LAHORE: The World Bank’s arbitration body started moving ahead to resolve a dispute between India and Pakistan on the constructions of hydropower dams by New Delhi on western rivers in Kashmir region, The News learnt on Friday.

The Washington-based financial institution, a guarantor to the Indus Waters Treaty 1960 between the south Asian nations, started a process of setting up a court of arbitration and appointing a neutral expert.

The bank urged Pakistan and India to decide the mechanism of how the Indus Waters Treaty should be used to resolve the issues regarding construction of Kishanganga and Rattle dams on Indus rivers system.

“The appeal of initiating mediation process is being made to both Pakistan and India in response to their separate proceedings initiated under the Indus Waters Treaty,” the bank said.

India is illegally building run-of-the-river Kishanganga (330 megawatts) and Rattle (850 megawatts) hydropower plants on the Kishanganga and Chenab rivers. The bank, on Thursday, held deliberations to decide appointment of three judges for the arbitration court. It also proposed names of three potential candidates on India’s request.

India officials, however, rejected the bank’s decision of simultaneously setting up a court of arbitration and appointing a neutral expert. The bank surprised them on accepting both the countries’ request of appointment of a neutral expert on Indian request and setting up of a court of arbitration on Pakistan’s request.

Media reported that a spokesman of Indian ministry of external affairs said two simultaneous steps are “legally untenable”. India strongly opposed the approach of the bank for going ahead with initiation of both the processes and called it “an inexplicable” decision of the bank.

Pakistan, however, welcomed the initiation of dispute resolution mechanism by the bank and hoped that objections on the Indian hydropower projects would duly be heard of at the relevant forums.

Mirza Asif Baig, Pakistan’s commissioner for Indus Waters, termed the Indian response “as totally unfounded.”  “This decision was not a surprise for both Pakistan and India as it had been repeatedly indicated to both the parties through correspondence,” Baig told The News.

He hoped that the dispute would effectively be resolved, following the processes initiated by the World Bank. The bank in a statement said has a strictly-procedural role under the Indus Waters Treaty, “and the treaty does not allow it to choose whether one procedure should take precedence over the other.”

“This is why we drew the lots and proposed potential candidates for the neutral expert,” the statement quoted Anne-Marie Leroy, senior vice president as saying. “What is clear, though, is that pursuing two concurrent processes under the treaty could make it unworkable over time and we, therefore, urge both the parties to agree to mediation that the World Bank Group can help arrange.” She added that the two countries could also agree to suspend the two processes during the mediation or at any time until the processes are concluded.

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