Hydro-Diplomacy in Kabul River Basin (2001-2014)
Hydro-Diplomacy in Kabul River Basin (2001-2014): The Conflict and Cooperation Potential of Water in Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations
By Dr. MUHAMMAD IQBAL
The disputes over water deficiency may intensify if these are not resolved in cautious and timely manners. This situation detrimentally affects cooperative environment and promotes pursuance of unilateral development by riparian countries which further aggravates the matter. But if issue is taken seriously with fair intention and intelligent diplomacy, the aggressive posture turns into cooperative behavior which has salubrious effects even beyond water. The joint management of river not only improves efficiency and development but also promotes prosperity, peace and stability.
- Water concedes no borders but unites people and land in to water cycle. The cooperation on transboundary water can even be an incentive for wider cooperation in other sectors. It enables the riparian countries to share the costs and benefits of protective measures to increase efficiency and avoid the likely negative effects of unilateral actions.
- Hydro-diplomacy is a creative and consolidative approach which resolves difficult water issues and develops understanding that water is a shared flexible resource not a fixed one. It does not promote national, but transboundary thinking, evidence-based research, action-oriented knowledge and development of positive sum /win-win solutions. Hydro diplomacy provides platform for negotiation between riparian states which facilitates cooperation and equitable sharing but does not mean always. All negotiations do not mean success. Result may be equitable or inequitable. However, hydro diplomacy is need of the hour which facilitates to adjust increasing water demands and settle disputes between countries. As such, there is no negotiation between Pakistan and Afghanistan on water so equitable sharing and cooperation are not possible without opening up the communication channels.
- Potentially there is a large influence of hydro politics on foreign policy. This is determined by the governments’ interpretation of national interests and the way they choose to recognize their rights as sovereign powers. Though it has been cornerstone of Indo-Pak foreign policy, it hasn’t got that space in Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan. The reason is very simple; Pakistan does not feel threatened by Afghanistan’s capacity to harness Kabul waters, so has been complacent. This is disastrous approach. Pakistan should engage Afghanistan right now when stakes are low; otherwise, the bargain chip will be very high. On the other hand, negative portrayal of Indus Waters Treaty experience by India to Afghanistan fails serious efforts, even aimed at sharing of hydrological data.
- Afghanistan has right to develop water resources of Kabul River Basin within its territory, but it requires assurance and treaty with Pakistan that Afghanistan’s projects will not interrupt water flow/availability to Pakistan. In the absence of consensus or treaty, any unilateral development on Kabul River (having transboundary effects) will face apprehensions and opposition from Pakistan.
- The practice in the South Asia has been to use/develop water passing through a riparian country till the co-riparian complains and asks for negotiations. The current approach about Kabul River seems the same. Pakistan can adopt a step-wise approach, use international water law principles to engage Afghanistan for managing Kabul River Basin. There are no blue-prints that can be imposed from outside. There are strong models of agreements and river basin organizations, and the best practices could be implemented by the parties themselves. “Solutions” cannot be imposed from outside.
- There are chances of differences and dispute, if riparian countries focus to strengthen their national interests as compared to mutual benefits and shared needs. The temporary benefits of non-cooperative stance particularly being an upper riparian is often invalidated by permanent insecurity and political instability.
- Avoiding partisanship and favoritism in the construction of all documents, agreements, and government instrumentalities are necessary which empower to manage certain aspects, large and small, of water bodies in transboundary water regime dealing with limited water resource for both competing uses and for other non-competitive but draining uses as well. No doubt, negotiators for their respective countries are keen on gaining an advantage for their governments, but fairness is pre-condition of negotiations. According to Philips C. Habib “Not all diplomats are peace negotiators, but all peace negotiators are diplomats” (Habib, 1979; St Louis, 1985; Bišofa, 2014).
- Equity and science are the tools that govern negotiations and remove difficulties in arriving at working agreement. Power and bullying are not the tools to use. The former US President Mr. John F. Kennedy aptly remarked that “Anyone who can solve the problems of water will be worthy of two Nobel Prizes –one for peace and one for science” (Kennedy, 1962; Mahoney, 1965; Likhotal, 2013). Progressive thinking to find ways and means to evolve joint strategy and management of Kabul River Basin is need of the hour.
