Pak urges India not to let dam dispute affect ties

Associated Press

Islamabad, January 14:

Pakistan urged India today not to let a dispute over a dam hinder relations already bedeviled by the decades-old conflict over Kashmir. India is building the dam in its portion of the Himalayan region, and Pakistan fears it will deprive its main agricultural province of water for irrigation.

“I would urge upon India that let this not be added as another irritant,” Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri told state-run Pakistan Television. “This would really be self-defeating.” Pakistan has an “honest desire” to improve relations with India, Kasuri added. Kashmir — the main cause of tension between the two counties — is divided between them but each claims the former princely state in its entirety.

The two nuclear-powered neighbouring countries have fought two wars over Kashmir since their independence from British rule in 1947. Skirmishes and violence are routine on both sides of the border. Islamabad has demanded that construction of the Baglihar hydroelectric dam on the Chenab river stop in India’s Jammu-Kashmir state, after negotiations between the two countries failed in New Delhi last week to settle the dispute. Officials have said Pakistan will go to the World Bank seeking arbitration. Islamabad says the dam violates a 1960 accord - the Indus Water Treaty - that the bank brokered to share water from rivers that flow from Indian Kashmir into Pakistan.

When built, the dam will cut off water for downstream farmers in Punjab province — the country’s food basket — Pakistan says. “We want a resolution of this dispute with India bilaterally ...but if that is not possible, we will have no option,” but to go to the World Bank for arbitration, Kasuri said. In recent months, senior officials from Pakistan and India have held a series of meetings as part of efforts to normalise relations and resolve the Kashmir issue.

Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh will visit Pakistan from February 15-17 as part of those efforts, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.