As of Tuesday, India and Pakistan are again playing each other at
their shared national obsession - cricket. Pakistan's president, Pervez
Musharraf, is expected to visit India to watch the game. More remarkably, this
time next month there should be a bus service operating between the two parts of
the disputed territory of Kashmir, partitioned since 1949 along the Line of
This progress toward normalization
accords with majority sentiment in both countries. It also reflects the changes
in the international landscape since Sept. 11, changed relationships with the
United States, the ousting of the Taliban in Afghanistan and both countries'
commitments to outward-looking economic policies.
But can accord be achieved on the basis
of small confidence-building measures while leaving Kashmir to some final
settlement, accepting the Line of Control as a de facto border for the
foreseeable future? Can this dispute be left to history to resolve?
Desirable though that may seem to be, in
practice it may stumble over an issue that receives scant attention: water. It
is possible to envisage Pakistan permanently keeping its jihadis under control.
Equally one can envisage the Muslim majority in Indian-held Kashmir enjoying
peace and autonomy under an elected government. But, as a new paper by the
Mumbai-based Strategic Foresight Group asks, can there be peace without a much
broader settlement of issues like that of the waters of the Indus and its
On the face of it, Kashmir is an issue
about identity: India's identity as a secular state, Pakistan's as a Muslim one,
and for Kashmiris, whether they would prefer just to be Kashmiris. For reasons
more to do with Pakistan politics than anything else, it has also become a cause
But control of Kashmir also gives the
ability to control the rivers that are the lifeblood of Pakistan and of India's
part of the Punjab region. One of the wonders of the past 45 years has been that
the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty has survived several wars and crises between the
two countries. It allotted Pakistan 56 percent of the catchment flow and India
the rest. It is a matter of debate which side did best, but the treaty enabled
both countries to develop canal systems. It also gave rights to build
hydroelectric plants so long as they did not permanently change water flow.
With 80 percent of its farmland relying
on irrigation, Pakistan needs the Indus waters as badly as Egypt needs the Nile.
So despite the treaty, the waters remain the crux of the Kashmir issue. Pakistan
continues to fear that India will use its control of some of the headwaters.
Meanwhile India sees Pakistan's support of jihadis and others pressing for the
end of Indian rule in Kashmir as cover for its fears about water.
The treaty is open-ended, but given the
increasing water and power shortages in both countries, it will come under
increasing stress. Unless India and Pakistan can move toward enhanced
cooperation on water issues, the treaty may end with one side abrogating it,
setting the scene for turmoil. Cooperation would make usage of the waters more
efficient, but it would require a much higher level of trust.
Tension over Kashmir's waters flows
through to other areas of the subcontinent. In Pakistan itself, there are sharp
disputes over sharing scarce water between dominant Punjab on the one hand and
Sindh and Baluchistan on the other. India is accused of fanning consequent
secessionist sentiments in a bid to weaken, if not break up, Pakistan. These
accusations are mirrored by Indian allegations of its neighbor's involvement in
the Maoist insurgency in Nepal and secessionist movements in its northeast
The consequence of this bickering, the
Strategic Foresight Group argues, is not just an arms race and India's neglect
of regional leadership and its global role. India has "not sought its destiny by
rising above regional rivalries." The corollary is surely that India must see
Pakistan not as a semi-equal nuclear rival but as a smaller state with a great
sense of vulnerability to a large neighbor and to dependence on waters beyond
So the cricket match this week is a small
step on the long road to trust on the subcontinent. The hope must now be that
having stepped back from fundamentalist tendencies, India and Pakistan will now
be able to face the waters issues in the light of the direct benefits of
cooperation - not only to their economies, but also to badly needed regional
stability and trade.
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