Peace Through…Energy?


While much of the news from South Asia in the past few days has dealt with this week’s Kabul conference on Afghanistan’s future, the New York Times published a fascinating piece yesterday on the importance of water as a source of tension between Pakistan and India. In this case the point of contention is the Kishenganga Dam, currently being built in India on the Indus River, the same river that feeds Pakistan’s most fertile farmland.
The construction of this dam serves both practical and political purposes for India; the dam’s construction is legal under a 50-year old water-sharing treaty with Pakistan, and India is in desperate need of hydroelectric power. The article’s authors Lydia Polgreen and Sabrina Tavernise explain that, “About 40 percent of India’s population is off the power grid, and lack of electricity has hampered industry. The Kishanganga project is a crucial part of India’s plans to close that gap.” India’s energy needs will only grow, New America Foundation/Smart Strategy Initiative Director Patrick Doherty noted in a recent op-ed, as India struggles to integrate 250 million people into its cities by 2030.
Yet for Pakistan the issue of water is serious. Due to an undeveloped irrigation system, Pakistan’s agriculture is vulnerable to changes in water flow, and a change in the Indus’ flow rate or a decision by India, motivated by electrical need or a political decision, could endanger an industry that supplies 25% of Pakistan’s economy and employs 50% of its workers, as Polgreen and Tavernise point out. The mere possibility of India holding this power over Pakistan can only make a bad situation worse, as talks between India and Pakistan’s foreign ministers ground to a halt last week over mutual recriminations on the subjects of terrorism and Kashmiri self-determination.
The ongoing fight over Kashmir is the 800-pound gorilla in the room in South Asia; Pakistan and India maintain huge forces along the Kashmiri even in “peaceful” times, allocating resources and people to watching each other across one of the most heavily-defended borders in the world.
Much of Pakistan’s strategy in Afghanistan is designed not only to create a friendly or at least pliant Afghan government, but also to keep Indian influence out. Without a solution to the Kashmir dispute and a reduction of tensions with India, Pakistan will undoubtedly continue its support for militant groups in Afghanistan, Kashmir and increasingly outside of the region. But India has shown only limited willingness to discuss Kashmir, even in the abstract.
Embedded in this current energy crisis, however, is an opportunity for the United States not only to decrease tension in an important and seemingly intractable conflict, but also to develop India’s economy and to help the country transition toward sustainable development.
India’s immense energy needs are currently met in large part by coal and hydroelectric power, but the government has ambitious plans to increase its output from new technologies. For instance, India hopes to produce 200,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2050, in a country that currently produces 150,000 megawatts energy from all sectors. However, the country needs an estimated $154 billion in startup costs for such a plan, and has so far only allocated $18-$22 billion. The United States could help fill this gap, either by promoting investment or providing aid; the former helps American companies while spurring a need to further develop solar technologies, while the latter could be conditioned on a reduced dependency on hydropower broadly, and specifically reducing the use of hydropower driven by sensitive water sources, like the Indus river.
While something like a water or energy deal will not come close to solving the conflict over Kashmir or bring stability to South Asia, it can help remove yet another stumbling block and chip away at the mistrust that fuels anger between officials and helps justify militancy in Pakistan. More measures to build trust and an increased effort to build cross-border trade and other tie can help create favorable conditions for peace, while creating opportunities for American industry to grow.
— Andrew Lebovich


18 comments on “Peace Through…Energy?

  1. David says:

    Make that an 8,000 pound gorilla. Nations will go to war over water. Hell, here in Florida, we are faced with the possibility of very serious conflicts between coastal and inland counties over water. Luckily, counties in the United States cannot resort to armed conflict with each other. Nations have no such constraint. And we are talking about two nuclear states who already keep dancing around war over Kashmir. If India reduces the availability of water to Pakistan, and then refuses to back down when confronted, this could get really, really ugly.
    Water is second only to air in importance, and only because you die more quickly when denied air, but you also die when denied water, both individually and as a nation. Food is third in the sequence, shelter fourth. And none of them is negotiable at a fundamental level.
    This one must be resolved, and it must be resolved in a manner acceptable to Pakistan. India has the upper hand in the geographic sense, but Pakistan is not powerless, and it will not accept loss of water.


