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The Kashmir Territorial Dispute:

The Indus Runs Through It

R G. W
Visiting Professor
Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar

T    1 is borrowed from Norman Maclean’s 1976 novella The
River Runs Through It. The river in the novella’s title is Montana’s Big Blackfoot. It held
special meaning for the book’s main personalities, who shared a love for fly-fishing.
In very different ways, the Indus River holds special meaning for every Kashmiri. Not
the least important of these ways is that the waters of the Indus bear heavily upon the
Kashmir territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.
Models of various sorts for settling the Kashmir dispute—formal ones propos-
ing independence, autonomy, re-partition, confederation, or condominium, along 225
with real-world cases, including the Trieste Model, the Ulster or Irish Model, and the
Andorran Model—have been offered up over the years for consideration. Doubtless,
these and other models offer useful insights into solutions for the Kashmir dispute,
now past its 60th anniversary. This essay, departing from customary practice, outlines a
functional model for thinking about Kashmir and its future, what might perhaps best
be styled a hydro-political model. This model draws its substance from the role of water
in Kashmir—specifically from the primary uses, hydroelectric power and irrigation,
made of the waters of the Indus River and the two of its tributaries (the Jhelum and
Chenab) that transit Kashmir. I am going to suggest in this essay that water needs to
be a major—even the major—consideration when talk of Kashmir’s resolution is in

R W is a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service at Qatar.
Earlier he was a faculty member at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, HI (2000-2008)
and of the Department of Government & International Studies, University of South Carolina (1971-2000).
A specialist on South Asian politics and international relations, he has made over forty research trips to
the South Asian region since 1965. His publications include: Pakistan’s Security Under Zia, 1977-1988;
India, Pakistan, and the Kashmir Dispute; Kashmir in the Shadow of War; Religious Radicalism & Security in
South Asia, co-editor; Ethnic Diasporas & Great Power Strategies in Asia, co-editor; and Baloch Nationalism
and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: The Changing Context of Separatism in Pakistan. His recent research
focuses primarily on the politics and diplomacy of natural resources (water and energy) in South Asia.
Copyright © 2008 by the Brown Journal of World Affairs

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Recent developments with regard to Kashmir have brought renewed attention
to this longstanding dispute. Some of these developments suggested that there were
serious grounds for optimism. One such development was the official announcement
in New Delhi on 18 March 2008 that trade between the Indian- and Pakistani-held
parts of Kashmir divided by the Line of Control (LoC) could begin in as little as 90
days.2 Unthinkable even a few years ago, this was just one of many signs—including a
recent Pakistani decision to partly lift its ban on Indian films and a recent agreement
to double the number of weekly cross-border passenger flights—that led observers to
conclude that India–Pakistan relations were fixed on a promising new track.
Subsequent developments, however, have suggested that the budding optimism
was premature. A land dispute in Kashmir that had been simmering since May 2008 led
in August to the largest mass protest demonstrations against Indian rule in two decades.
In violent encounters with Indian police and military, at least 34 people, including
the separatist leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz, were killed
It is clearly too soon to write and many more injured. Pakistan’s new civilian-led
an obituary for the India– government, in a surprising departure from Islamabad’s
Pakistan peace process. recent policy, sharply condemned the Indian action
and called for United Nations intervention. That pre-
cipitated a war of words between New Delhi and Islamabad that threatened to undo
226 recent progress in their relationship.3 One keen observer commented that “the swift-
ness with which Islamabad crossed the red line to internationalize the issue implie[d]
a calculated readiness…to endanger the climate of relative calm and good-neighborli-
ness” that had developed between the two states.4 Ironically, only a few months earlier
Asif Ali Zardari, now the Pakistani president, had made a startlingly frank admission
of his accommodating Kashmir views in an interview with India’s CNN-IBN. Zardari
stated in the interview that India–Pakistan relations should not be held “hostage” to
the disputed province and that the two countries “can wait” to settle it. “We can be
patient till everybody grows up further.”5
While the violence in Kashmir has obviously dealt a major setback to India’s quest
for a political resolution of the longstanding separatist problem as well as having added
further complication to India–Pakistan reconciliation, it is clearly too soon to write
an obituary for the India–Pakistan peace process. Both sides have invested heavily in
that process and may yet move to repair the damage. Nevertheless, if nothing else this
latest violent episode underscores the enormous challenge facing those laboring to edge
India–Pakistan relations in positive directions.

