Pakistan and India to Continue Discussion on Indus Water Treaty

Pakistan and India agreed to continue and hold secretary-level talks on the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) next month (September) in Washington, D.C, said the World Bank (WB).

The WB issued a short statement, saying that the secretary-level discussions between India and Pakistan on the technical issues on the IWT took place this week in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation. The parties have agreed to continue discussions and reconvene in September in Washington, D.C.

Origins of the Treaty

IWT was signed in 1960 after nine years of negotiations between India and Pakistan with the help of the World Bank, which is also a signatory.

The negotiations were the initiative of former World Bank President Eugene Black. Seen as one of the most successful international treaties, it has survived frequent tensions, including conflict, and has provided a framework for irrigation and hydropower development for more than half a century.

Former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower described it as “one bright spot … in a very depressing world picture that we see so often.”

Read More: Understanding the Indus Water Treaty: Can India Really Block Pakistan’s Rivers?

How the Treaty Works

The Treaty sets out a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between the two countries regarding their use of the rivers, known as the Permanent Indus Commission, which has a commissioner from each country.

The Treaty also sets forth distinct procedures to handle issues which may arise: “questions” are handled by the Commission; “differences” are to be resolved by a Neutral Expert; and “disputes” are to be referred to a seven-member arbitrary tribunal called the “Court of Arbitration.”

The World Bank’s role in relation to “differences” and “disputes” is limited to the designation of people to fulfil certain roles when requested by either or both of the parties.

What The Disagreement is About

India and Pakistan disagree about the construction of the Kishenganga (330 megawatts) and Ratle (850 megawatts) hydroelectric power plants being built by India (the World Bank is not financing either project).

The two countries disagree over whether the technical design features of the two hydroelectric plants contravene the Treaty.

The plants are on respectively a tributary of the Jhelum and the Chenab Rivers. The Treaty designates these two rivers as well as the Indus as the “Western Rivers” to which Pakistan has unrestricted use.

Among other uses, under the Treaty, India is permitted to construct hydroelectric power facilities on these rivers subject to constraints specified in Annexures to the Treaty.

Talks related to the Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric power plants are ongoing.

Different Treaty mechanisms have been sought by India and Pakistan

Pakistan asked the World Bank to facilitate the setting up of a Court of Arbitration to look into its concerns about the designs of the two hydroelectric power projects.

India asked for the appointment of a Neutral Expert for the same purpose. These requests came after the Permanent Indus Commission had been engaged in discussions on the matter for a while.

During several months prior to December 12, 2016, the World Bank sought to fulfil its procedural obligations with respect to both the Court of Arbitration and the Neutral Expert.

The Treaty does not empower the World Bank to choose whether one procedure should take precedence over the other; rather it vests the determination of jurisdictional competence on each of the two mechanisms.

At the same time, the World Bank actively encouraged both countries to reach an agreement amicably on a mechanism to address the issues.

Pausing Treaty processes and working with India and Pakistan

On December 12, 2016, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim announced that the World Bank would pause before taking further steps in each of the two processes requested by the parties.

This was done to safeguard the treaty, since referring the matter simultaneously to the processes sought by each of the countries risked contradictory outcomes and worked against the spirit of goodwill and friendship that underpins the Treaty.

Since December 2016, the World Bank has worked towards an amicable resolution of the matter and to safeguard the Treaty.

President Kim spoke several times with the finance ministers of both countries. The World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva travelled to both countries for high-level meetings as well.

The World Bank Vice President for the South Asia Region, Annette Dixon, visited both countries twice. Kim’s adviser, Ian Solomon, made multiple visits to the region.  Locally-based World Bank teams have convened dozens of meetings with different stakeholders.

A variety of proposals have been discussed with both countries on how to resolve the disagreement and the World Bank believes that many of these ideas, or similar ones, would be worth pursuing and merit continued consideration.