Washington: The US administration has initiated the process for peacefully resolving the current Indus water dispute between India and Pakistan, according to official sources.
The latest dispute concerns two hydroelectric power plants – Kishanganga and Ratle – that India is building on the Indus rivers system. Pakistan believes that the projects violate the design parameters of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), which provides specific criteria for such plants.
According to a report by Dawn, US Secretary of State John Kerry called Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar earlier this week to discuss different options for an amicable settlement of the dispute.
After the call, US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale also met Dar at the Finance Ministry in Islamabad for further talks.
The initiative stems from the fear the US administration shares with the World Bank that the dispute may harm the treaty that has effectively resolved water disputes between India and Pakistan for more than half a century.
Earlier, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim wrote to the Finance Ministers of India and Pakistan, informing them that he has ‘paused’ the requested arbitration and asked them to decide by the end of January how they wanted to settle the dispute.
Pakistan has asked the World Bank to appoint chairman of the court of arbitration while India has demanded the appointment of a neutral expert.
However on December 23, Dar told the bank that Pakistan was not withdrawing its request and since the process had already been “inordinately delayed,” the bank should appoint chairman of the court of arbitration as soon as possible.
Two days later, Kim called Dar for further talks, followed by Secretary Kerry who called the Finance Minister during the Christmas holidays.
It is unusual for a US official to do so, particularly because the Obama administration completes its final tenure on January 20.
Usually, the outgoing administration leaves such issues for the incoming administration to tackle.
“But seriousness of this dispute, particularly the fear that it may harm the treaty, forced Mr. Kerry to make this call,” said an official source.
Diplomatic observers in Washington say that since the United States has facilitated the Indus Waters Treaty, it feels obliged to take a proactive role in this matter.
Pakistan took its case to the World Bank in September 2016, after the differences on the designs of the two plants were discussed but could not be resolved in the 108th, 109th, 110th, 111th and 112th meetings of the Permanent Commission for Indus Waters, comprising one commissioner from each country.