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WASHINGTON: India and Pakistan resume talks on a longstanding water dispute on Thursday amidst renewed hopes for a peaceful resolution of this potentially dangerous issue.

The last round of these talks, held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, concluded on Aug 1, with the bank praising both Pakistan and India for displaying a new spirit of “goodwill and cooperation”. The two parties agreed to hold the second round, also in Washing­ton, on Sept 14 and 15. The World Bank will supervise the talks.

The Pakistani delegation, headed by Secretary of Water Resources Division Arif Ahmed Khan, reached Washington on Tuesday, when the Indian delegation also arrived.

The Pakistani delegation includes Secretary of Water and Power Yousuf Naseem Khokhar, High Commissioner of Indus Waters Treaty Mirza Asif Baig and Joint Secretary of Water Syed Mehar Ali Shah.

The dispute concerns the 330MW Kishanganga hydroelectric plant that India is building on the Neelum river and the 850MW Ratle hydroelectric plant on the Chenab river. Pakis­tan argues that their designs violate the 1960 Indus Waters Tre­aty between the two countries.

The World Bank played a key role in concluding the treaty and is recognised by both parties as an arbiter.

The treaty gives Pakistan the right of unrestricted use of water from the two rivers and the Indus. Islamabad believes that the two projects, if completed, would stop adequate flow of water to its side. India is also building several electricity projects, such as the 1,000MW Pakal Dul, 120MW Miyar and 48MW Lower Kalnai on Chenab’s tributaries.

In previous discussions, both sides merely stated their official positions but the last round was more productive as they exchanged several substantive proposals as well. Both delegations also said that they needed to discuss the proposals with their governments and reques­ted the World Bank to give them more time for consultations.

“The fact that both parties have come back, indicates a degree of sincerity, at least with regard to the proposals being discussed,” said an official source familiar with the talks.

The bank too had mentioned this in its concluding statement after the last round, saying: “The secretary-level discussions bet­ween India and Pakistan on the technical issues of the Indus Waters Treaty took place in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation.” In a brief description of the dispute and of its efforts to resolve it, the World Bank clarified that it was not financing the disputed projects.

India and Pakistan disagree over whether the technical design features of the disputed hydroelectric plants contravene the treaty.

The bank notes that the treaty “designates these two rivers as well as the Indus as the western rivers to which Pakistan has unrestricted use”.

But the bank also points out that India is permitted to construct hydroelectric power facilities on these rivers subject to constraints specified in annexure to the treaty.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2017