India signals peace on Indus water issue

Conciliatory statement comes after World Bank paused arbitration process

Updated - November 28, 2021 08:51 pm IST

Published - December 15, 2016 09:46 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup. File photo.

Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup. File photo.

Signalling a step back from tensions in the past month over the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan, India said there was “no reason” the two countries could not sort out their differences as they have in the past.

“Given the will to address these matters through the appropriate mechanisms provided for in the Indus Waters Treaty, there is no reason why the technical design parameters on which Pakistan has raised objections cannot be sorted out by professional, technical experts from both sides,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said on Thursday.

WB concession

India’s statement comes after the World Bank acceded to its wishes and halted the two processes for mediation and arbitration that it had put into place over Pakistan’s objections to ‘design features’ in the Kishanganga and Ratle hydroelectric power projects in Jammu and Kashmir.

“It is a matter of satisfaction that [India’s] point has now been recognised by the World Bank. We believe that these consultations should be given adequate time,” the spokesperson said.

India had objected to the World Bank’s earlier decision as it said the acceptance of Pakistan’s appeal for an arbitration process under article IX was “illegal”, accusing the World Bank of “favouring Pakistan”. The strong language of the statement appeared to have weighed with the World Bank, and on December 12, the day its President Jim Yong Kim was due to announce the names chosen for the arbitration panel and as mediator, he instead said he was suspending the entire process at least till the end of January 2017.

“We are announcing this pause to protect the Indus Waters Treaty and to help India and Pakistan consider alternative approaches to resolving conflicting interests under the Treaty and its application to two hydroelectric power plants,” Mr. Kim said in letters addressed to the Finance Ministers of both countries.

The World Bank plans to send an expert, Ian Solomon to New Delhi and Islamabad in the next few weeks to discuss the issues for both governments and help restart talks between them.

Pakistan did not comment on the World Bank decision against its proposal to bypass the bilateral process. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Thursday that “inter-departmental consultations are on” to discuss the letter received from Mr. Kim.

Water use panel

Meanwhile, the Centre is putting in place a special panel to look at ways to utilise India’s share of the five rivers in the Indus system better, the Water Ministry said this week. The panel follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise made on the campaign trail in Punjab that “each drop of water” of the Sutlej, Beas and Ravi rivers allocated to India would be used and not allowed to go “waste” into Pakistan. The PM’s speech had received a sharp retort from Pakistan, who said there was no question of “stopping waters”, and that India couldn’t abrogate the treat unilaterally.

Officials say India has “no intention” of abrogating the 1960 Indus Water treaty, but would not allow Pakistan’s unreasonable objections to legitimate water projects. In September, after the Uri attacks, India also decided to suspend talks with Pakistan on the two projects under the Permanent Indus Commission.

‘Will stick to treaty’

Striking a more conciliatory note, Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh said only a “full utilisation of India’s rights under the Treaty” were being pursued, making it clear India’s actions remained within the ambit of the treaty.

“India has always strictly adhered to the letter and the spirit of the Treaty and expects Pakistan to abide by the Treaty and not impede realisation of the full potential of the development of Indus and its rivers,” Mr. Singh on Thursday told the Rajya Sabha in response to a question on the possibility of abrogating the treaty.

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