- Sustainable water management needs greater political and diplomatic engagements which require cooperative approach on water issues. In Kabul River Basin, during the past years (2001-2014) there has not been positive progress in awareness, knowledge and tools development but there is a need to advance on policy coherence and sectoral planning. During this period, the approach was not basin wide integrated water resource management but rather infrastructure focused. There is local development and few projects are underway in Afghanistan.
- A good water management at basin level requires that riparian countries should manage their different local and domestic water challenges in structured and effective way by considering local concerns to avoid unsatisfactory results. The national issues of food, water, energy require focused approach. Both countries are managing their water resources in unsystematic and miserable way. Efficient trans-boundary water management is possible when Pakistan and Afghanistan solve their domestic water problems.
- Demand side water management is necessary for evolving strategies to reduce water consumption. Such strategy will enable riparian countries to manage the River at basin level effectively and successfully. The efficient management of water resources at national level helps in finding transboundary solutions. Each riparian state has to put in place national policies regarding good water governance, and building local capacity. If there is weak national level water management or unequal levels of knowledge among riparian states it is more difficult to negotiate satisfactory and balanced solutions.
- Afghanistan’s efforts to build dams upstream for storage of water may cause water scarcity in downstream Pakistan. Although solutions like dams have their importance yet limitations as well. Water cannot be invented but saved/managed. Efficient irrigation methods for clean, fresh and sustainable water through alternatives to dams may be adopted which do not affect the ecology of river. The electricity generation through the installation of solar technology is cheaper and eco-friendly than hydro power projects. The basins having dams require larger corrective measures to lessen the effects of climate change (water stress) as compared to basins with free flow of rivers. However, small to medium-sized dams are preferable, if these are economically and ecologically viable.
- Water sharing issue or problem is basically an engineering problem which requires scientific study through professionals/ experts. It should be settled through engineers, but political will and visionary leadership are necessary in this regard. All issues to be settled through political leadership while technocrats are there to help them, the final say are the political leadership as they are the representatives of the stake holders i.e., the citizens of the country.
- like the Columbia Permanent Engineering Board (on Columbia River-between Canada and USA) while Indus River Commission is considered as passive cooperation due to instable relations between Pakistan and India.
- Institutional arrangements are helpful in information sharing, exchange of data, and creation of consensus which improve collaboration during the period of water stress, but practically establishment of institution is not possible before conclusion of treaty. Actually, the basic structure and scope are discussed during the course of treaty negotiations so preferably it is formed after entering or at least agreeing on the treaty. In fact, commission is the governing body of treaty. Although river basin commission or institution is an ideal proposition, yet it can be a joint task force or a working group which meets from time to time as per requirements or even through MOUs between organizations or ministries etc., but treaty is necessary which provides a legal base to commission and its related affairs.
- The hydropower and irrigation are two main uses of water. In consumptive use, irrigation, control of water, timing of availability, existing and planned uses are considered. Hydro power generation mechanism is different from water supply for irrigation in terms of timing and volume of water required. There is highest demand for energy in winter whereas highest demand for irrigation is in summer. Development of hydro power should reflect the periodic needs (seasonal requirements) of agriculture in order to prevent clash between both uses. Therefore, water supply for generation of hydro power and availability for irrigation are codependent which requires joint development and management.
- There is assessment that the available water, its timing and use of modern technology will suffice the water requirements of both the countries. It is also estimated that presently the Afghanistan contribution to Indus River System is about 8 MAF and its commercially viable water holding capacity is around 4 MAF with consumptive use still lower than this. Water for irrigation also requires land for irrigated agriculture which is limited in the upper catchment of Kabul River Basin lying in Afghanistan. Holding water for power generation will be mainly storing in summers and releasing in winters when power for heating is required that will help downstream users Southern Punjab and Sind, mainly in Sind where improved Rabi flows will help in growing wheat crop and early Kharif Crops i.e., cotton, rice, sugar cane etc. because Kharif crops’ plantation in Sind is far earlier as compared to Punjab.
