Earth & Conservation

India And Pakistan's Looming Water War

Violence in Kashmir is threatening a critical water treaty between India and Pakistan. So are they on the verge of a water war?

For more than 60 years now, India and Pakistan have been fighting over the disputed region of Kashmir. In recent months, public protests have turned particularly violent -- fueled by social media -- and skirmishes between military forces have resulted in 19 deaths.

As Laura Ling reports in today's Seeker Daily dispatch, the unrest over Kashmir could trigger a more serious conflict as India threatens Pakistan's water supply.

When India and Pakistan were established as independent states in 1947, the two countries were left to divide water resources in the region. After borders were drawn, geography dictated that most of the headwaters in the Indus Basin ended up in India. In 1960, the two countries signed off on the historic Indus Waters Treaty. India received control of the basin's three eastern rivers, and Pakistan got control of the three western rivers.

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However, Pakistan's rivers still flow through India first. According to the terms of the treaty, India is allowed to use Pakistan's rivers for hydroelectric power and irrigation, so long as the country doesn't obstruct a significant amount of the water flow. India and Pakistan have fought three wars and engaged in countless conflicts over the last 50 years -- but the Indus Waters Treaty has been honored by both sides.

The recent conflict over Kashmir is now seriously threatening the water-sharing pact. In September 2016, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government will exploit as much of Pakistan's water as it can, in an effort to pressure Pakistan over the Kashmir issue. More specifically, India reportedly has plans to expedite construction on a number of dams in Pakistan-controlled rivers. While this is technically within the boundaries of the treaty, it would radically decrease Pakistan's water supply.

At a meeting to review this historic treaty, Modi made his country's position clear: "Blood and water cannot flow simultaneously." Pakistan has pledged to bring the issue before the International Court of Justice. The escalating tensions have international observers worried: India and Pakistan are among the nine countries on Earth with nuclear weapons.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

NPR: Kashmir Is Inundated By Violence But This Cycle Is Unique

BBC: Why India's water dispute with Pakistan matters

The Economist: Indian, Pakistani and Chinese border disputes: Fantasy frontiers