Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
India and Pakistan will open a trade link across divided Kashmir for the first time in six decades on Tuesday, aiming to ease tensions by creating soft borders in the disputed region. The move looks to be fairly tentative; lorries will be allowed across the military ceasefire line only once a week, carrying a limited list of goods, and will be expected to unload some 10 km to 15 km beyond the Line of Control which separates the Indian and Pakistani-held parts of the region. But it has potentially more than symbolic significance, particularly if it helps to open up the isolated Kashmir Valley — at the heart of the separatist revolt – to the outside world.
The step, which would have been unthinkable before a ceasefire on the Line of Control in late 2003, is also meant to build trust between India and Pakistan. The region’s governor, N.N. Vohra, described it as an important milestone in India-Pakistan relations. But as is so often the case in India-Pakistan relations, there have been some unexpected counter-currents recently, acting as a powerful undertow against attempts to improve the two countries’ approach to Kashmir.
As I discussed in a post in June, the two countries are getting tetchy about the use of water from rivers they share in divided Kashmir. India and Pakistan have successfully regulated their use of the rivers through the Indus Waters Treaty (see full pdf document here), signed in 1960 under the auspices of the World Bank. It is the only agreement to have been fully implemented by India and Pakistan; it held through two full-scale wars in 1965 and 1971 and survived long periods of intense antagonism.
But matters came to a head earlier this month when Pakistan complained that India had violated the treaty while building a dam on the Chenab river in Kashmir for a power project. Although a Pakistani team is now in India for talks on the controversial Baglihar dam, the row has raised questions about the durability of the Indus Waters Treaty at a time when both countries are desperate for water both to grow food and provide hydroelectric power. (The Times of India has just run two stories on it here and here.)