- The chances of conflict are not in near future, but in far future if consensus is not reached. Presently water flow of River Kabul for Pakistan being lower riparian is continuous and undisturbed. But Afghanistan’s planned development regarding river infrastructures, irrigation schemes, storage, flood control and hydropower generation dams etc. without considering existing, historical and committed uses of water of Kabul River in Pakistan may disturb the water flow of Kabul River to Pakistan. Especially in lean period from January to May (particularly from March to May) when the dams in Pakistan are at the lowest ebb and Kabul River like Jhelum River is an early riser which provides necessary water to Indus River system for last watering of Wheat crop and early sowing of Kharif Crops. Pakistan has no objection on building of dams and related infrastructure on Kabul River if its existing and committed uses are not affected. Therefore, consensus on design and operation of dams and river control infrastructures is necessary. In case, consensus/agreement is not reached then in far future on account of unilateral developments of riparian countries on Kabul River (Pakistan and Afghanistan are both upstream and downstream countries) population growth, climate change and increased uses of water (municipal, industrial, agriculture, power generation etc.) may cause conflict.
- In international water law, rights of historical and existing uses are considered. Afghanistan’s maximum potential is about 4 MAF (1.8 MAF existing and around 1.8 to 2 MAF planned). Run of River projects do not affect the flow downstream while irrigation and storage projects consume water. Kabul River water, after irrigating the districts of Peshawar valley, becomes the part of main Indus River which is used mainly in southern Punjab and Sind. There is no problem of water in flush period i.e., June to September while in lean period from January to May especially during the months of March and April in the case of Kabul River; the reduced quantity of water will affect the agricultural productivity of Pakistan. If quantity is not reduced, then timely availability is also important for Pakistan.
- Agriculture consumes more than 85 percent of available water. Hence, any effort to avert water crises in Kabul River Basin must examine how water is being used and managed in the agricultural sector. Flow irrigation is an old and primitive method wherein water consumption is high and water goes below the roots of the plants while drip or sprinkle irrigation enhance the efficiency and productivity. Changes may be required in the types of crops that are planted, the type of irrigation system employed, the cost of water, and in other technical and management factors leading to greater water-use efficiency. Pakistan and Afghanistan should adopt efficient and modern methods of water utilization. It is broadly agreed that the best means to manage water is in an integrated, basin-wide fashion, balancing the needs of water for agricultural, urban, industrial, and environmental uses; fairly allocating the water resources of a basin between riparian countries; jointly managing ground and surface water; and considering needs for flood control, recreation, and other purposes. The timing may be right to bring together both academic water experts and technical people to begin discussing possibilities.
- There is no proactive strategic planning for development of entire river basin as the Kabul River Basin hydrology demands an all-inclusive approach for building resilience to mitigate the uncertainties of climate change. There is no standardized procedure and way of communication among diverse disciplines to facilitate broader and active sharing of mutual skills and information.
- Management relates with measurement. Correct measurement translates into efficient management. Water scientists can manage water scarcity issues on the basis of data regarding available water. Sustainable management strategy of Kabul River Basin requires relevant data and information which are deficient. Wide-ranging information helps in managing the basin on sound basis. There is no organized institution to share transparent basin wide water data online. Hence, authentic statistics is a necessity for selecting better options especially with regard to big quantity of water. The genuine water data and stream flow predictions will in fact change the scenario of water management of Kabul River Basin.
- Improving cooperation through technicians seems reasonable and pragmatic. Actually, they work together to validate collected data, regularly observe seasonal and monthly water plan, supervise water gauges and schemes. Therefore, success of joint research and joint ventures lies in data sharing.
- Despite data scarcity, the weak capability to exploit the accessible information i.e., statistics, figures, numbers, facts etc. is a short coming on the part of decision makers. This gap should be filled through training and capacity building. Moreover, a comprehensive research concentrating on socio-economic characteristics of the basin can achieve substantial progress despite the political pressures and reluctance between riparian countries. In this regard, the establishment of a special joint task force/ panel of experts is necessary to streamline the operations of the Kabul River Basin.
- There are also political difficulties of working on negotiations with a neighboring State when there remain border disputes and conflict zones in the basin. No doubt, there will be many disagreements, but there are always ways to find solutions when issues are discussed objectively and scientifically. Cooperation requires trust and mutual goodwill for which opening up of communication channels are necessary to grab the opportunity of cooperation/treaty when it comes. It is difficult to enter in to a treaty during the time of water crisis as riparian countries may not have sufficient options to adjust and compromise.
