WASHINGTON, Feb 8: The water dispute between India and Pakistan is getting nasty with Indians now accusing Islamabad of a 'witch-hunt.'

The latest controversy revolves around Praful Patel, the World Bank's vice-president for the South Asian region. Reports in the Indian press, particularly those filed by Washington-based journalists, blame Pakistan for making the bank replace Mr Patel from the panel slated to review Islamabad's complaint on the Baglihar Hydroelectric Project in occupied Kashmir. Pakistanis wanted him out because of his Indian origin, although Mr Patel is a Ugandan national, Times of India reported.

The allegation angered the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, which is liaising with the bank on the dispute. "It is a malicious, fabricated story. At best it is the figment of the correspondent's imagination," said deputy chief of mission, Mohammed Sadiq.

Other than this strong reaction on this particular issue, the embassy has so far avoided issuing any statement on the Baglihar dam dispute. When asked for comment, Pakistani diplomats say this is a technical issue and they want to deal with it within the premises provided by the Indus Water Treaty. Signed in 1960, the World Bank brokered treaty prescribes a specific mechanism for dealing with water disputes between India and Pakistan.

The claim that Pakistan had orchestrated Mr. Patel's removal from the panel which will review Islamabad's complaint caused some Pakistani diplomats to say that the Indians were politicizing the issue.

Last month, Pakistan formally informed the bank that it has failed to resolve the dispute bilaterally with India and asked it to appoint a neutral expert for this purpose.

The complaint is based on several technical objections that Pakistan says violate the IWT.

Instead of responding to the technical objections, the Indian mission in Washington is apparently leaking information to Indian journalists that politicize the issue.

For instance, one article by a Washington-based journalist says that the presence of highly-qualified Indians in positions of power in the World Bank and other similar institutions is upsetting Pakistan.

The article then goes on to claim that approximately 1.65 million Indians live in the United States, compared to 155,000 Pakistanis and that is why, it suggests, Pakistan is frustrated with the World Bank and perhaps also with the construction of the Baglihar dam, although the writers fail to establish a link between the two.

Commenting on the article, a spokesman for the Pakistan Embassy only said: "There are 500,000 Pakistanis in the US, not 155,000."

Another article suggests that instead of complaining about the Baglihar dam, Pakistan should build a dam at Kohala so that people in Azad Kashmir could also get some water rather than using the rivers for Punjab only. The writer does not say how water from Kohala, which is downstream, will be pumped to AJK lands that are upstream.

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