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Water turns biggest challenge in Indo-Pak talks

05 June, 2012

ISLAMABAD: Water is going to be the dominant concern in Pakistan-India talks as the cases of Baglihar and Kishanganga have greatly altered the dynamics of negotiating issues between the two countries.

This was the view of delegates participating in the Islamabad Dialogue II, an Indo-Pak Track II conference organised by Jinnah Institute and Centre of Dialogue and Reconciliation, that concluded on Monday after holding conference for two days.

Water crisis is hard to be tuned out in the Indus Basin, given the heavy dependence on irrigated agriculture in Pakistan and India.

The participants held that water presents serious challenges for growing population needs, industrialisation and development in the basin. The group stressed that a demand efficiency focus needs to be developed and debated, as opposed to a supply-oriented views. Further, Pakistan and India need to cater to the ecological and environmental changes that are taking place in the region.

The conference was attended by high-profile policy experts, former diplomats, members of the media and academic communities from both sides. In a session on bilateral relations, participants stated that now was a watershed moment for both India and Pakistan. The group noted that while there had been very positive developments on trade, much more needed to be done to curb the rising tide of extremism within both countries and to contain the violence threatening to spill out of Afghanistan in the lead up to ISAF/NATO withdrawal in 2014.

It was stated that both Pakistan and India should find common cause in addressing governance challenges, particularly in the provision of citizen entitlements. It was pointed out that a challenge for any Track II discussion is to be able to influence the official dialogue between Pakistan and India.

Participants noted with satisfaction that Track II had achieved success in the field of economic integration and trade with India. Participants agreed that Pak-India trade needs to look at regions and sub-regions in an attempt to connect both sides of Punjab, Sindh with Gurjarat and both sides of Kashmir. The delegates debated the ways in which trade integration was affecting small manufacturers under a liberalised trade regime, non-tariff barriers and improvement of commercial infrastructure.

A session on healthcare was held in an attempt to diversify the bilateral agenda and to include subjects that are usually neglected. The conference included working group sessions on the bilateral process, Kashmir, water security, healthcare and trade integration, which produced policy recommendations

The conference participants included Sushobha Barve (CDR executive director), Prem Shankar Jha (editor of a newspaper, author and columnist), Ramaswamy R Iyer (former Indian water resources secretary), Dr Rajan Sethuratnam (cardiac surgery director), Jyoti Malhotra (freelance journalist), Wasim Bhat (CDR programme coordinator), Siddharth Varadarajan (The Hindu's Delhi bureau chief), Arunabha Ghosh (CEO of Council on Energy Environment and Water), Shakil Romshoo (Head of Earth Sciences Department, University of Kashmir), Salman Haider (former foreign secretary of India), Rekha Chowdhary (professor of political science, Jammu University), Muhammad Sayeed Malik (chief editorial consultant of Kashmir Times), Manvendra Singh (former BJP MLA), Aziz Ahmad Khan (Honorary vice president of Jinnah Institute), Javed Jabbar (JJ Media chief executive), Khalid Mohtadullah (Pakistan IWMI country director) and Ahsan Iqbal (PML-N MNA).

End.

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