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WB official in Delhi to break water treaty stalemate

By Anwar Iqbal 2017-04-28
WASHINGTON: The World Bank`s vice president for the South Asia region, Annette Dixon, is now in New Delhi for talks aimed at breaking the stalemate over a water dispute between India and Pakistan, official sources told Dawn.

They said Ms Dixon went to India on Tuesday, but the Indians did not publicise the visit as they discourage international mediation in their disputes with Pakistan.

The World Bank, however, is recognised as an arbitrator in the 1960 Indus Water Treaty (IWT) that distributes waters of the Indus and its tributaries between India and Pakistan.

The latest dispute concerns two hydroelectric projects Ratle and Kishanganga that India is building over one of the tributaries. Pakistan views these projects as a violation of the treaty and wants the World Bank to appoint a court of arbitration.1ndia opposes the proposal and has asked the bank to depute neutral experts to further probe the matter.

Pakistan sees the Indian approach as aimed at buying time to complete the two projects and argues that sincea neutral expert has no legal authority, the expert`s decision is not legally binding.

As the two sides stick to their positions, the World Bank finds itself in a tight spot and is softly urging both sides to resolve the dispute through talks as it has the potential to undermine the water treaty.

Pakistan fears that India wants to go beyond the treaty by bringing in neutral observers. `We do not want to encourage any process outside the IWT, even showing an inclination to consider that option could hurt the treaty,` said a senior Pakistani official while explaining why Islamabad is reluctant to accept the Indian demand.

Sources in Washington say the World Bank also is against wasting more time and is trying to persuade both sides to start negotiations on the matter.

The decision to send Ms Dixon to New Delhi also shows the importance the bank attaches to the issue. Her assignment at the bank includes promoting poverty reduction projects in South Asia. She oversees lending operations and bank-funded projects worth more than $10 billion a year.

Pakistan and India were scheduled to hold three-day talks on the850MW Ratle and 330MW Kishanganga hydroelectric projects at the World Bank headquarters in Washington on April 12, but India refused to send its delegation.

Pakistan, however, had informed the bank that it would attend the talks, if held as scheduled.

Initially, the World Bank wanted to host secretary-level talks between Pakistan and India in Dubai, but Pakistan proposed that the venue be changed to Washington. Pakistani authorities had announced that Annette Dixon would personally attend the talks and facilitate both countries in resolution of disputes on run-of-theriver hydroelectric projects being constructed in India-held Kashmir.

The Indus water commissioners of both countries met in Islamabad last month to discuss the designs of three proposed hydroelectric projects Pakal Dul, Lower Kalnai and Miya in held Kashmir and flood supply data.

Pakistan says India has not shared the designs ofthe three projects.

The Ratle hydroelectric project is in initial stage and Pakistan has objections to its design. The Obama administration also played a supporting role in encouraging the talks, but so far the Trump administration has not indicated its approach.