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September 27, 2017

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India's attempts to control contested rivers could lead to conflict

ISLAMABAD -- India's move to control the rivers could spell doom.

Conflict is not unknown when it comes to the question of ownership of water sources. There are many examples, for instance, the major cause of the Six-Day War fought between Israel and neighboring Arab states resulted from a struggle over water.

The threat of future conflict is only growing as we head toward an era of "hydrological warfare," in which rivers, lakes and aquifers will be securitized. Many countries in the Middle East, Africa, Central and South Asia, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Kenya, Egypt and India, are already feeling the direct consequences of water scarcity.

South Asia has four major water basins: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Meghna and the Indus. Water is a contentious issue between India, and Nepal and Bhutan. As the use of the Ganges and Brahmaputra is disputed by India, Bangladesh and China, India wants a diversion of the river, but Bangladesh warns that any such action would undermine the livelihoods of millions of farmers. Meanwhile, the Indus basin has become a source of conflict between India and Pakistan.

Recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gearing up for the Punjab polls next year, once again referred to the Indus Waters Treaty, saying the water that "belongs" to India cannot be allowed to flow into Pakistan. Though several analysts believe that any revision of the treaty can be dangerous and even lead to bloodshed, a considerable segment in India appears to favor withdrawing from the water pact which has withstood three wars.

A Struggle Over Water

Similarly, taking the cover of two attacks, one in Pathankot, the other in Uri in India-held Kashmir, it seems that Modi's administration is working toward revising the Indus Waters Treaty in order to protect multibillion dollar investments related to better water management and the tech industry in India.

In 2010, the then Indian water resources ministry secretary U.N. Panjiar spoke about the new business opportunities in the water sector in India, including storage, agriculture, industry, home consumption, and hydropower and desalination projects. Approximately, US$22 billion was invested between 2002 to 2007, and more than US$50 billion between 2007 to 2012. Several American banks and domestic companies will reportedly be investing billions in huge water infrastructure projects, including India's Smart Cities Mission, which will see major new technology for its residents.

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