishenganga and Ratle projects.
Pakistan approached the World Bank in September and alleged that the design of the Kishenganga project was not in line with the treaty’s provisions. It demanded the setting up of a court of arbitration.
India rejected these charges and asked the World Bank to appoint a neutral expert.
(With inputs from agencies)