India holds back on talks with Pakistan Water Secretary

India has put on hold a World Bank-facilitated initiative for water secretary-level talks with Pakistan in Washington, owing to differences of opinion on techical issues of Indus River hydel projects.

Persons familiar with the issue told ET that further expert level technical discussions are imperative before the two secretaries can meet. The meeting would be futile if the water resources secretaries meet without the requisite preparation, said one of the persons.

Incidentally, India’s move to cancel talks comes close on the heels of Pakistani military tribunal’s order to execute Kulbhusban Jadhav. Delhi has put on hold a maritime dialogue with Pakistan and weighing several other tough political and legal options to safeguard Jadhav.

Persons familiar with the developments told ET that efforts to safeguard Jadhav could be a prolonged process as it involves several legal procedures within Pakistan as well as through the United Nations.

The Pakistani side, following the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) meeting last month, had announced that water resources secretaries will meet in the US capital on April 11-13 to discuss differences over the Kishanganga and Ratle hydropower projects on the river Indus.

Islamabad has been protesting over the design and construction of two projects — the 330MW Kishanganga hydroelectric project and the 850MW Ratle hydroelectric project in Jammu and Kashmir. Islamabad has been demanding international arbitration through the World Bank.

The World Bank, which brokered the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, had said it is prepared to facilitate the meeting. “We continue to work with both countries to resolve the issue in an amicable manner and in line with the spirit of the treaty. We hope the two countries will come to an agreement soon,” Alexander Anthony Ferguson, World Bank’s senior manager communications (South Asia) said in a statement last month.

The PIC annual meet (held in Pakistan) for 2016-17 was first after all bilateral dialogue under the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) was suspended following terror strikes on an army camp in Uri last September by Pakbased terror groups. However, attempting to signal a thaw in ties, India decided to hold PIC meet before the end of financial year in March. The 10-member Indian delegation at PIC is led by Indian Indus Water Commissioner PK Saxena.

However, Delhi has taken strong exception to the World Bank’s decision to set up a court of arbitration as desired by Pakistan, and to also appoint a neutral expert, as wanted by India, over the two projects. It said proceeding with both steps simultaneously was “legally untenable”.

In January this year, Pakistan had asked India to stop work on these two projects.

By : Economic Times

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