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WASHINGTON: Pakistan and India concluded the much-delayed water talks in the US capital on Tuesday, raising hopes that they would avoid further tensions over an issue that has far-reaching consequences for both.

Secretary Water and Power Yousaf Naseem Khokhar led the Pakistani delegation, which included technical experts from his ministry.

Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary also attended the two-day talks held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington.

Secretary Ministry of Water Resources Dr Amarjit Singh headed the Indian delegation, which also included representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The Washington meeting was part of the World Bank’s efforts to resolve a dispute over Kishanganga and Ratle hydroelectricity projects that India is building in the occupied Kashmir. Pakistan opposes the two projects, saying that the plans violate the 1960 Indus Water Treaty that distributes waters of the river Indus and its tributaries between India and Pakistan.

The negotiations are part of World Bank’s efforts to resolve a dispute between the two countries over India’s hydroelectricity projects in Kashmir

The two countries last held talks over the two projects in March this year during the meeting of Permanent Indus Commission in Pakistan.

The last round of the World Bank-supervised talks was held in November 2016, and the World Bank intended to hold another round in April this year but could not do so, as India refused to accept its arbitration.

Since 2013, India had been refusing to hold direct talks with Pakistan and also rejected Islamabad’s efforts to restart the dialogue.

Earlier this week, an Indian official in New Delhi told journalists that the Indian position had not changed and “talks under the Indus Water Treaty do not amount to bilateral talks”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last year that India would not share the Indus water with Pakistan until Islamabad prevented militants from launching attacks inside India.

Pakistan rejected the Indian charge, saying that it never allowed any group to carry out cross-border attacks and the uprising in Kashmir was indigenous and independent.

Pakistan approached the World Bank last year, raising concerns over the designs of the two projects after India indicated that it wanted to review the Indus Water Treaty, linking it to the situation in Kashmir.

The projects will allow India to use water of three Indus tributaries to irrigate 912,000 acres of land, up from 800,000 acres, and to produce 18,600MW of electricity.

Pakistan argues that the two projects would lessen its share granted in the treaty and urges the World Bank to play a mediatory role between the two countries, as laid out in the 57-year-old water distribution pact.

While the Pakistani side has so far not held any briefing for the media, the Indian Embassy in Washington shared with the Indian media a statement from a senior World Bank official, assuring New Delhi that it will continue to “be a neutral and impartial” player in helping the two countries find an “amicable way forward”.

In a letter to India’s Ambassador to the US, Navtej Sarna, senior World Bank official Annette Dixon said: “We are pleased both parties have confirmed their participation in the meeting hosted by the World Bank in Washington, DC”.

“The World Bank welcomes the spirit of goodwill and cooperation,” she said, and assured Ambassador Sarna of its “continued neutrality and impartiality in helping the parties find an amicable way forward”.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2017