  2. K2K says:

    China should relabel and resell Israeli irrigation technologies to Pakistan, so that Pakistan can make much better use of their Indus water resources without knowing such technologies come from the “Zionists” who are aligned with the “Hindus” and the “Crusaders”.
    I actually wish the Pakistanis well, but also realize they are a great believer in the “Zionist-Hindu-Crusader Conspiracy”. So, China needs to be the repacker and reseller of the Israeli irrigation technologies so admired by the Chinese.
    In defense of WigWag, it is very clear the Kashmiris have no desire to be part of Pakistan.
    It is not entirely clear if the Kashmiris prefer independence in a confederation with Jammu and perhaps Swat. That, of course, is impossible because such a nation would control the water for most of South Asia. The Kurds could explain that dilemma to the Kashmiris.


  3. Arun Gupta says:

    New approach to the Indus Treaty
    “One of the problems in Indo-Pakistani water relations, as far as Pakistan is concerned, is that, thanks to Sir Cyril Radcliff and the outcome of English colonialism in India, Pakistan is a lower riparian. What the treaty does is set up a riparian hegemony by dividing the resources of the Indus Basin, creating an asymmetrical relationship between the two riparians and cementing India’s position as the riparian hegemon. In other words, the treaty stacks the cards against Pakistan and makes it close to impossible for it to rationalise the disproportionate relative bargaining positions the treaty allocates. This is because, in practice, the more powerful riparian is loath to give up the benefits it has.
    There are some who suggest that, for this very reason, the treaty should be scrapped and another negotiated. To these gifted geniuses, I ask this: Very well, then, but what brilliant strategy do you have hidden away that will outmanoeuvre the riparian hegemon and get the lower riparian more than it already has under the treaty? This question is met with silence.
    How can Pakistan get itself out of this situation? The answer is simple: Don’t look at the Indus Water Treaty for solutions. The treaty is based on a sort of divide-the-resource-of-the-Indus-Basin theory, which will always result in a zero-sum game for Pakistan. What we need is to look outside the “divide the resource” paradigm and look towards the opportunities afforded by the “sharing the resource” paradigm. What we need to do is see whether it is in the economic, social or political interest of both riparians to cooperate on water, rather than be antagonistic over it. What we need is a trans-boundary water opportunity analysis.
    Trans-boundary analysis looks at the positive sum outcomes of sharing the resources of a water basin. The approach is unique, in that it allows the weaker riparian to offer the hegemon some additional benefit.”


  4. Arun says:

    To come to Andrew Lebovich’s article – much of Pakistan’s water problem is self-inflicted. In the last couple of decades they have neglected their irrigation infrastructure and water is used inefficiently. They know it too:
    E.g., this 2008 PhD thesis (PDF file)
    University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pakistan
    “Most of the water infrastructure is in poor condition. Pakistan is extremely dependent on its water infrastructure, and it has invested in it massively. Due to a combination of factors such as age, time neglecting attitude of the department towards repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure, much of the infrastructure is crumbling. This is true even for some of the major barrages, which serve millions of hectares and where failure would be catastrophic. There is no modern Asset Management Plan for any of the major infrastructure (World Bank 2005).”
    Secy of State Hillary Clinton has correctly told Pakistanis (see this interview on Duniya TV, Pakistan: )
    that Americans will help them with this, rather than going after India, as the Pakistanis want the US to do.


  5. Arun says:

    1. The person who runs Gallup International in Pakistan thinks the 2008 elections were unfair (PDF file)
    2. Indian elections have generally been free and fair, especially during and after the tenure (1990-96) of Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan.
    3. Indian politics is dynasty-oriented, but then so is every other profession in India. But e.g., leaders like Mayawati have been able to rise, too, who have no family connections, and actually come from a rather disadvantaged background.


  6. JohnH says:

    Wigwag, “There is something wrong with the story of democracy in India. Elections have not produced government that serves the greatest needs of the greatest number of people. Could this be because what India’s politics has produced over six decades is not really a democracy? The political system clearly serves somebody’s interest, but its political currency is not the common good, but the distribution of patronage by the elite.
    India is a curious case of a


  7. WigWag says:

    Oh JohnH, one more thing.
    You say, “Among other things Wigwag believes that elections in that part of the world are free, fair, and reflect the intent of the voters…”
    I’m not sure what part of the world you think India, Pakistan and Kasmhmir are in JohnH, but on the Indian subcontinent, elections generally are “free and fair.”
    India has a vibrant democracy and power has changed hands between the major political parties on numerous occassions. While the descendants of Pandit Nehru have exercised an unusal degree of control over the Congress Party, this really isn’t all that different from dynastic control of American political parties; think about the Kennedy, Bush, Clinton and Cuomo families. The bottom line is that elections in India generally are free and fair and all eligible Indian voters are able to take part, Hindu and Muslim alike.
    Despite the violence, barbarity and authoritarianism that characterizes Pakistani society; the last Pakistani election was generally honest too. Of course, despite the fact that Benazir Bhutto won fairly and squarely (or maybe because she won fairly and squarely) she was murdered; but political assassinations happen in the United States also.
    So actually the only nation with a claim on Kashmir that doesn’t hold free and fair elections is China; the others all do. Unfortunately democracy in Bangladesh is shakey and the military could mount a coup at any time and in Afghanistan, the concept of democracy is a farce; but as you know, those nations have no claim on Kashmir.
    So yes, in the part of the world where Kashmir is, elections generally are free and fair, at least for now.


