The US administration has initiated a process for resolving a water dispute between India and Pakistan “without waiting for an invitation” to get involved in the matter, according to a Pakistani media report on Tuesday.
The initiative stems from the “fear the US administration shares with the World Bank that the dispute, if dragged, may harm” the Indus Waters Treaty that has effectively resolved disputes between India and Pakistan for more than half a century, the Dawn newspaper quoted official sources as saying.
The move follows a recent decision by the World Bank, which brokered the treaty, to pause separate processes initiated by India and Pakistan over two hydropower projects to allow the two sides to consider alternative ways to resolve differences.
The projects are Kishenganga and Ratle in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan claims the projects violate the design parameters of the Indus Waters Treaty, a charge rejected by India.
India took strong exception to the World Bank’s decision to set up a Court of Arbitration and appoint a Neutral Expert to go into Pakistan’s complaint against the two projects.
During the Christmas holidays, US secretary of state John Kerry called Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar and discussed different options for an amicable settlement of the dispute. After the call, US ambassador David Hale too met Dar in Islamabad for further talks, the Dawn reported.
Under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, the World Bank acts as the main arbitrator and suggests measures for resolving disputes.
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim wrote to India and Pakistan in mid-December and informed them that he had “paused” the requested arbitration. He also asked them to decide by the end of January how they want to settle the matter.
On December 23, Dar told the World Bank that Pakistan still wanted the appointment of a chairman of the Court of Arbitration as soon as possible. This was followed by a phone call to Dar from Kim two days later.
The report described the call from Kerry to Dar as “unusual” because the Obama administration completes its tenure on January 20, and such touchy issues are usually left for the next administration.
“But seriousness of this dispute, particularly the fear that it may harm the treaty, forced Mr Kerry to make this call,” an official source was quoted as saying.
The report quoted unnamed diplomatic observers in Washington as saying that the United States felt obliged to take a “proactive role” since it had facilitated the Indus Waters Treaty.
Pakistan took its case to the World Bank last September after several meetings of the Permanent Commission for Indus Waters failed to resolve the matter.