India and Pakistan: a personal view of the water wars

March 29, 2010

 It was so long in the making,  so utterly predictable, that the news that Pakistan and India are now arguing over water carries with it the dull ache of inevitability.

When I was living in Delhi, which I left in 2004, a few analysts were already warning that the next war between Pakistan and India would be over water, rather than over Kashmir.  The mountain glaciers which fed the rivers which are the lifeline of both countries were melting, they said, and sooner or later India and Pakistan would blame each other for climate change. I did not take it that seriously at the time. Not even after seeing first hand how far the Siachen glacier – the world’s longest glacier – had receded.  

Nor indeed did it properly register after talking to an Indian sherpa who had led the first Indian military expedition to Siachen in 1978 in what India considers part of its own Ladakh region  At the time, Ladakh was much colder, he said, and the snow on the glacier came right down into the valley. It had receded in recent years because of global warming, exposing the black tracts of scree I had scrambled up during my trip there. “It was like a beautiful road coming right down from K2,”he said, , “black moraine on either side.” There was nothing, and nobody there.

From the records of the India Office of the British Library, I unearthed an account written by the American explorer Fanny Bullock-Workman of her own travels in Siachen in 1911-12 — so little consulted nowadays that the pages of her book began to come away in my hands.  She suggested that Siachen had been receding back in her days too,  so I was able to put the ebb and flow of the glacier down to natural changes in the climate.

Then a few years ago,  I made the drive from Srinagar in Kashmir to Leh in Ladakh and — dangerous as it is to extrapolate from one’s own experiences – saw the impact of global warming first hand.

It is a two-day drive from Srinagar to Leh, with a stopover in Kargil where India and Pakistan fought an intense border war in 1999. It is a spectacular drive, but also one of the most precipitous and most terrifying. By the time you are nearing Leh, you are looking forward to a comfortable hotel bed and a bowl of thick Tibetan soup.

Not long before we reached Leh, we discovered that the road bridge had been swept away by heavy floods rushing down from the mountain glaciers. I met a local Ladakhi journalist I knew who was, like me, stranded on the wrong side of the broken bridge. He took one look at me, and though I had not seen him for three years or so, he shook my hand and said two words: “global warming”.  Then, like all the other Ladakhis there, he disappeared over a precarious crossing which the locals had fashioned across the river — which involved walking across the upturned root of  a tree and then somehow making it from branch to branch across a raging glacial torrent to the other side.

I was too scared to make that crossing, and so spent the night sleeping in the car, and then much of the following day waiting for the Indian Army to reopen the road.  The Srinagar to Leh road is one of India’s most strategic. It is why they fought the Kargil war when Pakistani artillery began shelling it. I expected, wrongly, that they would repair it quickly.

The Indian Army took their time.  In one of those things that always happen in India, a dead body – presumably of someone who had drowned in the floods – lay out with us all night.  In another of “those things” — and anyone who has travelled in India knows this — there were no toilets. We were out in the high plateau Tibetan desert with, by that time, hundreds of Ladakhis crowding around at the other side of the broken bridge to see what was going on.

Not realising that the army was about to blow up the remnants of the bridge,  I wandered into a copse trying to find a private space. I still remember the heat on my face from the explosion. After that I have taken global warming more seriously.

So 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 here.

More details to follow. For now, let’s none of us pretend this is a new issue.

(Update – for anyone looking for a starting point on the water wars, I recommend this report which Strategic Foresight brought out in early 2005.)


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“The mountain glaciers which fed the rivers which are the lifeline of both countries were melting, they said, and sooner or later India and Pakistan would blame each other for climate change”

I’ve hardly ever seen any Indians blaming their water shortages on Pakistan. They’re smart & literate enough to understand the dynamics of global warming & the effects of it on glaciers & rivers. But I always come across many Pakistanis, who just completely ignore the global warming & the climatic changes taking place on our planet & are quick to jump the gun, blame India for all it’s water problems & declare war. Maybe, Pakistani schools out to add a chapter in their geography books about global warming.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

It appears that the glues of sympathy-with-fellow-Muslim-Kashmiri-bro thers and Hindu-India-annexing-Pakistan is not serving the purpose anymore and hence making of another super-glue is in progress. What could be better than the fear-of-death-by-dehydration-and-starvat ion caused by your ill-willed neighbor.

If Mumbai carnage can bind Indians together evermore, I don’t see any reason why this new experimentation of Punjabi elites won’t work in case of Pakistanis. Good going there! The stupid common people have already started asking for food prices, education, employment and infrastructure but they don’t realize that MOST important thing they need is to PREVENT the possibility of interruption in their water supply in case India suddenly turns off the taps. It does not matter that they have not done it even during the wars in the history of past 60 years. This is the REAL ISSUE in Pakistan. As for food prices, education, employment and infrastructure, they can swallow grass-breads for another few decades and in any ways, what good be these things if there is no water?