- Transboundary water understanding is a constant procedure wherein refining of rules, agreements and confidence building measures are adopted for keeping sustained and stable relationship because cooperation can be maintained even in difficult circumstances if approach is fair. Cooperative agreement between two countries requires that the technical issues should be separated from the political problems and emotions, particularly mutual issues pertaining to the water crisis.
- Apart from diplomatic deliberations, transboundary water is also about upstream development for downstream use. Pakistan and Afghanistan can invest in projects with cooperative and cost effective approach as both are upstream and downstream countries. Geographically, neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan can proclaim sovereignty over the utilization of water resources in the Kabul River Basin (It is important and a key point to understand in any treaty negotiation). The unique geography of Kabul River Basin makes easier for both countries to prepare plan for collaboration and amicable utilization of shared waters. There are successful examples of investments on transboundary rivers in the world as US has invested in Canada, South Africa in Lesotho, India in Bhutan, Brazil in Paraguay etc., on benefits sharing basis. Such investments create stability and prosperity on long term basis i.e., hydro power generation, enhanced productivity of agriculture, improved opportunities of livelihood, reduction in refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan for better opportunities of income etc. It will also facilitate the repatriation of Afghan refugees already in Pakistan.
- There is a lot of potential if the importance is realized. There is cooperation potential on account of same religion, language, culture, similar customary practices. Also, million(s) of Afghan still residing in Pakistan, benefit sharing projects are strong points of cooperation, but there are obstacles in terms of lack of political trust, reluctant cooperation process and non-availability of data.
- Pakistan and Afghanistan can facilitate regular visits of experts for monitoring of facilities, verification of information and confirm that operations are within agreed terms. Such institutional approach will help to solve the issue in coordinated manners on scientific and technical grounds. In case of improvement in political situation and settlement in the form of a treaty then a telemetric system and effective monitoring by the engineers of both countries will be better method.
- Dividends of peace and cooperation are enormous. The European countries faced so many wars. The 30 years’ war (1617-1648) in Europe brought nothing but hunger and devastation. From then onward they worked for peace. There is no war in Europe after Second World War (after 1945). They entered in agreements for cooperation, trade and transboundary waters with neighboring countries (Danube, Rhine, Sava rivers etc., are examples of transboundary water cooperation in Europe. The EU countries have a wide-ranging and elaborative transboundary management system as compared to other transboudary mechanisms of the world which contains water risk management, broad geographical exposure, emphasis on protection of environment, collaboration on water projects etc.). Their system is transparent and based on rules. They progressed gradually from European steel and coal community to economic community and a border free European Union promoting trade and cooperation. Now, the European countries are enjoying benefits of peace and prosperity through cooperation. In this regard, there are lessons for Pakistan and Afghanistan for working together and establishing a system based on rules and transparency which will promote trade, peace, prosperity and transboundary water cooperation.
- The major challenges and goals of Pakistan and Afghanistan are same. Challenges are illiteracy, poverty, underdevelopment, misunderstanding, distrust, corruption (inefficiency, and inadequate utilization of resources) etc. The goals are awareness, prosperity, food security, improved water management, environmental protection, trust & capacity building, rule of law, elimination of corruption, development, transparency, peace and regional stability. If challenges are same then direction should be same i.e., cooperation. If cooperation is not reached then both countries have to pay the cost of conflict (i.e., both tangible and intangible: instability, increase in military expenditures of both countries, deterioration of political relations, trade restrictions, investment risks, food insecurity, poverty increase, unemployment, bar in exchange of knowledge, overall financial and economic losses etc.).
- Shared water is not considered as national or conventional surrounding waters rather transboundary thinking provides a way forward and solution-oriented approach. Therefore, transboundary water management is an opportunity for Pakistan and Afghanistan to show the world that a joint management of the basin in the context of developing countries (without involving third party) is a possibility.
Water is central to any growth and development plan, but it is a scarce and under stress resource due to growing population, changing climate and inadequate management measures. The competition over the use of shared water especially transboundary river (in terms of dwindling quality and quantity) is being increased. Efficient management of transboundary rivers is not possible without close cooperation of riparian countries. In this regard, the diplomatic framework is necessary for getting equitable and durable results. Hydro-diplomacy facilitates in creating coherence, promoting solution-oriented approach, addressing ecological concerns, achieving socio-economic targets and overall enhances the efficiency of water management.
