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Indo-Pak talks on Baglihar break down
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 7
The Indo-Pak talks on the Baglihar hydel power project on the Chenab river in Jammu and Kashmir collapsed today and Pakistan made it clear that it would go for international arbitration and appointment of neutral experts for resolving the dispute.

If Pakistan carries out its threat of approaching World Bank — the third signatory to the 1960 India-Pakistan Indus River Water Treaty, apart from Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen Ayub Khan — for appointment of neutral experts, this will be the first time ever when neutral experts are sought by either side to resolve a bilateral dispute of technical nature.

Pakistani sources added that neutral experts, if appointed, would be empowered to take any decision and that decision would be binding on both sides.

Diplomatic sources on either side, however, told this correspondent that the Baglihar setback would not impact the ongoing composite dialogue process.

Mr Ashfaq Mehmood, Pakistan’s Water and Power Secretary and leader of a big Pakistani delegation that held talks with the Indian side (January 4-7), accused India of working with preconceived notions on the design of the Baglihar project which Pakistan objected to. He minced no words when he announced at a news conference in the Pakistan High Commission this evening: “The talks have failed. Our next step will be approaching World Bank for neutral experts.”

India’s Water Resources Secretary, Mr V.K. Duggal, at a separate press conference, said the Indian side had suggested to Pakistan to give more time of one week, but the Pakistani side refused. He said even entreaties from the Indian side to agree for one more week in view of the improved bilateral atmosphere and the ongoing dialogue process were not entertained by the Pakistani side.

Mr Duggal also made it clear that if Islamabad were to go for the neutral expert option, the Indian side had no problem and would be ready with its response.

The two sides had six lengthy rounds of talks over the past three days and had a wrapping-up round on the fourth day today for preparing the minutes. Originally, the talks were scheduled to last only two days.

Pakistan’s primary objection is that Baglihar is not an ordinary hydel power project on a river whose waters are meant exclusively for Pakistan under the treaty. Rather, India is constructing a 470-foot high dam on the Chenab and, therefore, as per Islamabad’s contention, the project is violative of the Indus River Water Treaty.

India’s position is that the Baglihar project is entirely within the framework of the treaty. Besides, irrespective of the height of the dam, the Chenab outflow to Pakistan would not be affected.

Pakistan’s another charge is that India is going ahead with the Baglihar project unilaterally without resolving the dispute.

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