It has been claimed for decades that a convergence of dynamics, including water scarcity, societal unrest, and strategic choreography, will unescapably drive states and other actors to act belligerently, perhaps even sadistically, to secure exquisite water resources. So are we as a final step witnessing the first twinkles of the new era of water wars? Water as a resource is very equivalent to oil; it is indispensable to all circadian human activities. Water is becoming a much cherished commodity, yet freshwater resources are asymmetrically distributed among developing countries. This scarcity in water has prompted anxiety in countries that already have little access to water, let alone steadfast water supplies. This desperation customarily cannot be determined by negotiations. Peter Gerick in his research paper, Water Conflict Chronology published in May 2013 noted that “If governments or claimants want water badly enough, they resort to force to obtain it. Water has very rarely been the main ingredient in international conflicts, but it is often factored into the problem due to its economic importance.” War and conflict have been tied directly or indirectly to the protection of resources throughout the known history of conflicts. Water, being one of the most important natural resources always been the primary need ranging from individual to the industrial level. With the risk of water shortages around the world becoming more and more of an issue, water has become the fuel of certain conflicts in many regions around the world. “Water Wars” are becoming unescapable in the future of our world as the exploitation of water resources continues among countries and nation states that share the same water source. International law has proven itself inadequate in shielding the fair use of shared water supplies in some parts of the world. Professor Zoltan Grossman of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, USA, noted in 2004 that the rapid population increase and commercial usage of water for energy production has greatly affected the amount of water readily available to many people.
There has been differing views over the causes behind the conflicts over water. The basic to all these varying assumptions is the conflict arises over who has the power to control the water resources in a given territory and thus control the economy and population. By breaking the conflict cycle down into categories, it is easier to understand the causes. Military, industrial, agricultural, and political uses of water are the major factors that ignite the conflict in a particular region. Military and political exploitation of water resources aggravate the conflict more severely because both use it as a weapon to achieve the political and tactical goals. In regards to the industrial and agricultural uses conflicts are mainly dependent upon the overuse and degradation of water resources by one party and thus leaving insufficient amount for the other party. With the ever increasing population on this planet the resources we have are becoming more strained. Many resource-based conflicts have been focused on oil and other technologically – replaceable resources. However, water being the basic resource that is essential for the production of both energy and food has fundamental importance in this regard. Ismail Serageldin, vice-president of the World Bank stated in a 1995 New York Times article that “The wars of the next century will be about water.” Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of water resource conflict and that it is such a threat to our world’s security.
Nasrullah Khan Kalair, Department of Electrical Engineering, Comsats Institute of Information Technology Islamabad noted in one of his research paper in March 2012 that “We love or hate each other we have to share the water, air and sun. Oil and water do not mix but can entangle to develop water, watts and war trinity. Some social scientists are covertly producing amphoteric solutions of oil and water in blood geopolitically.” The tension between India and Pakistan over Jammu Kashmir has its traditional roots in territorial disputes and wars but the need to secure natural resources is threatening to add a new dimension to the conflict. India continues to build new dams in its occupied territory of Jammu Kashmir that are seen by its rival Pakistan as a threat to its “water interests” and thus its national security. On the other hand, Pakistan is continuously working on many hydro-electric projects in various parts of its occupied Jammu Kashmir territory, upraising the Mangla dam and building Diamer dam for maximizing the energy production. Both India and Pakistan relate it to their growing power needs but ironically depriving Kashmiris from their “fair share” is like an aqua bomb causing energy deficiency, droughts, migration and flash floods in Jammu Kashmir.
A 2011 U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report said that studies show no single dam will affect Pakistan’s access to water, but the cumulative effect of multiple hydroelectric projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit Pakistan’s supply at crucial moments in the growing season. India has never abused its water supplies in this way, the report adds, and New Delhi rejects the theory as an unsubstantiated hypothesis. But the report’s observations serve as a suitable analogy for India and Pakistan’s water conflicts overall. While no single legal or diplomatic tussle will rupture the fragile relations between the countries, the cumulative effect of a series of standoffs could cause tensions to boil over. Niharika Mandhana mentioned in an article on April 16, 2012 appeared on TIME that the dispute isn’t the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. The waters of the Indus River and tributaries like the Jhelum — and the dams built on them by India — have long been one of the main points of contention between the rival neighbors, along with the disputed region of Jammu Kashmir itself and cross-border terrorism. Pakistan, whose agriculture-dominated economy is heavily reliant on the Indus and its tributaries, fears upstream dams allow India to manipulate the flows of water as it sees fit. Many in Pakistan accuse New Delhi of wantonly exacerbating the country’s dire water shortages, choking its agricultural production and ruining livelihoods.
