NEW DELHI, Jan 7: Pakistan said on Friday it would seek neutral experts, as prescribed by the Indus Water Treaty with India, to resolve differences with New Delhi over the Baglihar dam project on River Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir, after a 'final' secretary-level talks on the issue failed.

Pakistan's Water and Power Secretary Ashfaq Mehmood told a news conference that a three-day final meeting with his Indian counterpart V.K. Duggal had produced a stalemate and that "we have to go by the treaty" for the next steps.

Indian officials, however, claimed that the two sides were moving towards a convergence on their technical perceptions when Pakistan decided to end the talks. A neutral expert would imply the services of a technically equipped individual acceptable to both sides, a potentially long-drawn process.

The Baglihar project began in 1992 in violation of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty which was signed by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Ayub Khan together with a representative of the World Bank.

At that time India had sent the proposal for comment to Pakistan as required by the treaty. But India, according to the Pakistan version, went ahead regardless of the objections raised by the other side.

Mr Mehmood said that the 470-feet Baglihar dam was higher than even its Tarbela project. It was neither warranted by its own objectives nor feasible geologically. "Geology at the site is not suited for large dam projects," Mr Mehmood said.

Pakistani officials said separately they were not opposed to further talks with India on the issue. But, they stressed, India must stop all work on the project immediately or it should signal readiness to amend the design of the project. Pakistan has suggested that a smaller weir would be adequate for India's stated objectives.

Under the Indus treaty, water from River Chenab goes to Pakistan along with the flow from Jhelum and Indus, while India is entitled to draw everything from Sutlej, Ravi and Beas rivers. According to the treaty, therefore, India should not construct any structure on rivers apportioned to Pakistan that in any way obstruct the run of the river.

India has set a deadline on the project, officially saying it was due to be running only in December 2007 but also indicating that it could become operational by December 2005.

Indian officials say the controversial hydroelectric project fulfils the requirements of the World Bank-brokered Indus Water Treaty, a claim contested by Pakistan. Pakistani officials say they do not mind the project as such but insist that the project's design would enable India to obstruct at will the flow of water from the Chenab river to Pakistan.

Pakistan has raised objections to the design, height, storage capacity and gates of the spillway structure of the Baglihar power plant. Sources say bringing the issue for international arbitration would imply discussing the dispute of Kashmir along with it, something that India wants to avoid at all costs.


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