in first contact with imran govt, india, pak to discuss indus waters

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India will have its first official engagement with the Imran Khan government in Pakistan with a team of officials travelling to Islamabad this week for a meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission.

While India has justified the water talks in the past as a "mandatory requirement" under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), the timing of the meeting on this occasion is significant as it will come just a week after Khan took over as PM.

Pakistan under Khan has appealed to India to move beyond the cycle of dialogue and disruption. While India remains cautious mainly because of its concerns over cross-border terrorism, PM Narendra Modi earlier wrote to Khan + expressing commitment to meaningful and constructive engagement with Pakistan.

Despite both sides wanting "constructive" engagement, any comprehensive dialogue is ruled out for now. Meetings on the Indus waters and also engagement on the sidelines of multilateral events though are being considered by India as these involve little risk of undermining its official position that there can be no substantive engagement with Islamabad until it acts against India-specific terror groups.

Both countries have not yet ruled out the possibility of a meeting between foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the sidelines of the UNGA next month. Pakistan has shared with World Bank, which oversees IWT, its concerns over the inauguration of the Kishanganga hydroelectric power project. Islamabad protested the inauguration by Modi saying the project violated the IWT as it would limit its supplies from a river flowing into Pakistan.

Besides the 330 MW project on the Kishanganga river (tributary of Jhelum), India's 850 mw Ratle run-of-river hydroelectric project, too, has been a bone of contention between the two countries for long. Ratle is being built on the Chenab river in Kishtwar district of J&K.;

Though water of eastern rivers (Ravi, Beas and Sutlej) are allocated to India under the 1960 IWT, the country is under obligation to let the water of western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) flow to Pakistan. India is, however, permitted to construct hydroelectric projects on the western rivers and can even use the water from these rivers for irrigation and other domestic purposes.

The last meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission was held in New Delhi in March when both the countries had shared details of water flow and the quantum of water being used under the treaty.

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