So what’s the main threat here – India defaulting on IWT at present, India defaulting on IWT at some imagined point in future or IWT not being relevant at all in modern warmer globe? What would make Pakistan happy – more share of water in terms of percentage or increased fixed amount of water per year, and/or third-party supervision of Indian projects?

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive


If I understand you correctly, you are saying that water is going to be a problem in the future. Fine, not being a sooth sayer, can’t dispute it. In fact the world has been saying this for decades that water and resources will be the issue of wars, so there is nothing new in that.

In all the links quoted here you have maintained the same opinion. Except in one case you have quoted a specific issue, Baglihar. Now, as I understand it, this was referred to a tribunal, as per the treaty and the tribunal has given its ruling and both sides have respected that. Incidentally it rejected, on most points, Pakistan’s stand or am I in error?

The pretense, or otherwise, of whether this is a new issue is neither here nor there. My question to you, what exactly is the problem on water between India and Pakistan, in specific terms. I do hope I get a response this time though. Who is doing what and where which is against the interests of the other or against the treaty that is in force? This is what is new….no specifics, Just saying that water will become a problem is not being contested, what exactly is being done and by whom is the key. What is your specific complaint? Is India using more than its share? is it depriving P{akistan of water through unlawful or devious means? And how?

These are issues which need to be discussed. Till then I will maintain that Pakistan is now crying wolf, not about water shortage in future but about India depriving it or using devious means. That is a new grouse which Pakistan has raised against India and I stand by that.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

While on the subject, please permit me to quote a PTI & ENS report from yesterdays Indian Express. “Pak seeks changes in Nimmo-Bazgo design”. Pakistan has raised the issue over Nimmo being built in Leh; “They (Pakistan) had expressed concerns about a possible reduction of water supply in the Indus following construction…” Please note, nothing factual, just a concern of ‘possible’ reduction. In reply the Indians have said “Pakistan has converyed its concerns and we will find out how to remove them” Does anyone see a conflict sitauation in this? Moreover even this ‘concern of possible reduction’ is being adequately looked at by “we have decided that water level, flow and consumption in rivers will be monitored through telemetry and satellite systems from now on and engineers of both sides will discuss the matter.” Again, how much conflict is apparent in this?

The report goes on..”Pakistan has sudenly upped the ante on water sharing, even as India conducts surveys to explore possibility of small conservation projects on western rivers which include Indus Chenab and Jhelum.
In fact India has not built any storage projects on the western rivers, which account for an average water flow of 135 million acre feet – this, despite the fact that the treaty allows India to utilise storage 3.6 million acre feet……..Even for irrigation purposes, India has used water to irrigate little undr 0.8 million acre as against 1.3 million acre allowed.”

What has raised eyebrows is the fact that Pakistan wants to bring this up in the talks with India in spite of an existing treaty on the issue. Which in effect means that once again Pakistan is trying to bypass an agreed to process for raising a dispute. There have been over 100 meetings and 112 tours by either side to inspect projects and to resolve issues…..I don not see any conflict or an aggressive attitude on either side. What I do see is Pakistan trying to raise issues which do not exist and then want to discuss them. How does one discuss non-issues?

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Pakistan will find one more excuse to get at India – water. They’d accuse the RAW of melting off all glaciers. But they can look at the advantage. There would be no need to fight on top of glaciers. They can fight on a meadow that would form once the glaciers melt away. Trust me, if Pakistan still exists after 50 years, it will still be at loggerheads with India. Pakistan can probably send its navy to sail on the melted streams to fight the Indians. There will be plenty of grass for the Mujahideen to eat.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Thanks for posting numbers Dara. I’m sure people would really like someone like Myra to post the facts and figures about Pakistan’s concern re: water sharing. Posting straw man arguments is a waste of blog space.

Here is a clip from DAWN TV about water “issues”, persons in video are Pakistani officials (probably engineers and supervisors): Og

One would wonder, how many “kaafirs” and “gaddars” could be up for sale to RAW?

But one thing is sure – scaremongering is time-tested choice of failed administrators.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive

Another article, from your Pakistan’s own Tariq Tufail 2010/03/05/indo-pak-water-issues-101-tar iq-tufail/

excerpts are:

“At this point in time, the Pakistani government has not proven that India has stolen water. The allegation of Indian water theft has not been substantiated by either telemetry readings submitted by India or by water monitoring by Pakistan and has not been raised during the meetings of water commissioners of India and Pakistan. Moreover, because water sharing between Pakistan’s provinces is a contentious issue, water monitoring in Pakistan is a murky issue. To prevent discord among the provinces, monitoring sensors installed by Siemens are frequently tampered with and some monitoring sensors are regularly lost due to theft and sabotage. Even our Indus water commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah and ex-finance minister, Dr. Mubashar Hasan agree that no provable water theft is being committed by India.”