- The basic problem of trust deficit should be managed through formal and informal meetings of professionals of both countries in joint study groups/projects which will provide avenues of data exchange, information sharing, technical understanding of matters from each other perspective and familiarization of experts to remove the apprehensions of out smarting each other. There should be integration of trans-boundary planning of both countries. The Basin wide information and data sharing for formation of joint strategy to tackle water scarcity with standardized communication procedures should be promoted.
- Pakistan and Afghanistan should build political-will and be flexible to cope with the emerging situations as strictness does not work in transboundary issues. It is possible that countries should leave open space to accommodate new emerging realities rather than thorough strict and permanent clauses as happens in the situation of trust deficit. Irrespective of the formation of agreement/treaty, consideration, accommodation and trust in mutual relationship have far reaching salubrious effects. Therefore, active and effective hydro-diplomacy is necessary for hydro-stability which enables donors and international financial institutions to invest/finance in the development of water infrastructure as they shun investing in projects where no consensus is reached between riparian countries. The regular communication also helps to improve management of river. Therefore, opening up of communication channels, consistent dialogues and understanding are recommended.
- Both countries should not adopt critical approach but rather accommodative and understanding of each other concerns. Afghanistan should understand Pakistan’s existing and committed uses of water on Kabul River while Pakistan should consider Afghanistan’s priorities of water resource development which Afghanistan could not develop as it was on a war-footing and unable to address the water governance issues.
- The substitute options should be analyzed in terms of contingent and comparative costs. What options are available to Pakistan, if Afghanistan controls the river flow? On the other hand, if Pakistan uses the water by diversion of river Chitral what will be the cost for Afghanistan? Such alternate assessments will include effects on irrigation, hydro power generation, water availability, non-availability in different periods/seasons including all allied political, socio-economic, environmental, ecological, related consequences etc. This will depict a clear picture of various prospective substitutes of Kabul River water along with consequences in worst case scenario if cooperation is not reached.
- The key to governance and management is legal framework. For negotiation, Institutional capacity is essential to develop the mechanisms. The institutional knowledge is required at all levels, diplomatic, legal and also technical. In this regard, establishment of Commission for Kabul River Basin is recommended. Keeping in view, the treaty making process being long and time taking, the institution or commission may run under MOUs (commission under MOU will facilitate to reach treaty), but treaty is essential which gives a legal cover to commission and regulates the affairs in well-structured manners.
- The future arrangements to manage surface and ground waters should be brought under one institution for wide-ranging and coordinated control. The effective water resource management requires precise information about availability of water in different seasons of a year. Pakistan and Afghanistan should show readiness to share the actual data to use it effectively. Data acquisition and exchange help in developing assessments and facilitates vibrant, improved and inexpensive solutions.
- Dams affect water flow and fragmented river system. Careful designing of dams and sites selection are required to maximize human benefits and minimize negative ecosystem impacts. Dams’ size, design, need, cost effectiveness and comparison of substitute options should be carefully evaluated. There are many non-structural and low impact options and substitutes which can be employed in lieu of dams. Natural solutions should be preferred over engineering arrangements. The excess water should be diverted into wetlands, old river channels or purpose-built waterways/floodways for storing and diverting excess water and recharging ground water without disturbing eco system. Searching for viable options of water conservation through effective, comprehensive and futuristic policy of water resources is necessary. Therefore, a broad-based discussion regarding the management of scarce resources and rivers is necessary.
- The science is an effective source of supporting understanding between riparian countries. Sharing scientific knowledge and evidence have been important because the technical communication of scientists, expressing the identical language, is without bias. Scientists and engineers should assume the role of water managers for the transboundary water resource management of Kabul River Basin (KRB). Research studies focusing water are essential, but not sufficient. There is need to strengthen institutions through capacity building to enforce improved technology, science, and results of research knowledge. The well-designed transboundary strategy can generate co-benefits in terms of promoting trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan on common challenges and mutual interests.
- There is need to develop water resource research and academic centers in Kabul River Basin for creation of a collective database to analyze the development prospects in the basin with and without impacts of population growth, increased use, climate change, dams, diversions etc. The policy makers should be informed through the dissemination of research findings about the impact of variability of flows in KRB for adopting appropriate measures.