  8. JamesL says:

    Lebovich obviously missed Arundati Roy’s elegant writing about the effects of dam construction on the average Indian, the international corporate backbone of dam construction, the huge environmental impacts of dams in general, and the stories of Indian farmers committing suicide out of despair due to dam construction. Who can afford the cost of electricity when one’s livelihood has been taken?


  9. observer says:

    This article is plainly silly.
    US has spent 15 years undermining IPI gas pipeline.
    If she were interested in promoting what this article suggests, she would have been supporting IPI to the hilt.


  10. WigWag says:

    “Among other things Wigwag believes that elections in that part of the world are free, fair, and reflect the intent of the voters…just like Karzai’s last election in neighboring Afghanistan.” (JohnH)
    From the United Nations Refugee Agency
    “Elections in 2008 were held in seven stages from November 17 to December 28. Turnout was higher than expected throughout, reaching above 60 percent on most polling dates, as voters largely ignored calls for a boycott from separatist groups. While early voting dates were generally peaceful, some violence marred later polling


  11. JohnH says:

    Another canard, “Kashmiris are Indians,” because the 2008 election said so.
    Among other things Wigwag believes that elections in that part of the world are free, fair, and reflect the intent of the voters…just like Karzai’s last election in neighboring Afghanistan.
    Wigwag excels mostly in her delusions.


  12. Don Bacon says:

    WigWag is here to tell us that the Pakistanis are “preternaturally dimwitted and terrorist sympathizers” at a time when the US is bribing them with hundred of millions of dollars borrowed from the Paks’ Chinese friends. Talk about jeopardizing a rational foreign policy while we stick it to the eighty percent of Kashmiris who are Muslims.


  13. WigWag says:

    Of course Kashmiris are Indian; everyone but the preternaturally dimwitted and terrorist sympathizers understands that. And if anyone has any doubt that Kashmiris desire to be Indian, the 2008 election put an end to the question of what the Kashmiris want; or should have.
    As for Chinese-occupied Kashmir, its quite predictable that one of the major wars of the 21st century will be between India and China to resolve that dispute; it’s unlikely to be resolved peacably. China and India have already fought a series of skirmishes about this (48 years ago) but at the time, both were militarily incompetent. As they become increasingly wealthy and militarily powerful (and as Pakistan becomes increasingly disjointed and poor) the United States will eventually have to pick sides in this looming conflict. Hopefully the United States will make the correct choice and side with India.


  14. Arun says:

    Let us also remember that the Indus Water Treaty allocates 80% of the water of the Indus and tributaries to Pakistan.
    If Pakistan wants to raise an issue about the remaining 20% allocated to India by reopening the treaty, then it will be badly disappointed by the outcome. If the treaty is reopened, India will almost certainly demand more than 20%; and during the negotiation of the new treaty may no longer be bound by the existing one.


  15. Arun says:

    Marc, the dam is legal under the treaty.
    You can read all about the Indus Water Treaty here:
    Secondly, Kashmiris *are* Indians.


  16. Christa B says:

    Hey Andrew, guess what? This is a perfect example of environmental peacemaking! You’ll come over the dark (nonviolent peacebuilding) side yet.


  17. JohnH says:

    Instead of spending $117 Billion on a pointless, endless war in Afghanistan, I would support giving that amount to India as a one time donation. Together with the $20 Billion India has allocated, that donation would all but totally fund India’s solar energy project. More importantly, it would also help soothe tensions in South Asia.
    But then who would fatten the pockets of Washington’s national security mob?


  18. Marc says:

    Andrew you blithely state that this Indian dam is “legal” under the Indus water treaty. Have you bothered to research the treaty articles? Your statement is inaccurate and the legality has to be decided by an independent arbiter.
    Secondly, you fail to mention that as the Voice of Freedom everywhere US must listen to what the Kashmiris have to say about Indian Military occupation of their valley. Few Kashmiris are killed every day in Srinagar by Indians and yet US turns the other cheek. Not a smart way to befriend muslim population of central asia, Pakistanis Or Kashmiris. Shame on high moral police in DC including Obama.


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *