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Explaining the India-Pakistan Water Tensions

Last month, India subtly warned that it could withdraw from the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan, one of the oldest and most significant water treaties in the world, because of a lack of “mutual trust and cooperation.” A week later, the Indian military launched a “surgical strike” across the Pakistani line of control in Kashmir against alleged terrorist camps.

The Wilson Center’s Michael Kugelman recently spoke to Circle of Blue about the dangerous flare up between these long-time rivals and the prospects for the Indus Waters Treaty going forward.

Speaking to Cody Pope in the first of Circle of Blue’s Hotspots H20 series, Kugelman says “if India were to revoke the treaty, nothing would happen literally…it wouldn’t cause immediate destruction or problems for Pakistan. But what it would allow India to do would be to take the time to build large dams and other large hydro projects that could in time bottle up enough water to prevent water from flowing downstream to Pakistan.”

He calls climate change a “huge driver” in escalating water tensions. “Both India and Pakistan are very vulnerable to it, and it plays a really big part, it’s a really big driver, a huge driver in the rising levels of water insecurity in India and Pakistan which could well or which will ensure that water tensions between these two countries will stay in place for the foreseeable future.”

The threat from terrorist groups against water infrastructure is significant, Kugelman says. In the disputed Kashmir region, the Pakistani Taliban attacked Tarbela Dam, one of the largest in the world, in 2007 and Lashkar-e-Taiba “has always used water issues as a key propaganda item.”

For more, read or listen to the full interview at Circle of Blue.

Sources: Circle of Blue, Foreign Policy.