WASHINGTON: Pakistan and India concluded the first day of their two-day talks on Thursday on a long-standing water dispute — maintaining a spirit of goodwill demonstrated in the last round.
The talks are held at the World Bank headquarters, as the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty for the distribution of water between the two neighbouring states recognises the bank as an arbiter.
An Indian official told reporters in New Delhi on Thursday that Union Water Resources Secretary Amarjit Singh is leading a multi-disciplinary delegation at the talks, which includes representatives from the ministry of external affairs, power, India’s Indus Water Commissioner and Central Water Commission.
The second round of talks on Ratle and Kishanganga hydroelectric projects “are focusing on technical issues,” the official added.
Second round of dialogue is focused on Ratle and Kishanganga hydroelectric projects
Secretary Water Resources Division Arif Ahmed Khan is leading the Pakistani delegation, which 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.
After the last round, which concluded on Aug 1, the two delegations returned to their respective capitals for consultations on the proposals that each had brought with them.
In the second round, they will focus on the responses and may seek more consultations with their political leadership before making any commitment, official sources said.
“This will be a long process and we should not expect an early result,” said a technical expert who has worked on India-Pakistan water disputes in the past. “But this is already an improvement, as in the past they often returned home after re-stating their official positions.”
In a statement issued after the last round, the World Bank too appreciated this “spirit of goodwill and cooperation” demonstrated during the talks and announced that the two teams had agreed to meet again in September for the second round.
The World Bank observed that the Indus Water Treaty allows India to construct hydroelectric power facilities on tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers but with certain restrictions. Pakistan contends that the designs of two hydropower projects located in Jammu and Kashmir violate the treaty and approached the World Bank for mediation.
In August, the World Bank also issued a factsheet, which India interpreted as an endorsement of its position on building hydroelectric facilities on the shared rivers.
Pakistan rejected the Indian interpretation, but agreed to continue the talks.
Pakistan first approached the World Bank last year, raising concerns over the designs of Ratle (850MW) and Kishanganga (330MW) hydroelectricity projects.
It demanded that the World Bank, which is the mediator between the two countries under the 57-year-old treaty, set up a court of arbitration to look into its concerns.
India rejected the Pakistani proposal and asked for the appointment of a neutral expert to look at the issues, contending the concerns Pakistan raised were “technical” ones.
Consequently, the World Bank initiated two simultaneous processes in November 2016 — for appointing neutral expert and establishment of court of arbitration — to review. The simultaneous processes, however, were halted after India’s objection.
The World Bank then held separate talks with both India and Pakistan to find a way out. The current talks are part of the same process.
Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2017