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August 1, 2017

Pakistan, India begin dialogue on Indus hydropower projects

Business

August 1, 2017

LAHORE: Pakistan and India have initiated a formal dialogue mediated by the World Bank to iron out differences over the Indus hydropower projects being built by the latter despite the former’s objection, a senior official said on Monday.

The official at the ministry of water and power said formal consultation process over dispute resolution mechanism between Pakistan and India has finally been initiated after around one year of filing of the case with the World Bank.

He said the meeting is being held on the invitation of the World Bank in Washington DC. The talks are expected to conclude on August 1, he added. 

Khawaja Asif, former minister of water and power, was to lead the Pakistan’s delegation. He had reached US for this purpose, but after the sacking of the federal government by the apex court, now secretary water and power would lead the delegation, which comprises of Pakistan’s Commissioner for Indus Waters as well as legal advisors. Union Secretary Water Resources leads the Indian delegation. 

“Going at a snail’s pace, the process being spearheaded by the World Bank was largely off-track mainly due to stubbornness of India,” the official said. 

An official hoped that the stalemate over dispute resolution mechanism under Indus Waters Treaty would amicably end. He was also upbeat on the resolution of differences on 330 megawatts Kishanganga and 850MW Ratle hydroelectricity projects in Indus Basin in line with the Pakistan’s main concerns. The projects are being built on tributaries of rivers Jhelum and Chenab.

The Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 after about decade-long parleys between Pakistan and India under the mediation of the World Bank, which is also a signatory to the treaty.

Officials said India did not pay heed to Pakistan’s assertion on both contentious hydropower projects during the successive sessions of Permanent Indus Commission as well as at ministerial levels of both the countries. 

After failing to explore such options bilaterally, the official said, Pakistan resorted to the option of resolving differences through appointment of neutral expert for the same purpose under the provision of the treaty. India had opposed Pakistan’s move in an apparent tactic of buying time for speedily carrying out work on the disputed projects.  However, after extensive consultation with various local stakeholders, Pakistan decided last August to go for the mechanism of Court of Arbitration as both technical and operation related concerns could effectively be addressed at this forum. India, as usual again, opposed the move. 

“However, astonishingly, India wrote the World Bank for starting process of Neutral Expert in a move aiming at stalling the dispute resolution mechanism sought by Pakistan,” said the official. World Bank started both the process of appointing neutral expert on India’ demand as well as setting up court of arbitration as per Pakistan’s assertion.   Officials said being the lower riparian, Pakistan deserved that its request should have been processed. 

“Pakistan raised objection over Indian projects, while India always tried to deny and the World Bank should have initiated process of setting court,” added an official. The issue was further complicated following the World Bank pausing the whole process on December 12, 2016. 

The Bank said this was done to safeguard the treaty, “since referring the matter simultaneously to the processes sought by each of the parties risked contradictory outcomes and worked against the spirit of goodwill and friendship that underpins the Treaty.”

Since then, the World Bank has been involved in assisting the two parties in reaching an agreement on the process for resolving the issue of the two hydroelectric power projects. It is also working with them on how to ensure that the treaty remains an effective tool to manage Indus Basin.  

Sources said World Bank played a crucial role in reinitiating the discussion between the two countries. They particularly praised the role of Ian Solomon, representative of president at the World Bank and founder of Solomon Global in the resumption of talks on Indus Waters Treaty.