Publications

Photo Source: Dawn

It is ironic, the rivers that defined the multiple civilizations in South Asia, are seen as a “problem” today in the region. The Indus, after which our ancient civilization is referred to has become a problem between India and Pakistan, and between provinces within Pakistan. How did the above change come about?

Conflict Reader # 21, 29 April 2017

India-Pakistan
De-securitizing the Indus

CR Comment

D. Suba Chandran
Professor
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore

Are we securitizing our rivers and water sharing in South Asia, and in the process complicating the existing problem even further? Are the new actors engaged in water discourse today usurping the process from those who have been involved in addressing issues relating to water sharing without politicizing it? Does the recent Indo-Pak debate on the Indus Waters reflect the above two aspects?

At the regional level, during the recent years there have been serious problems in water sharing between countries in South Asia and within - between provinces. Some of them even turned violent, leading to shutting down of towns/cities, resulting in colossal economic loss, besides straining relations between communities. Problems of water scarcity and issues in water sharing are being projected as a part impending “water wars”, thereby securitizing the debate and sharing. Not only the big rivers of South Asia - the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra but also their multiple tributaries are being securitized today.

It is ironic, the rivers that defined the multiple civilizations in South Asia, are seen as a “problem” today in the region. The Indus, after which our ancient civilization is referred to has become a problem between India and Pakistan, and between provinces within Pakistan. How did the above change come about?

Two specific reasons could be attributed to the above development – of pursuing rivers and waters as a “conflict”. First, the new actors – from political leadership to media – see water and rivers as a political issue that could be made use to serve their narrow purpose. The Water bureaucracy, primarily led by the engineers and administrative officials see the rivers and waters as a commodity that needs to be shared, and talk in terms of dam heights and the amount of water to be released or stored. 

Increasing urbanization and commercialization have also resulted in a “water economy” thereby creating a seller and a buyer. From bottling water to distributing through tankers – there is an economy, with water becoming a prized commodity. Few decades ago, none in South Asia would have imagined such a development with our water.

Added to the above set of new actors – is the process of legalization and legislations. Instead of addressing the issues bilaterally or multilaterally, our legislative assemblies have started passing unilateral legislations on what needs to be done, or what the other party should not engage in. Such unilateral legislations result in provincial and national bravados, thereby projecting an assertive approach towards the other. In turn, the other side results in passing a parallel legislation, further exacerbating the situation. These “national” and provincial” legislations are projected as “will of the people” and seen as gospels of truths that have to be sanctified and adhered to. A related process is approaching the courts – national or international, presuming that the legal institutions are correct and final.

Second, because of the over and overt involvement of the above actors, traditional actors – from farmers to local communities that have been dealing with water sharing – have lost their voice. Worse, the above set of actors that have been traditionally and historically been dealing with water sharing, perhaps are being purposefully pushed to the background, as they do not suit the “water war” brigade.

All the above could be found in the Indus water dialogues both at the bilateral level between India and Pakistan, and between the provinces within Pakistan. 

Can the “water war” debate be reversed? The question whether it “should be reversed” be totally thrown out of the debate. Given the emotions, sentiments, history, culture and most importantly the daily livelihood associated with the rivers in South Asia, the region cannot afford to securitize the water debate.

The water war debate can be reversed, if we bring the community in. Rivers have provided an identity to people; emphasizing on this identity and creating river communities could bring people together. On the Indus context, empahsising on an Indus Community is important, cutting across political boundaries. This Indus Community does exist at a psychological level and needs to be pushed to the front. 

There have been multiple track-II dialogues between India and Pakistan during the recent years on various issues. Some of these dialogues, did have a focus on the Indus, but led primarily by the “security” experts. We need an “Indus Community Dialogue” cutting across political boundaries between and within India and Pakistan. Given the rising controversy over the Kabul river, perhaps Afghanistan could also be included. 

Such an Indus Community Dialogue need not necessarily be a single one. It could be an umbrella dialogue with different groups talking with each other and across. The focus need not necessarily be only on water sharing; from history to culture, there is so much that could be discussed over the Indus. If there could be so much literature on the Indo-Pak partition – a tragedy, imagine what an “Indus literature” could produce.

Working towards an “Indus Community” through an “Indus Dialogue” could help the States and provinces as well. A common Indus identity is likely to lessen the war debate over the river and waters, and help the State to make decisions of importance, without getting politicized. Given the larger water scarcity from the demand side, and the reduction in water from the supply side, the growing population and urbanization demands depoliticized and constructive approaches along the Indus river. 

Indus provides an identity to us. Let us not talk about waging a war over our identity, history, culture and daily livelihood.
 
