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India, Pak talks fail to end deadlock on Indus water dispute

New Delhi : India and Pakistan have failed to reach an agreement in the latest round of secretary-level talks held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC on the Indus Water Treaty and over the deadlock on the design of two hydro-electric power plants in Jammu & Kashmir.

While Pakistan has again said that any unilateral plans by India aimed at modifying the terms of the Indus Water Treaty will not be acceptable, the World Bank has assured that both countries will continue to work to resolve the issues in an amicable manner.

The Indian side, led by Union Water Resources Secretary Amarjit Singh and Joint Secretary in charge of the Pakistan desk in the Union External Affairs Ministry Deepak Mittal had, in the presence of World Bank officials, held talks with a Pakistan team led by Secretary, Water Resources Division Arif Ahmed Khan and Secretary of Water and Power Yousuf Naseem Khoakhar on the technical issues of the Kishenganga and Ratle hydro-electric power plants within the framework of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty.

The World Bank, which is also a signatory to the water sharing treaty, or IWT, signed in 1960 between India and Pakistan, assured the two countries of its continued assistance in resolving the issues peacefully.

"While an agreement has not been reached at the conclusion of the meetings, the World Bank will continue to work with both countries to resolve the issues in an amicable manner and in line with the treaty provisions," World Bank said in a statement.

“The World Bank remains committed to act in good faith and with complete impartiality and transparency in fulfilling its responsibilities under the Treaty, while continuing to assist the countries,” it added.

The World Bank, when requested by either or both countries, tries to resolve any differences or disputes through designation of its people in talks. The World Bank is not financing any of the two hydro-power projects.

"Both countries and the World Bank appreciated the discussions and reconfirmed their commitment to the preservation of the treaty. The World Bank remains committed to act in good faith and with complete impartiality and transparency in fulfilling its responsibilities under the treaty, while continuing to assist the countries", the bank statement stated.

A previous round of talks at the secretary level in August had also failed to bring an agreement between the two sides.

Pakistan is opposed to construction of the 330 MW Kishanganga and 850 MW Ratle hydroelectric power projects on the tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers in Jammu & Kashmir.

In a recent fact sheet on the Indus Water Treaty, World Bank has said it does not bar India from constructing hydroelectric power projects on tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers with certain restrictions.

While the treaty designates the two rivers as well as the Indus as the 'western rivers' to which Pakistan has unrestricted use, World Bank has noted that the technical design features of the two hydroelectric plants should not contravene the treaty.

"Among other uses, India is permitted to construct hydroelectric power facilities on these rivers subject to constraints specified in annexures to the treaty," the World Bank said in the fact sheet.

In late August, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif had warned India against devising a unilateral plan to modify the terms of the IWT.

“Pakistan is fulfilling its share of responsibility with respect to Indus Water Treaty,” Asif said, adding, “Any unilateral plan by India aimed at modifying the terms of the treaty will not be acceptable to Pakistan.”

Asif said that the Pakistan Government had already conveyed its reservations regarding the construction of hydro-electric and storage projects by India. “India has been displaying belligerence by designing water projects that violate the treaty,” Asif was quoted as saying on Radio Pakistan, urging the World Bank to play its due role in resolving the issue while claiming that New Delhi was deliberately delaying the negotiations.

“Pakistan has always expressed its willingness to resolve all issues with India including the water distribution problem through dialogue,” he said.

India, however, is not keen to make any alterations to the designs of the two contentious projects as New Delhi is of the view that the construction would not, in any case, interfere with the agreed points between India and Pakistan as per the IWT. A multi-disciplinary Indian delegation for the latest round of talks had tried to put forward its viewpoint, said a senior Government official.

The Indian delegation included technical experts from the Union Power Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs besides the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Indian Commissioner for Indus Water.

While India wants to complete the two under-constructed projects as early as possible to utilise its legitimate share of water under the IWT, Pakistan has been insisting that the existing designs of the projects would not allow adequate water to flow to its side.

The issue has remained unresolved for long. While Pakistan had approached the World Bank last year demanding that it set up a court of arbitration to look into its concerns, India had asked for appointment of a neutral expert to look at the issues, which it feels are 'technical' in nature.

The World Bank had, in November 2016, initiated two simultaneous processes - one for appointing a neutral expert and another for establishment of court of arbitration - to look at technical differences between the two countries in connection with the project.

The simultaneous processes were stopped after India objected to it. Since then, World Bank representatives have held talks with India and Pakistan separately to find a way out as well as holding the latest two rounds of talks between the two neighbouring countries.

While it is not yet clear what the latest round of bilateral talks ended with, the Government official quoted earlier said that since last December, several proposals have been discussed by the World Bank with both countries and a break-through may come from one of the many ideas that have been floated to end the deadlock.

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