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive

I’ve rowdy drunkards and needle-pushers itching for a good thrashing by someone passing by else they don’t get the hit from their substances. Increasingly, I get the feeling that this is exactly the case with this nation.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive


I’ve seen rowdy drunkards…

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive

Seth thank you for the links and references, very pertinent and enlightening. I am happy to see a Pakistani view on this, else it would appear just an Indian biased view point. Fact is my knowledge on the subject is quite limited and would like to gather more details.

That’s why I would like a clarification on Myra’s personal view on water “wars”. Whose fighting them?

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

I love the fact that Hafiz Saeed has been let out to speak out on the water issues. You have to admire the skillful way the Establishment have the Pakistani people dancing to the tunes they play. It is Chomsky’s propaganda model at its finest.

Posted by Mekeritrig | Report as abusive

i agree with point of view

Posted by raheelshafqat | Report as abusive

The next war between India and Pakistan will be on water. After that it will be on the monsoon. Pakistan’s propaganda machinery will go to work blaming India for failed monsoons as a strategic plan by the RAW to destabilize Pakistan. They might even claim that RAW agents hiding in the 106 consulates inside Afghanistan blew the clouds away from Pakistan. If you laugh at this, then you must be laughing at the claims they are making already.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

If indians are so sure that they are not stealing water,why don’t they agree to instalment of beimatric system on the flow of rivers in their part of the occupied Kashmir?It will solve the basic complaint of Pakistan at once and it is allowed under Indus Water Treaty.
I am sure they will never agree to it,as it is their nature to just go into denial at once.All the comments made by the indians show how unrealistic their mindset is against the ground realities and their basic hatered of Muslims and specially against Pakistan.

Posted by samkhan | Report as abusive

@ samkhan
How about posting some credible links with facts and figures for a change? We’ve seen many like you with their baseless rhetorics.

Have you got any comments on: 2010/03/05/indo-pak-water-issues-101-tar iq-tufail/ Og

These are your own people talking facts and numbers.

As for “beimatric system”, could you post any relevant link about it? I googled and found nothing. If you have nothing about it, go ask your “Zaid sirs” and see if they have any.

Re: hatred – yes, we’re getting fed up of Pakistan’s government but everything else is your madarsaa education.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive

Can’t see my previous comment, may be it will show up in while…anyways…

here is the alternate approach

Yes, everything you said is 100% correct. Post some credible links and show the entire world how devious Indian are. Educate everybody on this blog what “instalment of beimatric system” is, where its allowed in IWT and how and why India is protesting it.

Type as much as you can, cite as many references as you can but for once, show the entire world what you mean by your comment.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive

California and Nevada have been fighting over water for 70 years

Posted by Story_Burn | Report as abusive

Here is an interesting article by John Briscoe in “The News”. One of the major points to note is the alleged censorship of Indian media when it comes to publishing any news related to Kashmir(Indus basin). I was very surprised to read that. asp?id=232342

Posted by babag | Report as abusive

Babag writes: “Here is an interesting article by John Briscoe in “The News”. One of the major points to note is the alleged censorship of Indian media when it comes to publishing any news related to Kashmir(Indus basin). I was very surprised to read that.”

Thanks for sharing this link. Inside India itself there are states that have the same problem between each other. In the Southern states, the river Cauvery is a bone of contention. The state downstream is at the mercy of the neighbor who controls the valve. Water can surely turn into a serious situation. India and Bangladesh also have a similar issue to settle. I also saw in BBC world news about the Chinese build up of dams in the Tibetan plateau which will drain away water from major rivers that feed into the Indian sub-continent and South East Asia. Major international rivers must be under UN control and must be administered by neutral parties. Water is one thing humans should not use to play with each other. It is a fundamental right for all humans to have adequate water. We should not mix this with other political issues. As it is things have gone from bad to worse in the relationship between India and Pakistan. Now water issues will add more fat to the fire.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive


Pakistan has launched wars against India for any number of reasons, it won’t be surprising if Pakistan declares next war for water .

Pakistanis are habitually liar, on the one side their engineers are openly on record saying India is not drawing water more than the quota, where is the question of any dispute on this matter and on the other side their politicians and military rulers are openly blaming India for violation of treaty .

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive


Here is some truth by Pakistani Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who says water is being wasted by Pakistan, not stolen by India. Enjoy

“In an interview to a Pakistani channel on April 2, Mr. Qureshi said: “It is not being stolen by India. It’s been wasted in Pakistan. The total average canal supplies of Pakistan are 104 million acres per feet. And the water available at the farm gate is about 70 million acre per feet. Where does the 34 million acre per feet go? It is not being stolen in India; it is being wasted in Pakistan.” ”

–>next top Pakistani, needs to speak truth to Pakistani’s, that being general Kayani, should declare India is not a clear and present danger to India.