The above was originally published in the Daily Times and a part of a series trying to find few “Big Ticket Items” and “Low Hanging Fruits” in the Indo-Pak context 

Other Publications

Early Warning Conflict Alert
January 2019 | Brief

South Asia: Five Conflicts to Watch in 2019

read more
Sri Lanka
November 2018 | Brief

Reconvene the Parliament and Respect the Constitution

read more
Myanmar
October 2018 | Analysis

The UN, Myanmar and the Rohingyas

read more
Kashmir
September 2018 | Analysis

Building Peace Momentum in J&K

read more
Af-Pak
May 2018 | Brief

Will Pakistan walk the Afghan Talk?

read more
Balochistan
May 2018 | Analysis

Who is targeting the Hazara? And Why?

read more
Radicalism Project
April 2018 | Analysis

“I am not Malala”: Deciphering the anti-Malala Sentiment in Pakistan

read more
Afghanistan I Sectarain
April 2018 | Analysis

The Sectarian Spiral in Afghanistan: Who? And Why?

read more
Sri Lanka
March 2018 | Analysis

The Anti-Muslim Violence in Sri Lanka

read more
Maldives
March 2018 | Analysis

The Political Crisis in Maldives

read more
Gender Violence
January 2018 | Analysis

South Asia's Kasur Problem: Hypocritical Civil Society, Insensitive Investigation, Indifferent Judiciary and a Hard State

read more
Regional
January 2018 | Analysis

South Asia's Conflict Peripheries

read more
Bilateral I Indo-Pak
January 2018 | Analysis

Will the Indo-Pak Relations improve in 2018?

read more
Myanmar
December 2017 | Analysis

South Asia's Rohingya Predicament

read more
Radicalism Project
November 2017 | Brief

The State surrenders to the Mullahs: Why did the Military aid? And why did the Government agree?

read more
Balochistan
November 2017 | Analysis

The Slow Burn: One Province and Five Actors

read more
Radicalism Project
November 2017 | Analysis

The Ghost of Mumtaz Qadri

read more
Peace Alert
November 2017 | Analysis

Towards an Inclusive Kashmir Dialogue

read more
Af-Pak
October 2017 | Analysis

Joshua and Caitlan: Story of Victims, Rescuers and Perpetrators

read more
Radicalism Project
October 2017 | Analysis

The Islamic State in South Asia: Why are the State and Society reluctant to acknowledge?

read more
Myanmar
September 2017 | Analysis

The Rohingya Politics: Between Strong Military, Weak Government, Rakhine Faultlines and Ma Ba Tha

read more
Myanmar
September 2017 | Analysis

The Rohingya Conflict: The Burning Villages, Social Media and the Internationalization of Violence

read more
Pakistan
August 2017 | Analysis

Jirga and Gender Violence

read more
Society
July 2017 | Analysis

Pashtunwali, Kashmiriyat and Sufi: Are our Social Codes under Stress?

read more
Sectarian
July 2017 | Analysis

Pakistan's Parachinar Problem

read more
Afghanistan
June 2017 | Analysis

Afghans’ Kabul Problem

read more
Pakistan
May 2017 | Comment

Fighting Taliban and the Islamic State: Don't prioritize

read more
India-Pakistan
April 2017 | Comment

Cross-LoC Interactions: Low Hanging Kashmir Fruit

read more
ISIS
April 2017 | Comment

Fighting the Daesh: A Regional Counter IS Strategy

read more
Pakistan
March 2017 | Brief

The Raddul Fasaad Fallouts: Will it succeed where Zarb-e-Azb failed?

read more
Pakistan
March 2017 | Comment

Deep-rooted Misogyny: Offend her; she will forgive in the name of tradition

read more
Pakistan
February 2017 | Comment

Court, Society and Valentine Day: Is expression of love against our culture?

read more
Pakistan
February 2017 | Brief

Hafiz Saeed Detention: Tactical Choice or Strategic Decision?

read more
Pakistan
January 2017 | Analysis

Terror revisits Parachinar: Kurram Agency’s Ten Year Sectarian Itch

read more
Pakistan
January 2017 | Analysis

State vs Militant Groups: What if the Genie has a mind of its own?

read more
Pakistan
January 2017 | Analysis

Sectarian Violence: No More Deja Vu

read more
Af-Pak
January 2017 | Comment

Pakistan’s Afghan Policy: What Shapes? Who Shapes? And through What Strategies?

read more
Pakistan
January 2017 | Analysis

Saudi Arabia, Iran and the ISIS: Pakistan’s Middle East Conundrum

read more
Pakistan
December 2016 | Analysis

Honour Killing: No Honour, Only Crime and Evil

read more
Pakistan
December 2016 | Analysis

Foreign Fighters: Why Pashtuns and Punjabis?

read more
Af-Pak
December 2016 | Analysis

Across the Durand Line: Who is in Control?

read more
Af-Pak
December 2016 | Analysis

Zarb-e-Azb: Pakistan, Afghanistan and the TTP

read more
Pakistan
December 2016 | Comment

And Now, They Are Coming For Our Children

read more
Af-Pak
December 2016 | Analysis

A Tale of Two Taliban: Linkages between Afghan and Pakistan Taliban

read more
Af-Pak
December 2016 | Analysis

Torkham Clashes: Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Durand Line

read more