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ISLAMABAD: The World Bank has asked Pakistan to stand down from pursuing its stand of referring the Kishanganga dam dispute to the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) and instead accept India’s offer of appointing a “neutral expert”.

In a fresh communication last week, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim advised the government to withdraw from its stand of taking the matter to the ICA for which the bank had on Nov 10, 2016 even picked a US chief justice, the rector of Imperial College, London, and the WB president for appointing chairman of the court to resolve the dispute over the dam.

Pakistan considers the construction of the Kishanganga dam in India-held Kashmir over the waters flowing into the western rivers a violation of the Indus Waters Treaty 1960 since it will not only alter the course of the river but also deplete the water level of the rivers that flow into Pakistan. Thus the dispute should be referred to the international court of arbitration.

On the other hand, India describes the issue as differences between it and Pakistan over the design of the dam and, therefore, it should be addressed by some neutral experts.

A source privy to the development told Dawn that Pakistan believed that acceding to India’s proposal of referring the dispute to neutral experts or withdrawing from its stand would mean closing the doors of arbitration and surrendering its right of raising disputes before international courts. “It will become a precedent and every time a dispute emerges between Pakistan and India, the latter will always opt for dispute resolution through neutral experts,” he said.

CJP Nisar says water will now be biggest priority of apex court

In Dec 12, 2016, the WB president had informed Pakistan through a letter to then finance minister Ishaq Dar that he had decided to “pause” the process of appointing the ICA chairman as well as the neutral expert.

At this, Mr Dar had lodged a strong protest with the World Bank telling it point-blank that Pakistan would not recognise the pause. He had asked the bank to play its due role in the matter.

Pakistan believes that on the one hand the World Bank has tied its hands from raising the dispute at the ICA, and on the other, it has not blocked the Indian effort to complete the construction of the dam.

The World Bank did not even heed to Pakistan’s concern when provided with satellite images during a number meetings with the bank that India was constructing the dam. The bank even denied Pakistan the opportunity to stay the construction of the dam.

In February last year, the World Bank further extended its pause until the secretary-level talks between the two countries bore some fruits. Subsequently, four rounds of talks were held in February, April, July and September in Washington in which the bank was willing to appoint an international court to determine which forum under the treaty was proper — arbitration or neutral experts. But India did not accept it, the source said.

The World Bank even declined Pakistan’s forceful plea on May 22, 2018, asking it to express concern by stating that it had “noted the inauguration of the Kishanganga Dam by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, the source added.

The 1960 treaty recognises the World Bank as an arbitrator in water disputes between India and Pakistan as the bank played a key role in concluding this agreement which allows India to have control over the water flowing into three eastern rivers — Beas, Ravi and Sutlej — also permitting India that it may use the water of western rivers — Chenab, Jhelum and Indus — but it cannot divert the same.

India considers this as a permission to build “run-of-the-river” hydel projects that neither change the course of the river nor deplete the water level downstream.

SC hearing on water scarcity

On Monday, a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar directed the federal government to furnish a comprehensive report on reduced flow of the Neelum river because of the construction of the Kishanganga dam.

The court had taken up a petition filed by Barrister Zafarullah Khan of the Watan Party seeking its directive for construction of dams, including the Kalabagh dam, to ameliorate the worsening water scarcity in the country.

The petitioner informed the court that for the past 48 years not a single dam had been built when 20 per cent of development in the country depended on the availability of water.

At this, the chief justice in a loud and clear message said that from now on the biggest priority of the court would be water and the court would hear matters relating to the scarcity of water and lack of initiative to build dams on Saturday in Karachi, on Sunday in Lahore and later in Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta.

The court is taking the issue of water scarcity very seriously and, while referring to the building of dams by India, regretted that the water level in the Neelum and Jhelum rivers had reduced considerably.

“We will be failing in our duty if we do nothing for posterity,” the chief justice observed. He regretted that not a single political party had ever mentioned the water crisis in their respective manifestos.

In his petition, Barrister Zafarullah highlighted that nobody was willing to sponsor loan to Pakistan to build Diamer-Basha dam that might cost $18-20 billion.

The petition regretted that instead of saving water in reservoirs, 35.5 million acre feet (MAF) of water was being drained to the sea annually. It said had Kalabagh dam been built, it would have saved 6.5MAF water annually in its reservoir which would be filled during the rainy season.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2018