Thank you Mr. Quraishi for speaking truth, Pakistani citizens are quicker to believe lies and lay blame, rather than accept responsibility, both individual and collective.

Time to quit spending billions on nukes and F-16s and build some damns.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive


Thanks. Yes I saw that Dawn video where Pakistani official says that India is not messing up with water.

Dara: Thanks always, good specific information.

G-W: Thanks for posting Quereshi statement.

Myra: if you are serious about this issue, perhaps you should make a comment here. There is enough said by your readers for you to do so.

NOW; How many times I have heard Suckers for propaganda Pakistanis blame India that the rivers in pakistan are dried off and toddlers are dying because of India not releasing water into Pakistan. A case of 1000 Indian consulates in Afghanistan.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

Yes indeed Rajeev.

Pakistanis (I’ll speak for this forum) are completely incapable of participating in a logical discussion. On top of that, this blind hatred is disturbing at best.

I have started to believe that most Pakistani posters here don’t follow through the thread and just post any random “gem”. The behavior pattern reminds me of monkeys that regularly switch between screaming and coitus when there is a brawl.

Posted by Seth | Report as abusive

Editorial,Articles,Features,and discussions for Journalists and other media practitioners are based on the objectve to bring change in attitiude,behaviour,thoughts and opinions etc. While doing prctice to develop a favourable public opinion is an art of Public Relations by using media tools is considered as media war,media campagin,media trial etc which sometimes favoured to yellow journalism. Wheather any reporter,journalist especially analyist goes beyond the reasons of conflict unbiasly. The absence of seeking truth by the reasons are missing in the article. Undoubtedly Water crises are now being raised between the two tradional rival states that would provide base of war.Following are some reasons which led the two neuclar states on the brink of war.
Every incident is a result of behaviour which used to be genrate through attitude. And attitude development in social Psychology is in result of treatment by any single,organization, institution. SO the causes led us towards past treatments made by Indian Officials which caused to generate attitude changes. Three horrible wars,both the nations had met in past since partition. History unveiled the truth by truely analysis of reasons.
As conceren with the present story board of Water also link into the past.Kashmir,undoubtedly,considered as a life line entirely for Pakistan and little to India also. A nation of 117million people dependent its 80% on farming occupationally. More than 75% of economy sustains from agrclutural outputs. 80% of irrigation is made through world’s largest cannal system. Punjab province is one the major provoider of food and cloth gets the total amount of water through rivers downstreamed from Kashmir.
If we go through the details of Indus Water Treaty(IWT),signed by the leaders of both states, Pakistan has already taken a blind risk by which RAVI,BIAS, and SUTLAJ is totaly alloted to Indan control. According to the accord signed 1960, Pakistan with a population of 117millions,totally rely on her western rivers. Now what to be done by the nation for her survivol when they observe that India has been taken 27projects into construction with out taking them into confidence. Does any body here to make their doubts clear while the effected nation has brute experience in past.
Now come to the evidential points:
1- India never admitted Pakistan whole heartly as a separate independant nation.

2-1948 India attacked on a newly born flourishing countary with a huge aggressive Army. what was the cause at that time. Did the state has terrorists at that time?

3-After 1948’s floppy assault, 2nd attempt was made in 1965.

4-1971 war when Paksitan lost her part then timed was named as East Paksitan attempted at the time when Paksitan was internly distubed by political instability.

5-The current interference of India in Baluchistan,the province of Pakistan with other parts of state adjining to Afghanistan.

6-several times Ravi was overflooded by India to create devastation in Pakistan.

7-During 1992 India relase 12ft high wave of water in Jehlum river which made disaster at huge level.

8-during 90’s India devastated the riaper areas at the time when crops were are ready to be cropped.

9-Now by funding Afghanistan to build a dam at Kabul rivr which finall destinated into Indu river. Does it not to destabilize Pakistan?

So these are the concerns in mind of common person in Pakistan. Past makes the present and contributes to future. Indian jurnalists should make the clear picture before the people that how “Water Bomb” is being used by upstreamed nation to downstreamed nation and urge to Indian goverment not to create discomfort and disharmony.

Posted by sheraz | Report as abusive

feedback regarding above mention article is required by

Posted by sheraz | Report as abusive

Fresh from the press. Kashif Hasnie at RAND writes in DAWN on a very similar topic. -content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/edit orial/natural-security-and-water-340

Posted by Lalwani | Report as abusive

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

[…] anger against the government over its response to the floods does not bode well. Add to that  the disorientating impact of climate change – and scientists are still arguing about how much the floods in Pakistan and drought in […]

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