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The Kashmir Territorial Dispute: The Indus Runs Through It

The waters of the Indus river system6 have never been far from the center of the Kashmir
dispute. Even before independence for India and Pakistan came in 1947, the integrity
of the British-engineered irrigation works in the Punjab province was high on the list of
factors, apart from religious majority, taken into account by Cyril Radcliffe in making
his determination of appropriate boundaries at the time of Partition. On 1 April 1948,
the East Punjab government arbitrarily stopped the flow of water down the Sutlej River
to Pakistan’s West Punjab. This came at a critical point in the agricultural calendar and
in the midst of increased fighting in Kashmir between Indian and Pakistani forces,
greatly exacerbating the post-Partition crisis in India–Pakistan relations. On 4 May
1948, the signing of the Inter-Dominion (Delhi) Agreement set in motion a train of
events that led eventually to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT).7 These and other
developments over the course of the last 60-odd years point to water’s conspicuous
presence in the evolution of the Kashmir dispute.
Having taken the better part of a decade to forge into an acceptable compromise,
the 1960 IWT was, from all accounts, a monumental achievement. Its authors were
scrupulously attentive to detail. In choosing to partition the six-river Indus system
shared by India and Pakistan—three so-called “eastern” rivers (the Sutlej, Ravi, and
Beas) going to India, the three “western” rivers (the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) to 227
Pakistan—instead of struggling vainly to find a satisfactory formula for the sharing of
its waters, they displayed a practical realism without which there would likely have
been no treaty at all. Their craftsmanship enabled the IWT to survive for over four
decades in the face of repeated severe strains in India–Pakistan relations. However, the
treaty could not make provision for all the river-relevant changes that the future was
to bring to the region. There are some reasons to believe, in fact, that the IWT may
not be up to the challenge that some of these changes are posing. A case in point is the
recent dispute over the Indian-built Baglihar dam.


On 12 February 2007, there occurred an event bearing considerable importance for

the river resource futures of India and Pakistan. The event, given little notice in the
international media, was the turning over to the governments of India and Pakistan
the final and binding decision of a World Bank-appointed neutral expert in regard to
the Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant, under construction since 2002 on the Chenab River
in the northern Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Bearing the title Expert Determina-
tion on Points of Difference Referred by the Government of Pakistan under the Provisions

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of the Indus Waters Treaty, the decision brought to an end an arbitration proceeding
triggered over two years earlier, on 15 January 2005, by a Pakistani request that the
World Bank appoint a neutral expert under Article IX (2) of the IWT, to consider
“differences”8 that had arisen between Pakistan and India over the Baglihar project.9
The two countries had quickly agreed upon the 12 May 2005 appointment of the
Swiss civil engineer Raymond Lafitte as neutral expert. Over the next 20 months, his
labors included a site visit in October 2005 to the unfinished Baglihar project, a total
of six intensive meetings with delegations of the two countries, and examinations of
multiple written arguments and counter-arguments prepared by the countries’ teams
and their hired consultants.
Lafitte’s decision, though it clearly found India’s design of the Baglihar dam to
be in some respects in violation of the IWT, received a far warmer reception on the
Indian than on the Pakistani side. While public statements on the decision by Pakistani
officials affirmed the government’s general satisfaction with the results of the vigor-
ously contested proceeding, private comments to the author by several members of
the Pakistani team revealed deep disappointment with Lafitte’s verdict.10 Some of the
disappointment could no doubt be traced to the inevitable letdown Pakistanis would
feel at having been significantly bested—in a legal contest initiated by themselves and
in which they apparently felt at some advantage—by their longstanding rival India.
228 Some of it, however, could very likely be traced to the Pakistani team’s conviction that
the first-ever test of the painstakingly detailed conflict prevention provisions of the IWT
had resulted not in the treaty’s strengthening but in its dilution. Worse, perhaps, was
that an opportunity had been squandered for putting the treaty to work as a positive
instrument for promoting greater cooperation between India and Pakistan in future
management of Indus River resources.
Without going into the technical details of the matter, it is clear that the Pakistanis,
virtually from the outset of the dispute, were disturbed primarily by the number, size,
and elevation of the eight gated spillways specified in the dam’s design. With their gate
sills positioned well beneath the so-called “dead storage” level of backed-up waters (the
level beneath which stored waters are not utilized in power production), the five sluice
spillways enabled the Indian side to control the flow of water on a scale, the Pakistani
team argued, that the IWT had deliberately sought to prevent.
From the Indian point of view, the dam’s spillway design met modern engineering
requirements both for safe passage of flood discharges through the sluice spillway as
well as for trouble-free operation. The Pakistani view, in contrast, was that the design,
regardless of the difficulties it might present to the engineers, could not depart in any
significant way from the language and intent of the IWT. The treaty, as the Pakistanis
interpreted it, not only reserved the waters of the three western rivers almost exclusively

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The Kashmir Territorial Dispute: The Indus Runs Through It
for Pakistan’s use, but also guarded against India’s taking advantage of its treaty-au-
thorized right to the non-consumptive use of these waters (i.e., hydro-electric power
generation) to gain de facto control of these waters—control that New Delhi could
make use of at some future date to threaten and intimidate its downstream neighbor
with economic devastation or strangulation, whether by unleashing or withholding
stored waters meant for Pakistan’s agriculturally vital Punjab province. The two sides
engaged in heated debate over this issue, the Indians claiming they neither would nor
could use their dams for such purposes, the Pakistanis insisting that good intentions
were an insufficient guarantee against potential hostile future misuse of river waters.
In his final decision, which flatly endorsed the Indian position on gated spillways,
Lafitte maintained that the design of the spillways had as its clear objective not control
of flood discharge (that worried the Pakistanis) but control of sediments or silting. This
he found not to contravene, or at least not to be disallowed by, either Paragraph 8 (d)
or (e) of the IWT.
Clearly recognizing that his determination on this point would not suit the Paki-
stanis, Lafitte explained his reasoning at considerable length. He noted in particular
that the IWT had been drafted in the 1950s, decades before modern dam technologies
had been fully developed.11 He supported a broader interpretation of the treaty—the
letter of which included some potential future engineering advances that it would sup-
port—to uphold India’s right to build the dam as it had envisaged. 229
The response of the Pakistani team to this line of reasoning was predictably angry.
The IWT, they declared, was drawn up as a bilateral instrument for the prevention
of conflict—not to improve dams. The neutral expert’s mandate, as they understood
it, was to determine not how to help the Indians build a perfect dam but to ascertain
whether the dam in contention, the Baglihar, had been designed in conformity with the
IWT. What Lafitte chose to do, according to the Pakistanis, was, in effect, to modify
the Treaty’s intent from one of conflict prevention to one of dam sustainability.
The Baglihar is only one of many dam projects on India’s drawing board. So the
differing lessons learned over the course of the dispute over Baglihar are bound to crop
up in future cases. Indians could certainly take comfort from the knowledge that their
country’s upper riparian (or up-river) position carries with it significant advantage—the
capacity to “create facts” (to design a dam not quite in conformity with treaty provi-
sions, for instance) that the lower riparian country may have very limited ability to
resist. Pakistanis, in turn, may draw the conclusion from Baglihar that reliance on the
IWT to ensure Pakistan’s future water security would be foolhardy and that Pakistan
must look elsewhere to ensure its rightful share of the Indus system’s waters is not
placed in jeopardy.
In any event, the dispute over Baglihar highlights the importance of water resources

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in India–Pakistan relations and, in particular, argues strongly for a definition of the
Kashmir dispute with ample space included for rivalry over water resources. Just how
great this rivalry may become requires a closer look at the details.


From the Indian point of view, the results of the arbitration were largely consistent
with its long-term hydropower plans for Jammu & Kashmir. The Baglihar hydropower
plant, a run-of-the-river project with a capacity of 450 MW in its first stage and an
additional 450 MW in its second stage, is one of fifteen hydroelectric schemes in the
Chenab river basin. Four are already operating, two (including Baglihar) are under
construction, and nine are at some stage of investigation or preparation. Were all to
be completed, their total installed power generating capacity would come to 7,160
MW—about 5.4% of India’s current (2007) total installed capacity, a considerable
figure in the light of India’s overall energy requirements.12
By any measure, these requirements are vast.13 By 2010, India is expected to take
South Korea’s place as the world’s fourth largest energy consumer, after the United
States, China, and Japan.14 Its energy requirements are growing at a rate of 5.6 to 6.4
percent per annum, which translates into a four-fold increase in India’s energy needs
over the next quarter century.15 Coal, which presently meets about 53 percent of India’s
energy requirements, is bound to occupy center-stage well into the future; but with
energy consumption rising astronomically, greater efforts to expand and diversify energy
230 sources are inescapable.16
As can be seen in Table 1, at the end of April 2007, India’s total installed power
generating capacity was 132,110.21 MW. Thermal resources (coal, oil, gas) accounted
for 85,575.84 MW, hydro for 34,653.77 MW, nuclear for 4,120 MW, and renewable
(including wind and solar) for 7,760.60 MW.17 In 2003, the government of India iden-
tified a planned target (Mission 2012: Power for All) by the end of the Eleventh Plan
in fiscal year 2011-12 of an additional 107,000 MW—a flatly unrealizable aspiration
that would mean a near doubling of the current installed capacity in less than a decade.
Hydropower, whose share in total power generation has ironically been progressively
declining over time, was being counted upon to supply about 50,000 MW of the
targeted additional capacity.18 Naturally, when or where in India such an expansion in
hydroelectric (hydel) generation could actually occur is an intriguing question.

Fuel MW % age
Total thermal 85,575.84 64.7
Coal 70,682.38 53.5
Gas 13,691.71 10.4
Oil 1,201.75 0.9
Hydro 34,653.77 26.2
Nuclear 4,120.00 3.1
Renewable 7,760.60 5.9
TOTAL 132,110.21 100.0
Table 1. India’s Power Sector: Total Installed Capacity (30 April 2007).

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The Kashmir Territorial Dispute: The Indus Runs Through It
India ranks fifth in the world in exploitable hydel potential. According to a re-
estimate made in April 2006 by India’s Central Electricity Authority (CEA), identified
hydel potential is 148,701 MW.19 The breakdown of this potential by river basin, region
and state is shown sequentially in Tables 2, 3, and 4. Apparent in Table 2 is that the
Indus basin serving India’s northern region, including Jammu & Kashmir, has a hydel
potential second only to that of the Brahmaputra. Table 3 shows that almost two-thirds
of the potential hydel capacity of India’s northern region, which includes Kashmir,
has yet to be developed. Table 4 gives state-wise data on 162 new hydel dam schemes,
totaling a bit less than 50,000 MW, approved by the Indian government in May 2003.
Kashmir ranks well beneath Arunachal Pradesh in this listing; but, measured against
all Indian states, it ranks fourth. In all three tables, the importance of the northern
and northeastern sectors is immediately evident. Equally evident is that these sectors
are precisely the ones that border on India’s regional neighbors, including Pakistan,
and with whom the waters to be tapped are shared. Thus, India’s plans for expansion
and diversification of its energy resources are bound to add a potentially troublesome
wrinkle to the Kashmir dispute.

Basin/Rivers Potential Installed Capacity (MW) 231

Indus Basin 33,832
Ganga Basin 20,711
Central India River System 4,152
Western Flowing Rivers of Southern India 9,430
Brahmaputra Basin 66,065
TOTAL 148,701
Table 2. Hydel Potential of India’s Major River Basins/River Systems. (Source: India Energy Outlook 2006,
KPMG International)

Region Identified Capacity % Capacity Developed/ % Capacity

(MW) Under Development Undeveloped
Northern 53,395 36.0% 64.0%
Western 8,928 68.9% 31.1%
Southern 16,458 59.7% 40.3%
Eastern 10,949 31.9% 68.1%
North Eastern 58,971 6.8% 93.2%
TOTAL 148,701 28.7% 71.3%
Table 3. Status of Hydroelectric Potential Development in India, 2006. (Source: Central Electricity Au-
thority, Government of India)

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State Number of Schemes Planned Installed
Capacity (MW)
Andhra Pradesh 1 81
Arunachal Pradesh 42 27,293
Chhattisgarh 5 848
Himachal Pradesh 15 3,328
Jammu & Kashmir 13 2,675
Karnataka 5 1,900
Kerala 2 126
Madhya Pradesh 3 205
Maharashtra 9 411
Manipur 3 362
Meghalaya 11 931
Mizoram 3 1,500
Nagaland 3 330
Orissa 4 1,189
Sikkim 10 1,469
Uttaranchal 33 5,282
TOTAL 162 47,930
Table 4. State-wise Status of 50,000 MW Hydel Initiative. (Source: Central Electricity Authority, Gov-
ernment of India)


The Indian Government’s dogged efforts to expand the country’s hydroelectric power
generating capacity—in part by exploiting the hydroelectric potential of the Indus River
basin—have to be seen in the context of the increasingly dire circumstances of water
scarcity in the South Asian region. India is moving steadily closer to a danger zone in
terms of water supply, with per capita fresh water availability in India having declined
by roughly 60 percent over the last half-century or so.21 This seemingly inescapable
fact inevitably affects the thinking of India’s water planners and those entrusted with
negotiating river water agreements with India’s co-riparian neighbors. However, when
it comes to looming water scarcity, there can be little doubt that Pakistan—one of
the world’s most arid countries, dependent for most of its fresh water supplies on the
waters of one major river system—can claim top honors in the region. Per capita fresh
water availability in Pakistan slipped from a bit under 3,000 cubic meters of fresh water
availability per capita per annum in 1981 to about 1,700 cubic meters per capita per
annum in 2003—a figure that places it clearly in the so-called “water stress” zone.
Indeed, according to internationally recognized standards, Pakistan is today
one of the most water-stressed countries on earth: severe water shortages are now an
immutable feature of life. With the country expected to have a population in 2010
of 173 million, it is certain that by that date it will have moved significantly closer

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The Kashmir Territorial Dispute: The Indus Runs Through It
to the internationally recognized “water scarcity” limit of 1,000 cubic meters of fresh
water availability per capita per year, an alarming rate of decline that is projected in
some estimates to dip even further—to less than 700 cubic meters per capita by 2025,
when Pakistan’s population may have reached 221 million.22 The unpleasant fact of the
matter, according to a recently published and immensely disturbing World Wildlife
Foundation (WWF) report on Pakistan’s water crisis, is that “Pakistan is already one of
the most water-stressed countries in the world, a situation which is going to degrade
into outright water scarcity.”23
The cited WWF report paints an extraordinarily grim portrait of Pakistan’s water
pathologies. Included among them are: serious deterioration in groundwater quantity
and quality in almost all urban centers, severe depletion and drying up of water sources
in many areas due to uncontrolled extraction of groundwater and extended dry periods,
a huge daily discharge of raw sewage to surface water bodies, a steep decline in the qual-
ity of drinking water, a mounting problem of arsenic contamination of groundwater,
and an alarming rate of water-borne diseases. The WWF report concludes: “Water use
practices in [Pakistan] fall far short of the required minimum for water conservation
and water quality. In simple terms, Pakistan’s water is drying up, and what little remains
is heavily polluted.”24
Whatever opinion one holds about the neutral expert’s findings in regard to
Baglihar, the plain fact is that India’s plans for hydropower development in the Indus 233
basin run squarely up against Pakistan’s unambiguously threatening situation of water
scarcity. For Pakistanis, this is not a time for taking lightly the restrictions on Indian
use of the waters of the three western rivers of the Indus system—the Chenab, Jhelum,
and the Indus itself—that were reserved mainly for Pakistan’s use in a bilateral treaty
that took nearly a decade to negotiate. Pakistanis are not going to be easily persuaded
that their reading of Indian intentions in regard to the water resources of the Indus
basin is not only unnecessarily suspicious but also exaggerates the scale of India’s plans.
Indeed, what the dispute over Baglihar most clearly signifies is that the river resource
rivalry between India and Pakistan is fated to a lengthy, and almost certainly conten-
tious, future.


Discussed so far has been the mounting pressure on India and Pakistan of two simulta-
neous and readily apparent trends—one of mounting energy demand, another of rising
fresh water scarcity. What, precisely, have these to do with the Kashmir dispute?
First, it is necessary to acknowledge that the Kashmir dispute, understood con-
ventionally to be a conflict over territorial possession, is today showing multiple and

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serious signs of diminished intensity—in other words, of the two sides’ incrementally
increased capacity to negotiate agreements that are slowly, steadily, and very likely per-
manently draining the territorially defined dispute of its traditional intractable character.
Although the Kashmir dispute is yet far from ripe for resolution in a formal sense, it
has already lost most of its centrality in India–Pakistan relations. For all intents and
purposes, it has arrived at a de facto settlement. This settlement is, to be sure, a bilateral
matter that may or may not impact beneficially on the domestic political circumstances
in which either India’s or Pakistan’s Kashmiri minorities find themselves. But this fact
should not be permitted to prevent our recognition of a fundamental change in the
status of the Kashmir dispute.
Paradoxically, this change going on in regard to the Kashmir territorial dimen-
sion of India–Pakistan relations does not ensure that a positive transformation of the
relationship as a whole is in the cards. On the contrary, the change witnessed in recent
years in India–Pakistan relations is entirely compatible with a future as turbulent and
inclined to conflict as ever—a fact driven home by the recently witnessed escalation
in hostile rhetoric exchanged between them. This is because the relationship between
India and Pakistan is driven by far more than the Kashmir dispute; some of the other
drivers of this relationship, including hydroelectric and fresh water resources, are
virtually bound to present obstacles at least as formidable as the matter of Kashmir’s
234 possession. Unfortunately, the conflict-inducing propensities of the natural resource
and other drivers are not strongly counterbalanced by existing cooperative tendencies
in the region, whether bilateral or multilateral.
Just as important to acknowledge is the need to discard the timeworn cliché that
India–Pakistan relations are or ought to be hostage to Kashmir’s unresolved status—that
the hostility in their relationship is due largely to the unsettled nature of the Kashmir
dispute and, by the same token, that to resolve the Kashmir dispute is tantamount to
launching the India–Pakistan bilateral relationship on a new, firm and positive trajectory.
This notion, which has achieved near sacrosanct status among subcontinent watchers,
was never an entirely satisfactory statement of the relationship; it is today—as may have
been implied in Asif Zardari’s comment, cited above—without any merit at all.
This is not the first time I have made this argument. In a book about Kashmir
published over a decade ago, I wrote that the Kashmir dispute had evolved over time in
ways that had resulted in its fundamental transformation. The traditional (territorial)
dispute’s parameters had become a convenient “cover story” or metaphor, I insisted,
for a conflicted relationship that bore less and less kinship, as the years passed and
circumstances changed, to what it had been in the immediate post-Partition era. In
introducing the book, I said:

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The Kashmir Territorial Dispute: The Indus Runs Through It
For the most part, the ‘Kashmir dispute’ is not about Kashmir. It is at least not mainly
about Kashmir. The phrase long ago mutated into an inclusive metaphor or ‘cover
story’ for the multifaceted interstate power struggle between India and Pakistan…Put
in a slightly different way the Kashmir dispute is as much a symptom as a cause of
India–Pakistan rivalry. The rivalry is not Kashmir-dependent. This is disheartening
since it means that ‘the Kashmir dispute’ is extremely complicated. It is about far
more than a contested piece of territory.25

Thinking about Kashmir in this way, whether as metaphor or symptom, requires

a good bit of mental housecleaning. Today, for instance, Pakistan can no longer be
fairly described as a “revisionist” state, bent upon the irredentist mission of reclaim-
ing the lost land of Kashmir. Not that we cannot find Pakistanis nowadays who still
cling to this vision—but their numbers have unquestionably thinned out in the higher
reaches of government and military. Both sides in the dispute over Kashmir, India by
choice and Pakistan by necessity, accept the territorial status quo, even if they say and
wish it should be otherwise. Before being ousted from power in mid-August 2008,
President Musharraf had been unequivocal in acknowledging, publicly and repeatedly
since he first brought the idea to the surface in October 2004, his acceptance of the
new order—an order in which there is little if any room left for aggressive territorial
expansion, however much disguised. His fourfold scheme for resolving the dispute,
which appeared “to finally bury the argument that Jammu and Kashmir should be a 235
part of the Islamic state of Pakistan by virtue of its overwhelming Muslim majority,”26
leaves little room for doubt that Pakistan’s ruling class has for all intents and purposes
abandoned its irredentist aspirations.
While Indian and Pakistani conversion to a more benign view of Kashmir was
widely welcomed around the world, it would be a mistake to read too much into it. It
does not at all mean that Zardari, or those who will succeede him, no longer detects
any grounds for conflict between
India and Pakistan. Nothing could
The positive steps witnessed in the last
be further from the truth. Indeed, several years in India–Pakistan rela-
the positive steps witnessed in the last tions in regard to Kashmir owe much
several years in India–Pakistan rela-
tions in regard to Kashmir owe much to Kashmir’s decline in importance.
to Kashmir’s decline in importance,
not to a change of heart among the leaders of these two traditional adversaries. Kashmir
is being “settled,” so to speak, because neither side considers keeping alive the historical
dispute over territorial possession to be any longer a matter of great national interest.
Both sides, in fact, are now quite in agreement that keeping it alive mainly runs counter
to their national interests. As much as anything, the two sides are clearing away a half
a century’s worth of accumulated rhetorical debris. This is unquestionably a positive

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development as far as it goes. Were it accompanied by major positive developments
across the board in their relationship, we would be justified in speaking of a historic
breakthrough. Nothing quite on that scale is currently apparent.


Of considerable importance is that Kashmiris, at least Muslim Kashmiris, are not going
to be easily attracted to the argument being advanced in this article. For the bulk of
them, Kashmir has always been and remains today a territorial issue. They are highly
unlikely to conceive of the Kashmir dispute as a problem of water resources; if at all,
they might see it as a problem of gaining command of their resources. After all, they were
not consulted about their preferences in regard to Kashmir’s water resources at the time
the IWT was being drafted; and they have, to date, not been significant beneficiaries
of Kashmir’s unquestioned richness in water resources, whether hydroelectric power or
water for irrigation. Hence, it is understandable that they display little enthusiasm for
continued sacrifice to ensure the water resource futures of either India or Pakistan. If
they harbor any concerns about Kashmir’s water resource future, they would likely be
in regard to the substantial material benefits Kashmiris themselves could harvest from
the area’s abundance of river waters.
236 A realistic assessment of the situation compels one to the conclusion, never-
theless, that water’s exclusion from any plan of conflict resolution pertaining to the
India–Pakistan dispute over Kashmir would kill the plan at its birth. The burden of
the argument in this article has been that water resource issues are moving rapidly to
center-stage in the India–Pakistan bilateral relationship, that water-related pressures
on this relationship are mounting rapidly and inescapably in the region, and that the
Kashmir dispute is now, as much as anything, about water resources. Any serious effort
to resolve the Kashmir dispute today, whether one welcomes it or not, requires that far
more attention must be given than hitherto has been the case to Kashmir’s potential
role in ensuring the equitable and agreed sharing of Indus River resources between
its riparian neighbors. To ignore this fact is self-defeating. Unless river resources are
given their due, Kashmir’s political liberation and peaceful development will remain
permanently elusive.
Happily, the South Asian region today is thick with indications of widespread
official recognition of the critical importance of river resources to regional peace and
progress. The most recent such indication came in the Colombo Declaration, a product
of the 15th Summit Meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Coopera-
tion (SAARC) held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 2-3 August 2008. A fairly lengthy
document, the Declaration highlighted the urgency of regional cooperation over river

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The Kashmir Territorial Dispute: The Indus Runs Through It
resources in five of forty-one paragraphs. The paragraph entitled Water Resources put
the matter thusly:

The Heads of State or Government expressing their deep concern at the looming
global water crisis, recognized that South Asia must be at the forefront of bringing
a new focus to the conservation of water resources. For this purpose they directed
initiation of processes of capacity building and the encouragement of research,
combining conservation practices such as rain water harvesting and river basin
management, in order to ensure sustainability of water resources in South Asia.27

Elsewhere in the document, the leaders spoke of the need “to build up renewable
alternative energy resources including indigenous hydro power…”; of the “tremendous
potential for developing regional and sub-regional energy resources in an integrated
manner and noted the efforts being made to strengthen regional cooperation in ca-
pacity development, technology transfer and the trade in energy”; of “the urgent need
to develop the regional hydro potential, grid connectivity and gas pipelines” and “the
possibility of evolving an appropriate regional inter-governmental framework…to
facilitate such an endeavor”; and, finally, of “the need to intensify cooperation within
an expanded regional environmental protection framework, to deal in particular with
climate change issues.”28
By no means was this the first time such sentiments were expressed by SAARC 237
leaders. Moreover, there is a good deal of evidence that these sentiments were not merely
rhetoric designed for the occasion but that they reflect the serious concerns of many
people in the South Asian region. At its 13th Summit held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in
November 2005, the leaders had already agreed to the recommendation of the SAARC
Energy Ministers to establish a SAARC Energy Centre (SEC) in Islamabad, Pakistan.
The SEC is now functioning as a clearinghouse for ideas relating to regional energy
cooperation. One of its earliest products was a report, entitled Developing Integrated
Energy Policies in South Asia, authored by the Honolulu-based authority on water and
energy policy, Toufiq A. Siddiqi. In the report, he focuses on two large-scale projects
for supplying energy to the region: one, the long-gestating natural gas pipeline project
that would link Iran, Pakistan, and India; the other, which Siddiqi styles “a glimpse of
what may be possible,” cooperative development of the hydropower resources of the
Himalayas.29 It is in connection with the latter of these, of course, that Kashmir’s vast
hydropower resources might come into play.
Noted by Siddiqi and the focus of much discussion in the SEC’s newsletters and
periodic conferences has been the potential for intraregional energy trade, including
hydro-electrical power. In this connection, the governments of both India and Pakistan
have lent support to the concept of a regional Energy Ring. Such a Ring, as defined
by India’s Minister of Power Sushilkumar Shinde, would consist of inter-country links

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for exchange or sale of electricity, gas and oil.30 India, he noted, already had electricity
links with Bhutan and Nepal, and there was no reason these could not be replicated
with India’s other neighbors. Lending its support to the popularization of this concept
has been the South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy Cooperation and Development
(SARI), a U.S. Agency for International Development-connected organization that has
recently begun advocating an energy trade dialogue between India and Pakistan.31
The point of all this effort, of course, is to move the region toward much expanded
cooperation in the realm of energy sharing—a move that could eventually translate
into common energy grids fed in part from the region’s still largely untapped hydro-
electric potential.
Cooperative bilateral development of the Indus basin’s water resources—includ-
ing not only generation of hydropower but also such activities as joint research on
the environment, mobilization of resources for joint flood control, water storage and
irrigation projects—is urgently needed. About that there is little disagreement. Unfor-
tunately, the continued deep hostility between New Delhi and Islamabad has thrown
up obstacles that have made practically any category of cooperation—not to exclude the
highly attractive concept of an Energy Ring—seem utterly utopian. This circumstance
is precisely what made the Baglihar arbitration process so disappointing. Throughout
the process, India and Pakistan were cast as implacable adversaries, both sides acting
238 as if the dispute’s possible outcomes were entirely zero-sum. Clearly, Baglihar did not
set a precedent supportive of an Energy Ring or anything like it.
South Asia is better endowed with water resources than many other parts of
the world. Obviously, these resources are not evenly distributed. That the region’s
capacity for more evenly distributing them can be developed to the benefit of all par-
ties seems apparent. Equally apparent, at least to this author, is that Kashmir’s ample
water resources, if managed in the right spirit, can serve the end of heightened regional
cooperation rather than continued regional conflict. One hopes it is not too late for
the region’s leaders to opt for the former. WA


1. This article is a modified version of an unpublished paper presented at the 7th International Peace
Conference sponsored by the Kashmiri American Council (KAC) and Association of Humanitarian Lawyers
(AHL) at Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, on 26–27 July 2007.
2. “Cross LoC Trade May Take Off Within 90 Days: Jairam,” Kashmir Times, 18 March 2008, http:// As of mid-August 2008, nothing had come of
India’s initiative.
3. Alistair Scrutton, “Analysis-Protests, Killings Could Be Kashmir’s Tipping Point,” Reuters, 14 August
2008, and
Vibhuti Agarwal, “Clash in Kashmir Inflames India–Pakistan Tension,” The Wall Street Journal, 15 August

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The Kashmir Territorial Dispute: The Indus Runs Through It
4. M. K. Bhadrakumar, “India-Pakistan Relations in Free Fall,” Asia Times Online, 15 August 2008,
5. Simon Robinson, “The India-Pakistan Thaw Continues,” Time, 10 March 2008, http://www.,8816,1720814,00.html; and “Ready to Put Kashmir Issue on the Back
Burner: Zardari,” The Hindu, 2 March 2008,
6. The Indus river system consists of seven major rivers: besides the Indus itself, these are the Jhelum,
Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, Beas, and (flowing from the west) the Kabul.
7. For background, see Undala Z. Alam, “Questioning the Water Wars Rationale: A Case Study of the
Indus Waters Treaty,” The Geographical Journal 168, no. 4 (December 2002): 341–353.
8. The IWT’s provisions include conflict resolving mechanisms that enable Pakistan to register greater or
lesser objection to any project that India plans to construct on the three western rivers earmarked mainly
for Pakistan’s use. The first and simplest of these is Pakistan’s right to raise questions about any aspect of the
project. The “question” may be settled at either the level of the Indus River Commission, a treaty-authorized
body consisting of two commissioners, one appointed by each side, or at a higher-level inter-governmental
meeting. Failing agreement at that level, a “difference” is said to exist (the circumstance that arose in regard
to the Baglihar), a condition warranting the World Bank’s appointment of a neutral expert. The neutral
expert’s task is strictly to determine whether or not the project design conforms to the treaty provisions.
The next level, at which a “dispute” is acknowledged to exist, would require appointment by the World
Bank of a Court of Arbitration. As the treaty’s guarantor, the World Bank’s role is that of go-between: it
does not initiate action on its own and it does not have any enforcement powers.
9. Raymond Lafitte, Executive Summary: Baglihar Hydroelectric Plant-Expert Determination on Points of
Difference Referred by the Government of Pakistan under the Provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty (Lausanne:
World Bank, 12 February 2007). This is hereinafter cited as Expert Determination-Executive Summary. The
entire arbitration documentation, including Executive Summary, is available online from the Ministry of
Water & Power at the Government of Pakistan website:
10. Three members of Pakistan’s official Baglihar team were interviewed by the author in the course 239
of January and March/April 2007 visits to Islamabad and Lahore. Identities have been withheld on
11. Expert Determination-Executive Summary, 12.
12. See Annex 1: Hydro-electric Projects in the Chenab River Basin, Expert Determination-Executive
13. Following paragraphs draw in part upon my article, “Hydro-Politics in South Asia: The Domestic
Roots of Interstate River Rivalry,” Asian Affairs 34, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 3–22.
14. Pramit Mitra, “Indian Diplomacy Energized by Search for Oil,” YaleGlobal, 14 March 2005,
15., “Energy Overview,”
16. Expanding India’s energy sector is going to be expensive. According to the International Energy
Agency, India will have to spend upwards of $800 billion on its energy sector by 2030. Vibhuti Hate,
“India’s Energy Dilemma,” South Asia Monitor, no. 98 (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Inter-
national Studies, 7 September 2006).
17. Ministry of Power, Government of India, “Power Sector at a Glance,” 30 April 2007, powermin.
18. Central Electricity Authority,; KPMG International, India Energy
Outlook 2006,
19. CEA,
20. Pakistan’s worsening power situation is not dealt with in this paper. However, alarming headlines
in the Pakistani press in June 2007 (“Karachi Power Riots Take Ugly Turn”, “Mobs Flood Karachi Streets
in Anger”) hint strongly that Pakistan’s power crisis may not lag very far behind that of India.
21. Water Demand-Supply Gaps in South Asia and Approaches to Closing the Gaps, Project on “Water and
Security in South Asia”, vol. 1, Taufiq. A. Siddiqi and Shirin Tahir-Kheli, project coordinators, (Honolulu:
Global Environment and Energy in the 21st Century, 2003), 18, table 4.

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22. Figures given in the Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment Report 2006, cited in World
Wildlife Foundation, Pakistan’s Waters at Risk (Lahore: World Wildlife Foundation, February 2007), 1.
For a no less alarming account of Pakistan’s water predicament, see the World Bank report Water Economy:
Running Dry, Report No. 34081-PK (Washington, DC: World Bank, 14 November 2005).
23. Pakistan’s Waters at Risk, 1. Pakistanis (all South Asians, in fact) can today draw equally dismal
inferences from two reports by blue ribbon panels released in mid-2007—one by the prestigious Inter-
governmental Panel on Climate Change in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,
13 April 2007,; the other by the Military Advisory Board,
a panel of senior retired U.S. admirals and generals in Military Advisory Board, National Security and the
Threat of Climate Change (Alexandria, VA: CNA Corporation, April 2007), especially 24–27, http://www. Both of these reports make a number of especially worrisome predictions
about the likely impact of climate change on the South Asian region.
24. WWF, Pakistan’s Waters at Risk, 23.
25. Robert G. Wirsing, Kashmir in the Shadow of War: Regional Rivalries in a Nuclear Age (Armonk,
NY: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2003), 8.
26. Sultan Shahin, “Resolving Kashmir with a Musharraf Model,” Asia Times, 29 October 2004, http:// Musharraf has by no means converted all Pakistanis
to his view of Kashmir. See, for instance, Ashraf Mumtaz, “Musharraf ’s Plan to Divide Kashmir: Sultan,”
Dawn, 15 April 2007,
27. Full text of the Colombo Declaration, 2-3 August 2008, 15th SAARC Summit, Colombo, Sri Lanka,
28. Ibid.
29. Toufiq A. Siddiqi, Developing Integrated Energy Policies in South Asia, Report No. 1, SAARC Energy
Centre, March 2008,
30. “Establish Regional Energy Ring in South Asia: Shinde,” Business Line, 6 March 2007, http://www.
240 31. See, for example, the SARI/Energy report, Economic and Social Benefits Analysis of Power Trade in
the South Asia Growth Quadrangle Region,; and “Regional Energy Trade Study
on Board”, SAARC Energy Newsletter 2, no. 1 (June 2008),

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