- Pakistan and Afghanistan should evolve a strategy to use water resources of Kabul River during a dry or damp year and a year of average precipitation to face the challenges of climate change. Moreover, suitable measures should be adopted regarding rain water harvesting, drip irrigation, workable crop production for making it cost effective and climate resilient consistent with water availability. There should be adjustment in the cropping calendar by introducing new varieties and technological practices in order to get benefit from the seasonal shift of water as a result of increased river flows during spring season. The judicious use of water (which is wasted due to seasonal shifts) can result in better agricultural productivity and food security. Moreover, in order to live as per situation and conditions, both countries should set their cropping pattern in such a way that lean period water problems may be adjusted.
- Educating people regarding importance and careful usage of water should be high on the agendas of both Governments because it is an untapped potential which will benefit in sustainable development of the River and will keep Kabul River Water Clean, clear and healthy.
- The judicious use of water through capacity building from gross root level is necessary. Students in educational institutions can be accessed easily through trained teachers. Children and youth are best source of dissemination of information and propagators of awareness in their families. Similarly, community consciousness through women in families is very vital because women contribute more on educating children than men for keeping environment clean and saving water. In this regard, the role of mothers is very effective.
- Universities should be directed to encourage students to pursue diversified specialization along with water engineering into other related fields of water science, i.e., hydrology, geography, hydrogeology, modeling, conservation, climate change, information technology, water finance management, behavioral and environmental sciences etc., in order to protect the overall quality of water by developing professionals equipped with up-to-date knowledge and expertise across several sectors.
- There should be celebration of Kabul River Day on annual basis throughout the Basin in order to enhance awareness of the local communities. The residents of Basin will know the impacts of various factors i.e., population growth, climate change, increased use, wastage of water etc. on future river flows and development strategies. The knowledge growth of people should be fostered through the introduction of new perceptions, suggestions, applicable experiences and skills. Learning to live within means should be promoted through water consciousness, water saving and better utilization. Such preparation of people will enable them to work together on solutions of fresh water scarcity by supporting research, training and knowledge exchange. Basically, educational campaigns and programmes of public awareness reassure support for basin management.
- Media can create awareness in both countries. Universities partnership can be extended to joint scientific studies to promote science-based planning through public-private partnership. This comprehensive and integrative private and public sector combined effort requires support from both governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- Both countries should affirm their commitment for implementing the basin friendly policies and develop strict guidelines and procedures through transboundary thinking, treaty regime, institutional set up (River Basin Organization/Commission), efficient use of water (avoiding wastage and employing saving techniques) and control all types of pollution into water resources of Kabul River Basin. The future/proposed Kabul River Treaty should not only consider surface water issues but also include climate change, pollution control, ground water and related aspects in order to make treaty dynamic and viable with future trends.
There should be engagement of Pakistan and Afghanistan through dialogues. There is also need of timely and reliable data regarding water measurement in different seasons and at different locations along with information about dams, diversions, water related infrastructure etc. Cooperation on Sharing of information helps to prevent water crisis because right to information is an important element of any cooperative consideration. The key will be to establish a negotiative relationship in which information and data may be exchanged to develop a common body of information from where to work. Estimating the water availability within a basin is a difficult but decisive task. The dialogues based on incorrect and vague information may develop conditions with agreement which cannot be settled. Initiation of cooperation on water through technical and non-political grounds ensures mutual understanding and builds trust. Such sharing of data and improving capacity on technical aspects provide basis for further collaboration on other matters as well.
Shared water requires shared vision, solution and shared benefits. Negotiations on Kabul River Basin should not be associated with previous hostilities. Moving forward with proactive and positive attitude is required to end the way of distrust and mis-understanding. Therefore, progressive approach is a posture of wisdom not weakness. In this regard, transboundary water cooperation is the only choice for peace and viable progress. Decisions made today will determine the future of the Kabul River Basin. In this regard, the commitment of both countries to work together makes a compatible, flourishing, and viable Kabul River Basin a reality.
 John F. Kennedy, March 1, 1962, Special Message to Congress (email communication with Dr. Jack J. Schramm, Lead Consultant to USAID Transboundary Water Rights Project Afghanistan, 2011-2012)
Ph.D. Thesis in International Relations
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