India to ignore row, go ahead with dam

Agence France Presse

Srinagar, January 20:

Power-starved Indian Kashmir vowed today to forge ahead with construction of a controversial hydroelectric dam despite Pakistan’s call for international arbitration in a bid to halt the project.

Kashmir Chief Minister Mohammed Sayeed said neutral technical experts were “welcome to inspect” the $1billion plant in south Kashmir, saying it in no way breaches a water-sharing treaty with Pakistan. “We’re on a sound footing,” he said in reply to Pakistan’s move this week to seek international mediation over the 450-megawatt Baglihar hydro project.

“For our future power generation, Baglihar is the flagship,” said Sayeed, urging Pakistan not to stall construction of the plant. The dam dispute as well as an alleged violation on Tuesday of a 14-month ceasefire between the rivals when mortars fired from Pakistan crashed into Indian Kashmir are seen as setbacks to a fragile peace process under way since early 2004. After talks with India over the dam collapsed earlier this month, Pakistan asked the World Bank, which brokered the Indus Water Treaty, to name a neutral expert to settle the dispute as per the agreement.

Islamabad’s move marked the first time it has sought outside help to settle differences under the treaty, one of the most enduring accords between the nuclear rivals, having held during two wars. Islamabad says it fears the dam on the Chenab river flowing from Indian Kashmir to Pakistan could deprive its wheat-bowl state of Punjab of vital irrigation water and charges it violates the 44-year-old water agreement. Analysts also say Pakistan is concerned that in the event of another war, India could use the dam to cause flooding or droughts in Punjab. But Sayeed said the project does not breach the treaty as “we’re not storing water” and will not interfere with the water flow.

He also said the plant could go a long way towards ending routine 12-hour blackouts plaguing the Himalayan state. “If Pakistan is sincere towards the people of Kashmir, it should not try to stall the construction as the project is aimed at ending the prolonged hardship of people on the power front,” Sayeed said. The treaty bars India from interfering with the flow of the three rivers feeding Pakistan — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum — but allows it to generate electricity from them.

Work has been going on round the clock on the dam and Pakistan has said India wants to present the dam as a fait accompli.

Ultras can exploit delay on Kashmir: Musharraf


President Pervez Musharraf warned a visiting Indian delegation that “extremists” will take advantage of any delay in an India-Pakistan settlement on the Kashmir dispute. The president said that enduring peace would come in the region only if the dialogue between India and Pakistan succeed. Stating that Pakistan had shown flexibility on the Kashmir issue, Musharraf suggested that it was India’s turn to do so, reported Online news agency. “If we don’t step back from our stated positions and fail to resolve the Kashmir issue, the extremist forces will take advantage of any delay,” he cautioned. — HNS

Tension to be defused


India and Pakistan will work to defuse tensions following truce violations. “Both sides have agreed that nothing should be done to heighten tension,” said Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee. “Both sides are taking up measures on confidence-building spirit.” — AFP