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India has claimed to be ready to resolve differences with Pakistan over the designs of the Kishenganga and Ratle dam projects, over which Pakistan approached and asked the World Bank to resolve.  Vikas Swarup, India’s external spokesperson, in response to a question, on the Indus water treaty issues, asked by a journalist during his weekly media briefing, said that India always believed such matters should be bilaterally discussed and resolved.

“India has always believed that the implementation of the Indus Waters Treaty, which includes the redressal of the technical questions and differences, should be done bilaterally between India and Pakistan,”

He went on to note that there were earlier “examples available where such matters had been successfully resolved bilaterally within the Permanent Indus Commission an example is the resolution of the height of the freeboard for Kishan Ganga or between the two governments as seen in the Salal Hydro Electric Project” in 1978.

Given the will to address these matters through the appropriate mechanisms provided for in the Indus Waters Treaty, “there was no reason why the technical design parameters on which Pakistan had raised objections could not be sorted out by professional, technical experts from both sides,” the Indian spokesperson said.

Comments by India came in response to the World Bank’s announcement of a pausing of the two separate processes initiated by India and Pakistan. The World Bank asked them to look at alternative ways to resolve their differences.

By pausing the process the World Bank would hold off from appointing the Chairman for the Court of Arbitration as demanded by Pakistan or the Neutral Expert as demanded by India – appointments that had been expected on December 12 as earlier communicated by the Bank.

While, the World Bank says it is keen that current tensions between the two countries should not be superimposed on the workings of the treaty. However, Pakistan claims that the mechanisms to resolve their differences have already been exhausted under the Treaty and it was the responsibility of the World Bank to have stepped in to adjudicate the matter. The only resort Pakistan has now is to approach the UN Secretary General who under the treaty has the authority to appoint the chairman for the Court of Arbitration.

Read more: World Bank backs out of arbitration on Indus Water Treaty: Implications for  Pakistan?

Vikas Swarup, expressed his satisfaction with the World Bank response saying “we advised the World Bank not to rush for initiating two parallel processes simultaneously and hold more consultations,” and “It is a matter of satisfaction that this point has now been recognized by the World Bank. We believe that these consultations should be given adequate time,”

No official response has so far been given by the Pakistani government, on the Indian offer of bilateral talks to resolve this issue. However, Pakistan does not give much credence to India’s offers of bilateral talks or discussions, as these tend to be subject to whims of politicians and vagaries of nature. Nafees Zakaria, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson recently said, “India has tried to do everything to sabotage every goodwill gesture that we made towards normalizing relations.”

Pakistan is asking for a court of arbitration because only that has the authority to look at both the legal and technical aspects of the disputes over designing of the dams. The expert as was wanted by India would only be able to consider the technical aspects of the design of the dams.

It is to be noted that the last meeting of the Permanent Indus Water Commission was held in July 2016, before the Modi government announced its suspension of the commission meetings in September 2016. Less than 2 weeks ago, PM Modi, when inaugurating the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, in Bhatinda, said

“The fields of our farmers must have adequate water. Water that belongs to India cannot be allowed to go to Pakistan…Government will do everything to give enough water to our farmers,”

Given such a radical stance taken by Modi, it is difficult to imagine Pakistan would feel comfortable trusting India on the dams negotiations without a third party neutral arbiter. In fact the argument given in Islamabad is that India has in the past also used such delays as a way to complete projects and then later claim that since a project was completed it could not be modified.

The Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 is seen as one of the most successful international treaties and has withstood frequent tensions between India and Pakistan, including 2 wars and other conflicts.

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