WASHINGTON: Constructive Pak-India engagement during recently held water talks in Washington has raised hopes for an amicable resolution of ‘water dispute’, between the two neighbors say diplomatic sources.
World Bank, which hosted the talks at its headquarters, also noticed this positive change and mentioned it in its press release. It said the ‘meetings were held in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation’.
Islamabad and New Delhi disagree over construction of Kishenganga (330MW) and Ratle (850MW) hydroelectric power plants being built by India. (World Bank is not financing either project). Islamabad sees technical design features of both plants going against Indus Waters Treaty.
The plants are on a tributary of Jhelum and Chenab Rivers, respectively. An international expert, who closely monitors Pak-India water talks, said this was the first time in many years that delegates ‘held a constructive discussion, instead of merely stating their official positions’.
Previously ‘sometimes the two sides did not even exchange formal greetings’. They would ‘just read the statements they brought with them and leave. But this time it was different, he added.
Both sides have now returned to their capitals to consult their governments on ideas discussed at Washington during negotiations at World Bank headquarters.
Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 after 9 years of negotiations between Pakistan and India helped by World Bank, which is a signatory. Seen as one of the most successful international treaties, it has survived frequent tensions, including conflict, and has provided a framework for irrigation and hydropower development for over half a century.
Former US president Dwight Eisenhower described it as ‘a bright spot … in a very depressing world picture that we see so often’. But recent tensions have affected Pak-India water talks as India intends to use water as a tool to influence Islamabad’s Kashmir policy.
Islamabad has rejected New Delhi’s charge of supporting militants, but has vowed to continue supporting Kashmiri’s movement for self-determination. That`s why cooperation displayed in Washington meeting was welcomed. Careful not to hurt this rare opportunity of positive engagement between the two neighbors, WB decided not to publicise the talks.
However, it did issue a brief statement on Aug 1, saying that talks had ended and the two sides had agreed to meet again next month. The bank also issued a statement, briefly describing the dispute and efforts it had made to resolve it.
One paragraph stated that under the Treaty, ‘among other uses, India is permitted to construct hydro power facilities on these rivers subject to constraints specified in the treaty’. This paragraph was interpreted by Indian media as an endorsement of New Delhi’s position, causing WB to issue a clarification.
‘The 1960 Treaty does not bar India from building hydro power projects on Jhelum and Chenab tributaries with certain restrictions, says the World Bank in its fact sheet on the treaty,’ Indian media reported.
WB, however, rejected this as `erroneous` and said that `discussions between India and Pakistan about Kishenganga and Ratle hydro power plants are ongoing’.
A reference in Pak media to former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s call to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in January 2017 also caused some unease as India apparently believed that Pakistan was trying to create an impression that USA was playing a mediatory role, which it was not.
The treaty designates Jhelum, Chenab and Indus as ‘western rivers’, to which Pakistan has unrestricted use. Among other uses, the agreement permits India to construct hydro power facilities on these rivers subject to constraints specified in the treaty.
Pakistan has asked WB to set up a ‘court of arbitration’ to look into its concerns about Kishenganga and Ratle designs. India has asked for appointing a neutral expert for the purpose.
These requests came after Permanent Indus Commission, part of the treaty’s resolution mechanism, failed to resolve the dispute.