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WASHINGTON: As Pakistan and India concluded their two-day water talks here on Friday, the World Bank, which is mediating the talks, said the meetings were part of a process to safeguard benefits of the 57-year-old Indus Waters Treaty.

The World Bank hosted the two latest rounds at its headquarters in Washington on July 31-Aug 1 and Sept 14-15. Concluded in 1960 with the World Bank’s support, the Indus Waters Treaty recognises the bank as a mediator. It is also acclaimed as one of the most successful international agreements for peacefully resolving previous water disputes between India and Pakistan.

“These meetings are a continuation of a discussion on how to safeguard the treaty for the benefit of the people in both countries,” said World Bank spokesperson Elena Karaban when asked for comments.

The dispute is over the construction of two hydroelectric plants on tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers

She also said that the Sept 14-15 meetings in Washington focused on “the technical issues of the treaty” and the bank will provide more information about the talks when available.

In a previous statement, the bank praised “the spirit of goodwill and cooperation” that both India and Pakistan demonstrated in the last meeting and hoped that they would maintain this spirit to peacefully settle the current dispute as well.

The Indian Express newspaper reported on Friday that New Delhi dropped its earlier objections to holding water talks with Pakistan to participate “in a Bank-brokered dialogue” and this decision “surprised all sides”.

Bimal Patel, a member of India’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and Law Commission, told the newspaper that he “doesn’t know what the government’s intention is, but it is uncalled for to participate in such meetings to perpetuate a third party role”.

The disagreement

The dispute is over the construction of two hydroelectric plants on the Kishanganga (330MW) and Ratle (850MW) tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers.

Pakistan believes the construction violates the Indus Waters Treaty, which gives Islamabad unrestricted use of the waters of the two western rivers in the Indus system.

India, however, argues that the treaty also allows other “uses”, including the construction of hydro-electric plants.

India interprets the permission for “other uses”, as meaning that it can not only construct the Kishanganga and Ratle dams, but also several other projects.

Pakistan disagrees with the Indian interpretation and has asked the World Bank to set up a Court of Arbitration; saying that India is not fulfilling its obligations as an upper riparian state.

India opposes the proposed Court of Arbitration and has instead asked the World Bank to appoint a neutral expert to look into the matter.

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.

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 focused on the responses they brought with them and are likely to do more consultations with their political leadership before making any commitment, official sources said.

The Indian Express pointed out that Deepak Mittal, a senior official the Indian Ministry for External Affairs, also participated in the Washington talks. “His participation in this second round is being seen by all sides as a signal that the Modi government is softening its position on Pakistan,” the newspaper added.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2017