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India accepts Pakistan’s Invitation for talks on the Indus Waters Treaty in Pakistan

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New Delhi, March 3, 2017: The Indian Commissioner of the Permanent Indus Commission has accepted his Pakistani counterpart’s invitation for talks on the Indus Waters Treaty scheduled to be held in Pakistan in the second half of March.

However, given the extremely strained relations between the two South Asian nuclear neighbours, the Indian establishment here does not see this as official talks of any sort with Pakistan, it is reliably learnt.

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The Permanent Indus Commission is a bipartisan body entrusted with everyday implementation of the World Bank-brokered Indus Waters Treaty that was signed in 1960.

The Commission, which is mandated to meet at least once every year, alternately in India and Pakistan, comprises Indus Commissioners from both sides and discusses technical matters related to implementation of the Treaty. It has met 112 times since 1960.

It is learnt that mutually convenient dates and mutually agreeable agenda are being worked out directly by the Commissioners themselves and the Indian government has played no role in this regard.

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New Delhi sees this as just another regular meeting of the Commission to deal with technical matters concerned with implementation of the Treaty and which does not amount to talks between India and Pakistan.

The Treaty had come close to be jeopardised following the cross-border terror attack on September 18 last year on an army base at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir that claimed the lives of 19 Indian soldiers.

Blaming the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack, New Delhi said it would consider revisiting the Indus Waters Treaty, which has withstood three wars and is seen as one of the most successful international agreements.

According to the agreement, India has control over three eastern rivers — Beas, Ravi and Sutlej — all flowing from Punjab.

Pakistan, as per the treaty, controls the western rivers of the Indus — Chenab and Jhelum that flow from Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir has been demanding a review of the treaty as it robs the state of its rights to use the water of the rivers.

The current processes under the treaty concern the Kishenganga (330 MW) and Ratle (850 MW) hydroelectric power plants, being built by India on the Kishenganga and Chenab rivers, respectively, to which Pakistan has raised objections.

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In November last year, India had pointed out the legal untenability of the World Bank launching two simultaneous processes for appointment of a neutral expert — requested by India — and establishment of a court of arbitration — requested by Pakistan — to adjudicate technical differences.

In December, the World Bank announced a pause in the separate processes initiated by India and Pakistan to allow the two countries to consider alternative ways to resolve their disagreements.

“We are announcing this pause to protect the Indus Waters Treaty and to help India and Pakistan consider alternative approaches to resolving conflicting interests under the Treaty and its application to two hydroelectric power plants,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim had said in a statement.

“This is an opportunity for the two countries to begin to resolve the issue in an amicable manner and in line with the spirit of the Treaty rather than pursuing concurrent processes that could make the treaty unworkable over time.”

This year, weeks after discussing the Indus Waters Treaty issue with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad, World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley here. (IANS)

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Pakistan Reacts Sharply To U.S. Religious Freedom Charges

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused

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A Pakistani nun holds a candle during a vigil for victims of a deadly suicide bombing in a park, March 28, 2016, in Lahore. VOA

Pakistan is denouncing a U.S. decision to place it on a list of countries Washington says are the worst offenders of religious freedom.

“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities… there are serious questions on the credentials and impartiality of the self proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise,” the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday in a strongly-worded statement.

The reaction comes a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his designation of “countries of particular concern” that allegedly have engaged in or tolerated ”systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

Freedom Violations

The countries on the blacklist are exposed to punitive sanctions, but Pompeo waived them for Pakistan, citing U.S. national interests.

Pakistan had until now been on a U.S. watch list for governments that have “engaged in or tolerated” severe violations of religious freedom.

Pakistan
Pakistani volunteers collect debris from an Ahmadi mosque demolished by an angry mob, in the eastern city of Sialkot. VOA

While rebuking Tuesday’s U.S. pronouncement as “unilateral and politically motivated,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry noted Pakistan is “a multi-religious and pluralistic society” of more than 200 million people, mostly Muslims.

“Around four percent of our total population comprises citizens belonging to Christian, Hindu, Buddhists and Sikh faiths. Ensuring equal treatment of minorities and their enjoyment of human rights without any discrimination is the cardinal principle of the Constitution of Pakistan,” it said.

Ahmadis most persecuted community

The statement did not mention the Ahmadi sect, which critics say is the most persecuted minority in Pakistan. The constitution bars the community from “posing as Muslims” and from calling their worship places “mosques.”

U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback while defending downgrading of Pakistan reiterated Tuesday the challenges facing the Ahmadi community.

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Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, speaks to reporters at the State Department in Washington. VOA

“The Pakistani government criminalizes the identification of Ahmadis as Muslims, and then also — and this one has really been difficult and troubling for a lot of people — the government often fails to hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations,” said Brownback.

Blasphemy laws

He cited, among other things, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as a cause for the downgrade of the country’s religious freedom ranking. The laws prescribe the death penalty for those found guilty.

Rights groups have long complained Islamist groups misuse the law to intimidate minorities in the country.

Insulting Islam or its prophet is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where mere allegations have led to mob lynchings. A former provincial governor, a federal minister, judges and lawyers are among those assassinated in Pakistan by extremists merely for calling for reform of the blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse or for hearing cases and defending alleged blasphemers.

Asia Bibi

In a historic judgement this past October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been on death row for eight years after being convicted of insulting the Prophet Mohammad. The women denied the charges from the outset as an outcome of a local feud and the country’s highest court cited lack of evidence in overturning her conviction by a lower court.

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Radical Islamists rally to condemn a Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who spent eight years on death row accused of blasphemy, in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Bibi and her family have been in hiding since her release. Her lawyer fled Pakistan shortly after the landmark court ruling announced on October 31, saying his life was in danger.

Bibi is awaiting a rehearing of her case by the Supreme Court and is residing in a safe place under government protection, say Pakistani officials.

Pakistan also arrested hundreds of Islamist activists and their leaders last month for staging days of mass violent protests to denounce the court for freeing Bibi.

Also Read: Muslims in Malaysia Rally In Kuala Lumpur To Keep Status

The government has charged the detainees with treason and terrorism and officials have vowed to put them on trial in special courts.

“It’s our hope that they will, the new leadership in Pakistan, will work to improve the situation. There was some encouraging signs seen recently on how they’ve handled some of the recent protesting against the blasphemy laws, and we continue to watch very carefully what’s happening to Asia Bibi,” said Brownback.

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused of committing severe violations of religious freedom. (VOA)