The rivers flowing through the State of Jammu Kashmir provide a fresh water supply to a billion people living in both the neighboring countries of India and Pakistan. In India, the water supply flowing from the Himalayan glaciers provides vital irrigation for its agricultural sector and also to the energy sector. India’s snowballing standing as a harnesser of the water’s potential is a reason for serious concern in Pakistan as its power- starving opponent moves to secure its own hoard, not only for agricultural purposes but also as a source of electricity. The Tulbul Navigation Project and the Baglihar, Kishanganga, and Salal hydroelectric power projects in Indian held Jammu Kashmir are boiling the tensions between the two countries. Although Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) has provided a greater co-operation, yet the future increasing demands of energy in both the countries could be a source of increasing tensions over the ownership of water resources of Jammu Kashmir. Therefore the differences over technical and engineering aspects are propagated in political and economic terms which indicates the delicacy of the issue both countries would likely to be heading in future for the water resources of Jammu Kashmir.
Ayesha Siddiqi in an article entitled “Kashmir and the politics of water” published by Al-Jazeera on August 01, 2011 noted that the Jammu Kashmir dispute and disputes over the sharing of water resources between India and Pakistan are intertwined. From independence of both the countries to the present day, they remain the two biggest challenges when it comes to normalizing relations between the states of India and Pakistan. In 1948, Eugene Black, then president of the World Bank, offered the services of WB to solve the water-sharing dispute between the two countries through negotiations. India from the beginning was not in favor of allowing a third party intervention yet both the countries finally agreed to the proposal of Eugene Black. Evidence and records from the history suggest that in 1948, when the Kashmir issue was taken to the United Nations Security Council and the canal dispute between East and West Punjab first arose they were treated as distinctly separate political and economic issues because of the politically disputed nature of the Jammu Kashmir State.
The political future of Jammu Kashmir State is rooted in the economic depths along with other geo-political aspects from the very beginning and water resources were taken as one of the “dependent variables” to fight a war in Jammu Kashmir in different phases of the history. Phil Arena in his blog “This is what bargaining looks like” published on September 01, 2011 refers to a communique from the British High Commissioner’s office in Karachi from November 1951 “But one assumption they have refused to entertain: that India should have control over Kashmir. By having such control India could ruin Pakistan, simply by refusing to operate Mangla at the head-works. It is almost certain therefore that Pakistan would reject any solution of the Kashmir problem which would give these powers; she would rather embark on a war which she fully understood to be suicidal.”
Given that both Pakistan and India are dangerously energy and water starved and nowhere close to an agreement on Jammu Kashmir conflict, the dangers of a violent military confrontation in the region will be increasing with the passage of time. The very fundamental responsibility lies on the shoulders of political administrators sitting in Srinagar, Giligit and Muzaffarabad to claim at least reasonable rights of these natural resources for the betterment of people if they are unable to get the ownership of these resources. It is a legitimate question to be asked from the administrators of the Jammu Kashmir State in all the divided parts that how much percentage of the Kashmiri people are hooked up with power grids when the state has enough energy resources for the entire sub-continent? Since the alternative, effective and renewable sources of energy are becoming more popular due to the climate and environmental issues related to fuel and oil usage, water resources, might prove to be the new primary wealth in the economic standing of the nations. The State of Jammu Kashmir being one of the richest lands having fresh water resources thus be taken as one of the volatile regions in the world where an effervescent conflict can take a violent turn if the parties involved to the conflict did not act wisely. No doubt that hydropower is a renewable, or alternative, source of energy precisely because it uses natural water cycles, such as the flow of rivers, to produce electricity but Kashmiri nation as a whole in all the three administrative set ups (Srinagar, Gilgit and Muzaffrabad) is being deprived of the fundamental rights to explore and benefit from these water resources and develop their own communities and advance economically due to the illegal occupation of their country. International water law helps enable nations to peacefully share the water resources but when it comes to the rights of the peripheries, no clear lines are available to determine the rights. The UN Convention (an international agreement) embraces several principles that will likely become the guiding force in managing international watercourses and resolving water conflicts among the nation states. In case of Jammu Kashmir, the leadership of this divided nation needs to focus on this very important natural resource to step in the future. At the extreme, the Water conflict theory of equitable utilization is no more developed than the vague notion that each nation is entitled to a “reasonable share” of the water and the question thus arises whether Kashmiri leadership in all the divided parts is ready to stand for nationhood or will be playing its proxy role to help the occupiers for exploitation of all the resources nature has gifted them?
(Nayyar N Khan is a US based political analyst, human rights, peace activist and a freelance journalist of Kashmiri origin. His major focus is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)