India and Pakistan: watch out for water fights

June 22, 2008

Boy bathes with his pet monkey in Indus river in KarachiDefence analysts in South Asia have been saying for so long that India and Pakistan might solve their problems over Kashmir only to end up at war over water that I had almost become inured to the issue. That was until I read the following comment on an earlier blog about Gulf investors buying up farmland in Pakistan to offset food shortages at home:

“Tough challenges await the investors in this sector due to serious water and energy shortages that the country suffers from at the moment,” it reads. “For effective investment in the agriculture sector, the government must clear these impediments first.”

The comment prompted me to hunt around for evidence of growing tension between India and Pakistan over water, needed to irrigate the land to cope with food shortages and for hydroelectric power — an increasingly attractive alternative in view of high fuel prices.

A quick trawl turned up this overview in the asia sentinel: “Water is destined to be a determining factor in the regional conflicts of South Asia in the years to come, particularly between India and Pakistan,” it says. “While the West is busy concentrating its efforts on securing a ready supply of oil, in South Asia the governments are slowly but surely waking up to the fact that in the not too distant future water is going to be equally, if not more, important to the survival of their people.”

More specifically, Ijaz Hussain in the Daily Times analyses a row between India and Pakistan over Indian plans to build a hydroelectric project — the Kishanganga dam — on a river on its side of divided Kashmir. Pakistan fears the project will disrupt its own plans to build a hydroelectric dam on the same river on its side of Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have successfully regulated their use of the rivers they share in divided Kashmir through the Indus Waters Treaty  (see full pdf document here), signed in 1960 under the auspices of the World Bank. It is the only agreement to have been fully implemented by India and Pakistan; it held through two full-scale wars in 1965 and 1971 and survived a period of intense antagonism which began with the nuclear tests in 1998 and ended with a ceasefire on the Line of Control dividing Kashmir in late 2003. 

How well will it hold up in the current global crisis over food shortages and high oil prices? Relations between India and Pakistan are better than they have been for years, yet the challenges they face in providing food and electricity for their people and their industries are greater than ever.

The Dal lake in Srinagar, KashmirI shall return to this subject and would appreciate comments offering links or ideas about how far water is going to replace Kashmir as the main irritant between India and Pakistan.

In the meantime, here is an observation to be going on with. The Stimson Center, in a history of the Indus Waters Treaty, attributes the success of the World Bank in brokering the deal to its insistence that the “functional” aspects of sharing water resources for mutual benefit must be separated from the political aspects of the India-Pakistan relationship.

Yet when Indian Power Minister Jairam Ramesh spoke of the row over the Kishanganga dam earlier this month he said: “This is an issue with geo-strategic and foreign policy implications. The prime minister would have to give it a thought.”

Did he misspeak? Or were his words about the geo-strategic implications of water a sign of things to come?


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why only india pakistan? you think all the other countries will remain immune to a water crisis? sooner or later, this is going to happen. everybody will meet a not-so watery end.

Posted by anup roy | Report as abusive

If we do end up solving Kashmir, as it may perhaps seem likely, I think other issues will probably follow resolution as well. As far as war is concerned, we’ve fought our last war decades ago. The best peace dividend to date, were the 1998 blasts on both sides, hate to say it. If it was India’s vision to end wars when they 1st launched this program in the Sub-Continent, decades ago, then accolades are due for such ‘fore sightedness’, if that. My fear is that it takes 2 to tango, and thus far it’s only one side, for the most part, that has given – and given. VALUABLE time has been lost while Musharraf had enhanced controls at his disposal. Though diminishing, it is still not too late to finish what was started. Our Indian friends, you may well have to wait into oblivion for the next man with such courage to surface. For the sake of our destitute masses, wake up, I beseach you, wake up. Tomorrow maybe too late.

Posted by Nasser Javed | Report as abusive

The IWT basically asks India to behave itself regardless of what Pakistan does since it is Indian territory on which the waters originate.Not sure if pakistan would behave as well if the boot was on the other foot.

My suggestion is to link this to the IPI pipeline some pak general gets smarty ideas to use IPI as leverage and the sluice gates fall on our side of the border.Seems fair,don’t you think?Our energy supplies guarenteed by your water supplies and vice versa.

Posted by Shantanu Chatterjee | Report as abusive

I saw this video on about Desalianation in Algeria and how they convert salt Water to drinking water. It is interesting to see what GE is working on.

Here is a link to the video: 14020


Posted by Michael Canes | Report as abusive

Water will certainly become a bigger irritant than Kashmir between India and Pakistan in the future as can be predicted by the present attitude of India. India is waffling on Kashmir and making no effort to make progress on peace talks especially given the political turmoil in Pakistan. Even on other less difficult disputed matters India has shown no flexibility. Perhaps the constant refrain by the Western media of India becoming the next economic powerhouse (a rickety infrastructure notwithstanding) seem to have made India too arrogant. Forget IPI pipeline, free trade and any talk of an artificial border separating two people belonging to the same culture and speaking the same language. There is too much distrust on both sides to make war on water a distinct possibility in the near future.

Hasan M. Mirza

Posted by Hasan M. Mirza | Report as abusive

Mr. Hasan M. Mirza
even in india there is not a same language and culture. if you like to see please check indian punjab and Kerala states.

Posted by Muhammad afzal | Report as abusive

Why we are bonded to a treaty that only makes us weak,I think India’s leadership is Authorityless and cant take things on hands. Pakistan a chunk of land chopped out of India to make heaven of Home less Indian muslim .Ever since they got the chunk of land they want more more and more , they need kashmir, raises the issues of Junagarh and Hydrabad and annexation of Bangladesh as well and has started a proxy war on Kashmir , Punjab and North East using Bangladesh and using the Network of Nepal, since nepal share an open Border with India. We should not give waters to these people and divert it to Rajasthan which has a Dessert region and aslo we need to keep a close look on the Dam construted on the Chinese Rivers flowing to india. Interconnecting Rivers would bring a new revolution in India.We dont want any conflict in future but if required then we can use River water as a MAJOR weapon and and bring them to knees.That what the next fate of Pakistan is, if it conflicts with India.

May God give some mind to Pakistan.

Posted by RAJ | Report as abusive

I totally agree wid you MR Shantanu. Pakis garantee our Energy we garuntee waters to there crops wao now pakis should we happy that India is treating fair to them. And also give us Access to Afganistan and central Asia. What do you say PAKIS

Posted by RAJ | Report as abusive

It still comes down to the fact that we are paying people not to grow food when there could be wars we’re going to have to go in and pick sides on with American troops and all the casualties that ensue. That plus the fact that we are paying people not to grow food when half the people in the world ARE STARVING…It’s difficult to do that and take the moral high ground. People need food provided for them when there are droughts or when they have no money to buy food, in America and abroad, and to pay people NOT to grow food is sacreligeous!!! It’s taking from the poor and giving to the rich, a reverse robin hood mentality. Why doesn’t anyone like us? Water rights will obviously cause friction between neighboring countries as clean water supplies go down and populations increase.

Posted by tycobb54 | Report as abusive

[…] back to water wars.  On this blog, we have been discussing this for a while,  going right back to 2008. We also covered it here, here and […]

Posted by India and Pakistan: a personal view of the water wars « Read NEWS | Report as abusive

Thanks for this nice post. you are improving day by day
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Posted by tehseenhasan | Report as abusive